The week in review: The new age of the troll

Trolling: Not as cute as it used to be.
Trolling: Not as cute as it used to be.
Ian Dunt By

Trolls used to be almost sweet. There you were, having a debate about the Phoenician architecture, and suddenly someone would pop on Twitter and tell you Halal food is more humane than stunning. Or you would be reading an article on Wagner on the Daily Telegraph only for someone to leave a comment about the work ethic of the Chinese.

Debate was duly sparked. Perfectly kind and rational people would write hate-filled abuse at each other on the internet for a while, and then everything would return to normal. The world of trolling was one of anger and hate, but a comparatively harmless one.

Not anymore. Like super hero comics and video games, trolling got violent. Now all the trolls are interested in is sending rape threats to prominent women. As hobbies go, it is somewhat lacking.

The issue hit the spotlight this week partly because the summer lull in news allows social media stories to get more attention than they otherwise would, but also because of the extent of the abuse aimed at Caroline Criado-Perez. The feminist campaigner and writer had just won her fight to get Jane Austen featured on the new £10 bank note. The response of certain badly developed weirdos was to send her rape and death threats.


Prominent female columnists decided something must be done and started up a campaign which may – or may not – culminate in a Twitter boycott this Sunday. The plan was somewhat complicated by the revelation the BBC would be announcing the new Doctor Who that day. Think that's superficial? Bear in mind that the Chartist demonstrations which kick-started British democracy had to be rerouted to make sure they never went past a pub or they'd lose half the marchers.

Police tracked down some perpetrators, but anonymity presents real problems for how to deal with this kind of outraged, entitled misogyny. The debate over the best response was a case in point. But at the very least, the row brought the horrific reality of modern trolling into the mainstream.

Meanwhile, David Cameron was cementing his new touchy-feely, in-touch-with-women's-issues look with an interview in Grazia in which he discussed how much his children's use of Facebook worried him. Yep, the PM doesn't like online porn or Facebook. The man's basically a Luddite. He's a long way from those interviews where he used to be photographed stroking Apple products.

The Cooperative demanded lads' mags put their product in laughably-titled 'modesty bags' to hide them from children's innocent eyes.

There was a general sense of women's cultural issues coming to the fore, with new attitudes on porn, glossy magazines and Twitter evolving as technology introduces new problems.

Meanwhile, Labour was doing nothing. Really nothing. The news was so slim on the ground even Grant Shapps managed to get coverage. Osborne's father-in law got in on the act too, although it was predominantly because he said the north-east was "desolate". And then that he actually meant the north-west, thereby expanding the potential for offence by 50%.

Nick Clegg was like one of those libratory mice they feed crystal meth to. You couldn't switch on a radio without him doing a phone-in show.

But Labour was nowhere to be seen. Not a murmur. For many of Ed Miliband's critics, the party's anaemia over the summer is further proof that it's not got that killer edge which wins you elections.

Next week: more no news, some of it possibly from Labour. But probably not.

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