Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Accidental Trollist

Of all the horrid beasties that crawl and lurk through the darkest corners of cyber-space and the virtual world, is a truth universally acknowledged that the troll is the worst. The troll is that nasty creature who would sow discord where there should be harmony, sadness where there should be joy, hatred where there should be love.

As such it is rather a jolt for your faithful correspondent – a lover, not a fighter for all of his adult life – to discover that he is now that thing that is most despised. In some sort of Kafka-esque metamorphosis, I retired to bed a human being, pink and rather hairy, and awoke a troll, green and rather scaly.

The worst thing is that I wasn’t even trying. Over the years, on both this blog and more recently on Twitter, my very favourite thing on the internet, I’ve made it a point to not roll around in the muck unless I absolutely, positively have to. The secret of Twitter isn’t to engage, although engagement is important. It’s far more important not to engage, because firstly, you may be misunderstood, secondly, 140 characters doesn’t allow for much subtlety of expression and thirdly, fourthly and far most importantly, 99% of the great wide world really doesn’t give a rooty-toot-toot what you say.

When you engage with strangers, it’s important to remember that it’s very similar to seeing Brian O’Driscoll in a pub. Manners permit a nod in passing and perhaps small talk if queuing at the bar or at adjacent stalls at the porcelain against which all pints must eventually flow. But you do not pull up a chair, sit down and ask him if he’s pissed at Kidney for making Heaslip captain. That isn’t done.

What separates Twitter interaction from normal social interaction is that it’s the peculiar nature of Twitter that any tweet addresses the entire pub, rather than just one’s own group. And as such, a path to interaction exists that doesn’t exist in real life. But walking down that path can have unexpected consequences, as your now green, scaly and – oh God, oh God – slimy and smelly Spailpín discovered.

The sitch is this. One of the other many joys of Twitter is that you can enjoy sports events or public debates with a wider, virtual, community. This was the case the weekend before last, when your correspondent was sitting down enjoying some American football. Also sitting down in another part of the world enjoying the game was Brian Moore, solicitor, oenophile and former rugby union hooker for Nottingham, Harlequins, England and the British Lions. So far, so good.

During the course of the broadcast Brian Billick, one of the commentators, remarked how much he was looking forward to visiting the US troops in Guantanamo Bay. The co-commentator saluted all US troops, where-ever they may be and both men agreed that the US of A was the greatest country in the world. Fair enough.

Unless you’re Brian Moore. Moore didn’t like them onions, and tweeted: “#nfl Stupidity - NFL US comms refers to troops & proclaims the greatest nation on earth; co-comm then mentions Guantanamo without irony.”

Now. Really, I should have let that lie. But Brian Moore and I suffer from a difference of perspective. For Moore to hear another nation’s jingoism was shocking, because he’s not used to it. For us in Ireland, we hear it all the time, because we watch BBC and ITV. We spend all our lives listening to another nation’s jingoism.

But I didn’t think that difference of perspective through at the time. Instead, I replied to Brian Moore, remarking: “Everyone on the BBC wears a poppy in November Brian. You're in no position to give out about militarism.”

And then all hell broke loose. Moore replied with “Go away, you Irish troll,” which hurt my feelings just a biteen. However, I did not call him names as he did me, and tried to make my point as politely as I could. I realised half-way through though that the point was too subtle for the medium and I should have kept my damn mouth shut. Oh well. These things happen.

What I don’t think is fair, however, is that Moore has now subsequently blocked me – meaning that I am now no longer permitted to follow him. His tweets do not appear in my tweet stream, and I cannot respond to his tweets as I did the weekend before last.

Again, in the bar situation, I have no business butting into Brian Moore’s conversation. I’ve never met the man. But his tweet was in the public domain and I was far more polite replying to him than he was replying to me. Yet it’s me that’s wearing the leper’s bell, and am unclean, unclean.

For what it’s worth, a choice between Eddie Butler and Moore’s BBC commentary and our own come the Six Nations is no choice at all, with the BBC winning every time. Moore is superb as an analyst, with his love rugby union football easily over-riding the bias that he makes no secret about.

I also like that he occasionally tweets a word in Irish. He may be doing it to rise people, but at least he’s gone to the trouble of finding out what the word is. There are people in our own country who can’t even do that. And I still stand over my opinion that the poppy is a military symbol. Of course I do, because it is.

I’m just a little miffed that Moore blocked me when I wasn’t the one doing the name-calling. When the 21st Century Emily Post updates her famous guide to etiquette I hope my sad case of the Accidental Troll makes a sidebar, at least. And now, please excuse me – it’s damp in the cave, and I don’t want any more moss or lichen on my laptop.