Fear, hate and twitter mobs: Thoughts on the Tom Daley troll

Whenever I see I’ve got new mentions on twitter, I’m overcome by a feeling of dread. You might call it having a naturally guilty conscience. I invariably think “oh shit, what have I done / what have they found out now?” It doesn’t make much sense – no one has ever tweeted anything nasty about me (yet). But I have this sense that one day I will be “found out” – over what, I just don’t know – and everyone will then know “the truth” and I’ll be publicly named and shamed.

Well, enough about me and my idle, self-important paranoia. I have just spent the evening witnessing someone else take their place in the Twitter Hall of Shame (I have also been watching Snakes on a Plane, but hey, I’m versatile – I can do both!). And by “someone else”, I mean the Tom Daley troll. I’m not quite sure why I’ve been watching this. I suppose I’ve never before witnessed someone having so complete a meltdown into violent, hate-filled, furious threats. I’ve never really seen so much real-life anger being spewed out, live, in real time, while I sit comfortably in a position of safety. I can just watch and watch. And so I’ve watched, as have many others (not that this excuses my own voyeurism – that’s down to me alone).

The tweet sent to Tom Daley was pointed and nasty. Scroll further down the troll’s time line, and you’ll find even worse material, racism and rape threats, only these are directed at people who aren’t famous. Without Daley’s retweet, all the other instances of bile and hate would have floated by forgotten, except by those who’d been on the receiving end. Such a level of spite is hard to comprehend. Yet in some ways I pity the tweeter. Call me a liberal idiot, but while I don’t wish to downplay the suffering of his victims, I can’t help thinking that someone like this doesn’t need to have all his paranoia confirmed in hate tweets thrown back at him. There are legitimate ways to respond to racism and threats of violence. Reporting some of the tweets seems to me appropriate; trial by twitter lynch mob does not.

I can’t imagine ever sending tweets like that. Nevertheless, I can remember times in my life when I was not as “balanced” as I am now(!), times when my thinking was angry and clouded and fueled by substances other than the usual caffeine and antidepressant mix. I didn’t have twitter back then, and I’m bloody glad about that. It takes so little to turn so many people against you. While the tweeter in the Tom Daley incident offered a huge number of violent, nasty tweets – and while I can’t even work out whether the attention scares or excites this person – something seems wrong in further encouraging it. I think most of us are healthier, less angry, less filled with hate than this person. I think we can do better.

Well, I write all this and no one has yet tweeted nastiness about me. Perhaps they will tomorrow and then I’ll want everyone to hate them on my behalf. Not having the following that Tom Daley does, it won’t quite be an occurrence of the same magnitude. But still, I’m just saying – don’t be mean. At least, not unless I say so.

PS It would be just my luck if the person I’ve been writing about here finds this blog and starts threatening to rape me too. That’d teach me for my liberal ways. But still, since I’ve now listed this as a possibility, it’s not going to happen. Or something.


9 thoughts on “Fear, hate and twitter mobs: Thoughts on the Tom Daley troll

  1. Fantastic blog post. And somehow, your PS made me laugh. Even though it contains the most unfunny words I could ever read. Extraordinary. How did you manage that? Or maybe it’s just me and I’m warped. Anyway, beautiflly written and beautiful sentiment. X

  2. I want to agree with you as you make a lot of sense, but I was literally UP in arms about the Aidan Burley tweets, so I guess I fall into the pot you describe – shame on me.
    I know 1st hand what you mean, as until that point I was filled with love and my heart was opened by a superb Olympics Opening Ceremony and I let my anger at Aidan Burley fuel me into sending tweets about it, listening to radio presenters talking about it and then even writing a blog post about it. A little voice kept saying focus on how beautiful the opening ceremony was, and don’t let this rile you, but I was riled….
    Then the same thing happened when I found out about the racist Mail Online article and I wrote about that too.
    Today I will now take a deep breath and NOT get embroiled in the troll thing about Tom Daley – it is not my battle, and I am even going to try to avoid the discussions surrounding it, as I want a bit of OMMMmmmmmm today.
    Great thought provoking post by the way, which I hopped to from the netmums blogger portal.
    Liska x

    1. The Aidan Burley thing makes me cross too – a bit of me thinks “well, he’s an adult and he clearly has some degree of social awareness and an ability to manipulate – that’s how he got to be an MP”. Whereas this boy just seems very, very angry and disturbed (don’t want to sit around making armchair diagnoses of what drives him but the way people kept pushing his buttons seemed incredibly cruel).
      In a few months’ time, on the other hand, I can totally imagine Aidan Burley sitting around saying “I was only saying what every right-minded person thought” and no one even bothering to challenge his racism any more…

  3. I have read his timeline and yes what he tweets is vile but to me it reads more like verbal diarrhoea of 17 year old boy who craves attention and is looking to shock. The witch hunt mentality makes me as uncomfortable as what he writes, the joys of the internet…

    Beautifully written by the way xx

  4. Totally agree – the twitter reaction made me really uncomfortable – and death threats for death threats just aren’t helpful – in fact, they’re hypocritical. He was clearly young and troubled – needs help, not a mob.

  5. A touch late to this debate but hey ho. I am a Guardian reading liberal idiot at the best of times but the ‘Daley twitter troll’ brings out the opposite reaction in me. I have zero sympathy for him even though the public reaction to him was way over the top. I hope he got a shock to find what people think of him and how easily the police found him.

    I do agree that is a farce that you have to threaten a ‘national treasure’ before the police take action.

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