Dust off your suit of armour and saddle up your best war horse, internet, because the Daily Telegraph is going to war against Twitter trolls. Here's why you should be angrier with mainstream media than you've ever been before.
Update: We've added a few things to the story since it was published. Head to the footer for the new developments.
"Be afraid, keyboard cowards, we're coming to get you" reads the first line on the front page of The Telegraph. Clearly, it's us versus them.
Australian personalities have signed up to combat cyber cowards and a two-page feature spread has been given to the "campaign". No less than six stories in today's Telegraph are dedicated to denouncing those on the Twitter who anonymously torment people like television host Charlotte Dawson, radio host Ray Hadley, Attorney General Nicola Roxon, Communications Minister Senator Stephen Conroy and footballers Robbie Farah and Josh Dugan.
Ultimately, all this column space is being used to get you to sign the Telegraph's online petition to "take a stand against faceless Twitter bullies".
To understand just how fruitless and offensive this campaign is, and why you should be so mad, we need to go back to the beginning of the saga to where mainstream coverage of the "troll epidemic" started.
First it was Charlotte Dawson. Dawson hosts Australia's Next Top Model and after a tirade of abuse from one Twitter troll, she decided it would be a good idea to out them. Turns out the troll was a Monash University staffer, who was quickly suspended. Dawson was then subject to a barrage of abuse from other users, with some of the nastiest stuff coming at the end when people said that the star should take her own life. Dawson was later hospitalised after posting a tweet that read only: "you win x". Truly an awful case.
Robbie Farah was next. He's a footballer who should be no stranger to abuse, but nevertheless, when someone said some awful things about his recently deceased mother on Twitter, he called on NSW Premier (and football fan) Barry O'Farrell and Prime Minister Julia Gillard to change the laws to tackle Twitter trolls. Thanks to that tweet, he's now getting a meeting with the Prime Minister, who, presumably, has a lot of more important things to be doing.
Those are only two cases, but you get the idea.
Now, I'm not for a moment saying what these trolls did was right — far from it, in fact. Someone was hospitalised because of what these people said, and that's tragic. Cases like this present a real problem that ought to be tackled. Trolls often say these awful things because they're most likely disturbed people themselves in need of help. It's a serious issue in need of a serious response, and that's not what the mainstream media is giving you.
The bastion of internet lexicon, Urban Dictionary, defines a troll thusly:
One who posts a deliberately provocative message to a newsgroup or message board with the intention of causing maximum disruption and argument
By this definition, the Daily Telegraph is the biggest troll of all.
The Telegraph has gone into its 840,000-strong newsgroup and purposefully disrupted the national discussion away from important issues like the state of the dangerous New England Highway, the enormous public sector job cuts in New South Wales and Queensland and the cigarette plain-packaging debate, and shifted the agenda onto issues of trivial importance.
Worse still, the Telegraph is taking the spotlight away from other online issues that ought to be in the national spotlight.
Australia is staring down the barrel of a massive data retention regime that will affect every single citizen online, the internet filter project isn't dead and buried yet and the National Broadband Network — the most expensive infrastructure project in the nation's history — is still being bitterly fought over. So why, Telegraph, WHY have you chosen to carry the torch of people too stupid to press the "off" button when they find something objectionable on the internet?
The Telegraph's campaign to out Twitter trolls is also to the detriment of the real victims of online bullying. Kids are cruel, and with the power of mobile smartphones, Facebook and instant messaging, it's no wonder childhood and adolescent depression, anxiety and suicide is on the rise. Stupid mainstream campaigns like the one from the Telegraph marginalises the real suffering of real victims.
It's also absurdly hypocritical for the Telegraph to run an anti-troll campaign and still keep horrid people like Andrew Bolt on the payroll.
I bought the paper today, for the first time in a long time, so that I could write this story. If I had it my way, I'd pulp every single copy.
Fight the trolls? Here's looking at you, Daily Telegraph.
Update: since I posted this story this morning, a tweet has surfaced that's purportedly from Robbie Farah in regards to the Prime Minister. It looks like it's been deleted, and based on the content, I'm not surprised. No word from Farah yet on the tweet itself, but I imagine that his meeting with the PM is going to be frosty.
If you are subjected to cyber bullying or need someone to talk to, visit beyondblue.org.au or call Lifeline on 131 114.