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article imageReview: The Anti-Social Network

By Alexander Baron     Mar 21, 2012 in World
This one-off BBC documentary looks at the sick world of those Internet trolls who vandalise tribute sites and post obscene messages about the dead.
And about the living. Richard Bacon is a broadcaster who was himself targeted by an anonymous individual who had developed an unhealthy obsession with him. Here he goes in search of answers, thougth he certainly gets none from troll Colm Cross, whom he manages to confront.
Many Eton schoolboys go on to distinguish themselves in the political sphere; Prime Minister David Cameron is an Eton old boy. Horatio Chapple has a claim to fame that is far more unique; he was eaten by a polar bear. Well, mauled to death by one. There is an obvious pun there to start with - Eton/eaten - and there are not a few jokes about him floating around in cyberspace, but of course his family were none too pleased when what some people thought passed for humour turned up on his tribute site.
Although this programme deals with UK victims, there is no reason to suppose that other countries don't have their own share of nutters, obsessives and generally horrible people who have nothing better to do with their time than bombard both the dead and the living with obscene messages. It is currently on iplayer for those who can receive it, and will doubtless end up on YouTube in due course.
There is a very sad story here concerning one youth who committed suicide after receiving what could only have been a handful of messages. The programme has a similar message to one screened only last month in the Panorama series, that is, something must be done about it. But what? Bacon is quite explicit; he wants to see some form of censorship and/or increased police powers; he doesn't use those exact words, but the ones he does use leave the viewer in no doubt.
Facebook have quite rightly refused to censor or to bow to censorship in the face of such blatant abuse of their site, but unlike others, it does have some controls that allow those who create tribute pages to manage them. It is clear that like the people who control Google and Yahoo, the social network founder Mark Zuckerberg and his team realise freedom of expression comes with a price that we must all be prepared to pay. It is also a bit pointless for us to complain about the government censoring things on one hand and then lobbying to censor other things that we don't like.
So what is the solution? That question presupposes there is a problem in the first place. We should all of us be a little less sensitive; if successive Presidents of the United States - including the current one - can tolerate being branded sexual deviants and worse, and if Lord Rothschild can weather being branded a giant lizard from outer space, we too should shrug off this sort of abuse like water from the proverbial duck's back. Remember that old rhyme about sticks and stones? Trolling is really just another fad, at the moment it is in fashion because so many people take offence to it, but like page 3 of a certain newspaper, it will soon have been around for so long and we will have become so hardened to it that like a topless female displaying her wares to the nation, the only people who will notice it are those who wish to be offended.
The bottom line is that these professional trolls are prize morons, and our freedoms are far too precious to destroy on their account.
More about Facebook, Internet trolls, horatio chapple, rip trolling, Internet tribute sites
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