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Is the Internet Breeding Hate?

Posted on the 14 September 2011 by Periscope @periscopepost
Is the internet breeding hate?

Computer keyboard. Photo credit: DeclanTM on flickr

Satire, exaggeration and parody are as essential to the healthy functioning of a society as politics. Great satirists like Swift and Orwell made fun of their governments and powerful names and unveiled social evils through the use of exaggeration and sly invective. But when does satirical criticism cross the line into hate?

The jailing of Sean Duffy today for posting abusive and sadistic messages on memorial sites for four dead teenagers has put the focus on the issue of trolling, where people use internet anonymity to post potentially hurtful and inflammatory comments online. In their eyes trollers are no doubt exercising a misguided sense of humour. Duffy probably hoped someone would laugh at his posts. Clearly he sense of humour comes from a very dark and twisted place.

Read The Periscope Post‘s analysis of the dark art of trolling here

But then again who judges this? I recently started writing a spoof blog adopting the persona of a well known anarchist and cenotaph vandal who, by dint of his foolishness, received an (arguably) harsh sixteen month sentence in Wandsworth prison earlier this year.
The intention behind my blog was to write a light-hearted satire focusing on the inequities of state and law, using this character as my foil. I wanted to present him as both a fool and a victim. At the same time I tried to make it clear, through ridiculous and inflated language and obviously absurd situations, that the character was a parody. The blog was not written by Charlie Gilmour but a caricature, the archetypal trustafarian, or effete youth.

I hoped to subvert stereotypical images of wealth and privilege through exaggeration and absurdity. But I hadn’t counted on the hornet’s nest I was about to stir. Within a week the blog drew over 5,000 hits. It was inundated with hundreds of messages filled with the most fantastic abuse and irrational derision ranging from mild approbation to out–and-out death wishes. These commentators hadn’t realised, or wilfully ignored, the parody and playfulness behind the blog. They confused my caricature with the real person and decided to fire at him with both barrels.

It was perhaps a hate catharsis. People were critiquing my character because he represents the symbol of unruly youth in this country, an image that’s been fuelled by the recent riots. But where does the criticism remain educated commentary and where does it turn into vindictive abuse?

Of course I have considered whether my own blog, what I had conceived of as ‘satire,’ is a form of internet trolling. Perhaps I didn’t make it funny or ridiculous enough. The fact is that anyone can now set up a Facebook or Twitter account in the name of a celebrity and the line between what is real and what’s not has become blurred.

I did not intend to assume the standards of a Punch or the meticulous wit of a Swift. Nor, though, did I hope to be judged by critics with the intellectual standard of Duffy. The internet has become an essential tool for the modulation and unveiling of social injustice. From Wikileaks to Guido Fawkes, the age of online internet socialism is with us. But even as it grows in use, it seems that the most prevalent emotion the internet offers a release for is hate.

Perhaps readers can judge for themselves. My blog is at http://charliegilmour.wordpress.com


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