Thursday, 1 August 2013

The Tongues of Trolls

Recently there have been a couple of news stories about people making insulting and threatening comments on twitter aimed at female equality campaigners. Twitter’s not the only platform on which this occurs; unfortunately this practice of ‘trolling’ appears to be an unpleasantly intrinsic part of the web. Yet this behaviour isn’t new, people have always been threaten and insulted. The difference now appears to be the anonymity of the action, an anonymity partly due to the distances involved, there is often no realistic expectation that the troll will ever be confronted in person by the one they are abusing. This isolation from those they interact with is allowing more people to feel unconstrained by the social norms developed over millennia of human interactions.

These social norms constrain us, explaining that not everything that goes on in our heads is ok to do in public, in the realms of speech it introduces politeness where there are certain things which it is simply unallowable to say, no matter whether that is what you believe. Yet if it is our social conventions that constrain us where does the desire to say something abusive come from? From our own nature?

In the Bible, the tongue is compared to the rudder of a boat, though it is only a small part, it can steer a vast vessel. So too what we say so often turns into actions whether or not that was our original intent. For instance consider how an argument starts, simply with words yet it could result in actions – saying something you didn’t really mean that destroys a relationship entirely. Whilst we may see this, prescient like, an inertia takes hold and we continue on heedless of the irrevocable harm we may do. It is hard to control what we say all of the time – in fact biblical teaching is that it is impossible, the sarcastic comment in James “and if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man…” perhaps sums it up best “…but no human being can tame the tongue.”

So if it is impossible, by human endeavour, to fully control everything that we say should we not be more forgiving in what is said. Particularly when a transitory comment becomes permanent through a lack of awareness of such issues inherent in the use of the internet. Personally I’m going to try and remove the plank from my own eye before calling others to account for what they say. I’m sure if someone played back to me every word that I’ve said today then I would be sorely embarrassed.

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