‘Feed the Goat and he will score!’ That was what Manchester City fans of a certain vintage used to chant/sing of our legendary striker, Shaun Goater, who banged in 84 goals in 184 appearances for the club.
But it occurred to me today that it could equally be said of internet trolls: feed them, and they will score. Starve them, and they will die.
The trigger for this was waking this morning to find that Katie Hopkins was trending on Twitter once more. At which ‘news’ my heart fell, but I admit to also clicking to find out just why.
Now Hopkins is a remarkable specimen who makes a living – and a pretty good one – from being vile.
It is an unfortunate fact of the world we live in that the internet in particular allows trolls not merely to survive, but to thrive.
Imagine for a moment what would have happened today if nobody had retweeted Hopkins’s latest bout of bile; if nobody had commented on it; if no petitions had been started; if nobody had clicked on the relevant links: what would have happened?
The reality is that Hopkins and her ilk feed on our outrage. And I make no apology – I can be as outraged as the next person.
I can read tweets and other things, and react before my brain has chance to render me sensible. I can also thus allow my knee to jerk like the next person – and I’m not proud of it.
Today’s comments were about Scots and Ebola – and they were bang out of order.
But it’s also slightly disturbing to see so many people believing that when someone talks derisively of any group (in this case, Scots) it’s racist.
It’s not – and no, you cannot ‘harass’ an entire people, as someone suggested when I raised this on social media earlier today.
We should be grateful for that. No matter how ‘right on’ we want to be ourselves, we should not welcome or encourage the state to further demonise free speech.
Incitement is illegal: calling the Scottish people ‘sweaty socks’ and pretending that the Scottish NHS is inadequate is not. And nor should it be.
There is a danger that, the more we evolve – or some of us, at least – the more we forget the common sense of knowing that, however unpleasant such terms are, they are not and should never be made illegal.
For goodness sake – under what law?
Can we no longer refer to the Germans as ‘Krauts’ of the French as ‘Frogs’?
Personally, I wouldn’t. But I’d be deeply worried if we actually made such phrases – and more – of themselves illegal.
Just as I’d be damned worried if we made the expression of racism – or homophobia or sexism or any hatred on the basis of religion of ability/disability/size illegal.
Think about that: do you really believe that outlawing words and sentiments, creating – in effect – thought crimes – is actually the basis for a healthy and whole society?
But this isn’t just about Scottish people. Hopkins has long form for targeting many groups, including fat people. Now I’m far from skinny myself: am I calling for her to be indicted on the basis of some imagined law? Absolutely not.
After all, if I did, it would rather stop me calling her a pathetic, ugly (in the spiritual sense) little cunt ... although clearly facts are on my side. But then again, I’m fat by today’s un-Rubenesque standards. And ain’t that the truth.
I have been bullied on the basis for almost half a century. Well, at least until a burst of confidence saw off the trolls before they dared comment.
And there indeed is a lesson.
But in the here and now, I do find myself wondering whether, after packing her children off to bed at night, Hopkins cries into a glass of wine at what her life and work mean. I cannot personally imagine making a living out of being such a vile individual. I cannot imagine having such a lack of personal morals/ethics.
But that’s the world we live in, where such people are magnified my both mass media and social media.
Which is precisely why I say that there’s an easy solution.
Those of you who have read this blog for some time will know that I do not do new year resolutions. But I’m changing tack this time around.
I will, in 2015, try my damnedest not to feed the trolls. I politely suggest that you all try to do the same, no matter how outraged you – and I – are by what they say.
That is the way to get rid of the nasty little fuckers. Not by petitions that give them far greater credence than they should ever have.
At the end of the day, why would you give oxygen to a troll?