Media cluster trolls, Allison Pearson and old-fashioned hate
IT’S ages since I last thought of Allison Pearson, once of the Daily Mail parish, now ventriloquising for the middle-class mutes of the Daily Telegraph. She re-entered my head with the horrible news that she had fallen victim to the troll virus. Some dreadful person-reader had unleashed the fruitcakes of Twitter upon her good name and exposed her to words yet to be recognised by Wikipedia. One of them, with a ‘gynaecological’ connotation! Allison opined eloquently against trolls – read her piece here.
The business of trolling – ie conducting a targeted and persistent campaign of threatening abuse – reminded me of a piece Allison wrote in her Mail column in March 2008 about Fiona MacKeown. You may recall that Fiona’s daughter, British schoolgirl Scarlett Keeling, was raped and murdered in Goa – it was largely thanks to Fiona’s tenacity the case ever got to trial. Allison, among others, though I am sure privately empathetic, publicly used this tragic event to reproach Fiona for being a selfish hippy. Fiona had not bought into Allison’s addiction to workaholic conformist angst otherwise known as bourgeois life – and so was now deserving of the kicking Allison happily gave her as editor Paul Dacre pulled yet another one of his theatrical faces.
Was this piece the work of a troll? Not in the current sense. We tend to think of trolls as sad singletons holed up in a state subsidised garret in the grip of a hateful obsession. We don’t imagine that a troll can be a highly paid newspaper columnista because an economic value has been placed on her work – and she doesn’t ‘obsess’.
But trolling may also be unwittingly precipitated by the Allisons – I call it cluster trolling, where a hateful piece incites reader persecution of the topic-target.
I don’t know what effect Allison’s piece had on Fiona’s life but most probably it prompted a number of morons to send her abusive letters, or abusive contributions to online message boards, or to think abusive thoughts about Fiona and her ‘feckless’ life. It is most unlikely that among the millions who read Allison’s imbecilic words there weren’t just a few hard-working, neighbourly individuals ready with the condemnatory (green) vitriol.
It’s tempting to think that the highly paid cluster trolls draw to themselves the same kind of energy they put out. Alas, life is not so simple. Some unsteady trolls are on a unilateral mission. In Allison’s case, she could atone for her irresponsibility by first apologising to Fiona MacKeown. Her excuse could be that she then worked for the Daily Mail.
Photo: Rory O’Brien, left, Jay North, center, and Ron Howard appear as the Trolls as they perform, 1964.