Though I generally believe that the world gets better, sadly one can’t say the same about words - and words mean the world to me. For instance, ‘community’ used to be a nice place to land on the Monopoly board; now it just means a bunch of whiners shouting about stuff. Similarly, ‘activism’ used to mean helping people - now it just means telling people to die on the internet. Which brings us to ‘trolls’; I know I’m old, but I can remember when trolls were coveted toys, a cheerful dollies in a blithe state of undress with a shock of nylon hair. Mine was called Trudi and it’s not exaggerating to say I worshipped that troll.
But now, trolls are the worst thing in the world, apparently. Every week a new tranche of professional attention seekers complain about getting attention of a kind that isn’t to their liking on social media. While I understand that reality stars and television talking heads may have low levels of self-esteem as they don’t really do anything that takes skill, I’ll never understand journalists who suffer from hurty feelz. We’re notoriously one of the most hard-boiled professions on earth - can you imagine Martha Gellhorn crying because someone called her fat, or Woodward and Bernstein having a meltdown because someone said they were gay lovers? Yet recently the war reporter Christina Lamb - a brave and brilliant woman with no reason to doubt herself - described being trolled as being worse than being kidnapped and shot at.
I’ve been told quite a few times during my long, louche life (mostly by loved ones, who admittedly know me best) that I have *something missing* - and if the thing I don’t have is the thing that reduces formidable women like Lamb to nervous wrecks, I’m very glad to be without it. Frankly, I find it hard to care what my loved ones think of me; the idea that I would care what strangers - all of whom bring their own issues, envies and failures to my judgement - think of me is even more of a stretch. At the height of my fame and fatness, people would publish photographs of Jabba The Hutt in magazines and say it was me; obviously, I laughed. I've been dealing with *trolls* since I was 17 - I'm 62 now and still don't give a damn. Earlier this year, when some fans of the Grabdication sought to use the suicide of my son against me as they believed that I had shown the Sussexes too little respect, I found myself feeling nothing but irritation at their half-witted spelling abilities: ‘I think you mean ‘your’ - not‘you’re’ - dead son?’ Yes, it’s cold - but how else should one react to someone who is clearly sub-human? With humanity? With tears? What a waste!
The answer to trolling is not policing social media - but in individuals toughening up. From the lowest reality star to the richest Oscar-winner, if you're not hard don't pursue a career which is all about being appraised by millions. And whatever happened to Sticks & Stones? The rise of feelings is just part of the wholesale infantilisation of Western culture - it starts with weather reporters saying 'Wrap up warm!' and ends with a woman who has been stripping off to get attention since she was a teenager protesting that she's a private person. 'No one can make you feel inferior without your consent' Eleanor Roosevelt famously said; these days, she’d be expected to plead with her detractors to BE KIND.
I believe that people should be allowed to say anything about anyone online – except accuse them of criminal acts without proof, or threaten criminal acts against them. I believe also that trolls who do not write under their real names very much degrade the level of public slanging matches and, if they are so keen on being fictional characters, should have their voting rights removed for an allotted period of time in order to teach them that the immeasurable benefit of free speech has solemn responsibilities as well as cheap thrills, and to punish them for being cowards.
I believe that our aim should not be to pursue a policy of ridding cyberspace of trolls – it can never be accomplished, and the police have far more important things to do, such as clear up their woefully low conviction rates of every actual crime from burglary to rape – but to make people immune to them. If strong fences make good neighbours then strong defences make good citizens. By placing the emphasis on making bullies stop bullying rather than encouraging the bullied to toughen up to the point where the bullies give up because they’re no longer getting the response (fear, outrage, sorrow) they want, we are still dependent for our happiness on the unkindness or kindness of strangers. If you’re happy to stay that way, so easily and so illogically hurt - serve you right.