On Saturday evening, Fabrice Muamba was admitted to hospital after his heart stopped during Bolton Wanderers’s FA Cup tie with Tottenham Hotspur. Within minutes the footballer was trending on Twitter, with thousands of people wishing the young man well. Unfortunately, before long a couple of trolls arrived, posting mindless and deeply offensive comments, which led to one Welsh bloke being arrested on Sunday evening. Unsurprisingly, he’s claiming his account was hacked – an excuse which has to be up there with that Italian ferry captain’s claim that he “fell into the lifeboat” for sheer crapness – but there are thousands of Lee Staceys out there.
Sadly, arrests of this nature are exceptionally rare, as Richard Bacon knows. The Radio 5 Live presenter has had his own personal social media troll who tweets unimaginable abuse at him for over two years and in The Anti-Social Network he tries to unmask dick_bacon_boom, while asking what can be done to stop the rise and rise of trolling on Facebook and Twitter.
Bacon’s first port of call is ‘IT Expert’ Paul, who advises that the broadcaster’s hater has covered his tracks rather well and that setting a honey-trap may be the best way of catching him, so Bacon takes to twitter, pretending to be a troll himself. “My brother works in the same building as the twat and has some compromising pictures of him!” he tweets, while admitting that slagging yourself off is ‘quite satisfying’. Maybe in a bi-polar twist that would make Fight Club seem run-of-the-mill, he is in fact his own troll? Sadly not..
Trolling as a concept probably isn’t new to many of us, after all the word ‘troll’ has been about for a while, but things take an even nastier turn when Bacon meets a ‘troll-hunter’, who spends hour upon hour trying to identify people who post malevolent content online. This online vigilante doesn’t want to identify himself because he’s afraid that trolls will target him. Posting abusive material is one thing, stealing a person’s identity and sending vicious abuse in their name is quite another. The amount of harm and stress it can cause doesn’t bear thinking about.
Bacon fails in his bid to find out who is abusive listener is, but as the documentary comes to a close he meets Damon Evans, a twenty year-old who admits to some trolling but denies the stronger accusations being placed at his online door. When asked if he wrote offensive jokes on the memorial Facebook page dedicated to Tom Mullaney, a young lad who committed suicide after being bullied online, he stringently denies the accusations. According to a psychologist, trolls are often people who’ve been bullied themselves and want to “get back at society” and Evans certainly doesn’t break that mould. Troll or not, you have to admire his bravery for appearing on the programme, but as Bacon reads back some of the lewder comments, he simply claims his account was cloned. It later transpires that he’s lying yet unfortunately this easy excuse is often enough to save some of these nasty bastards. “We can’t police Facebook!” says one police officer. You can see his point, but the law does have some catching up to do..