Monday, 9 February 2015

Trolls (both kinds) are both necessary and important

Trolls (non-internet version)

A bunch of people who have a platform to say what they want (and mostly don't) have decided that we need something akin to an ASBO for Twitter:

A group of MPs has called for people spreading abuse on social media websites to be slapped with an 'internet Asbo' which would ban them from using Facebook and Twitter.

Introducing such a scheme would make it open season on anybody sailing close to the wind - what starts with 'anti-semitism' soon becomes 'Islamaphobia' then slowly extends to people who say the wrong things about women or think it just fine to hunt and kill foxes. Particular attention will be paid to people who are 'anonymous' with much prurient chuntering about 'vile, internet trolls' and so forth.

Nothing is served by this process. The law is pretty clear on threats, racism and homophobia, there really isn't any need to extend this to encompass some sort of ban (a frankly unenforceable ban as it happens) on people using social media because they said the wrong sort of stuff.

So without wanting to labour the point, here's why anonymous internet trolls are important:

He runs a Facebook and Twitter account in Persian using a fictional character to parody the religious politics of Iran's imams and mullahs. BBC Trending spoke to the man behind Ayatollah Tanasoli - which can be translated as "Ayatollah Genitals" or "Ayatollah Penis."

Tanasoli has 20,000 likes on Facebook and 7,000 followers on Twitter - not enormous numbers but significant for Iran, where many people are afraid of openly aligning themselves with scathing satire and criticism.

How long do you think this man could do this if - as some of our MPs think - they shouldn't be allowed to stay anonymous on social media? Perhaps those ayatollahs, famed as they are for tolerance and understanding, would just laugh off the lewd micky-taking from Tanasoli. Or more likely he'd find himself languishing in jail awaiting one of the creatively vicious punishments the ayatollahs are wont to enjoy?

So next time you're "offended" be a "troll", stick to crying or moaning and try to avoid calling for them to be banned, locked up and punished. Even in our (supposedly) open and liberal democracy having folk who sit behind the mask of anonymity and tell us we've got no clothes on is an essential part of the freedom that we cackle on about so much. Let's grow a pair and keep it that way, eh?


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