By Chris Garrison
Earlier this year, I wrote a piece for Cycling Industry News about how cycling media mirrors mainstream media in its portrayal of women. In it, I listed 5 ways that women are negatively characterised, with examples of each.
I’ve since realised that there is another nefarious pursuit that exists in social media that also impacts the world of cycling in its own special way, and that’s the business of trolling.
Anyone with a passing interest in psychology loves to witness the cognitive malfunction that exists in people who inject themselves into timelines and forum threads with no other intention than to be disruptive.
Trolls are a special group of small-minded people. Anyone with a passing interest in psychology loves to witness the cognitive malfunction that exists in people who inject themselves into timelines and forum threads with no other intention than to be disruptive. These are the bottom dwellers of ‘netizen’ society. They are the online equivalent of Trump supporters. They have formed their own anti-intellectual after school club, because suddenly it’s cool to be dumb. They protest against logic and reason. They seek opportunities to make thinking, empathetic people look like jerks. Their methodology is accidentally clever, even though they don’t realise it because they suffer from Dunning-Kruger like you would not believe.
A quick search reveals that there are many articles that have been written that define various types of online trolls. As many as 18 varieties have been identified, each having their own unique set of subterranean characteristics.
There are an equal number of articles that talk about how to deal with this particular infestation of narcissistic troglodytes. Most of them start off with the idea that you shouldn’t ‘feed the trolls’, because this only makes them stronger.
Intelligent people know that this is true. Yet, we sometimes still manage to let devastatingly glaring examples of idiocy cloud our perspective about the ‘who and what’ in life that really matter. It takes the force majeur of your Agony Aunts and your Mom to bring you back to reality.
This happened to me, and while it was taking place I experienced my own emotional rainbow, with a stripe each for satisfaction, confusion. confoundedness, irritation, and one for general shaking of my head.
The condensed version of the story goes something like this:
I made an observation that many others before me had made about the shoddy nature of some on-air commentary during the Track World Championships. As one very well-respected cycling journalist put it, it was like ‘Beavis and Butthead’. The topic was split between the ‘trembling thighs’ of the women on the track, and the correct pronunciation of Jolene D’Hoore’s surname. It was gross. Creepy. Laddish. Worse, it was incredibly unprofessional and churlish language by two people tasked with doing race coverage on air. It was a clear example of the negative portrayal of women by cycling media.
My Twitter post was a quoted Tweet made by Danielle Kosecki, who began to curate a list of sexist examples within cycling on her Medium page.
In her post on Twitter, she very simply urged the commentators to ‘do better’. To that, one of the commentators replied with:
‘Just so you know, I have reported your re-tweet and remind you that libel law extends to such action. Be VERY sure of such garbage.’
That reply has since been deleted.
Don’t Feed The Trolls
I quoted Danielle’s post, and added my own feelings about the poor quality of the commentary. Soon after, I was plunged into the deep, dark undergrowth of Trollandia, a vast and diverse world with a hierarchy all its own.
The first reply was from someone with whom I’ve had an exchange on Twitter previously. This was the troll King in my particular scenario. That exchange led to a complaint to my employer. In round two, the King applied the ole ‘you’d better be quiet or else!’ tactic again, which carries no weight whatsoever since he can no longer wield his ‘power’ with my employers. He’s reached the limit of his significance. Once I made this known, he ended his next reply with ‘shut up’.
Despite the fact that I allowed myself to break the ‘Don’t feed the trolls’ rule, I’ve grown up enough to know that word choice is extremely important. I wasn’t going to be baited into saying anything incendiary, and I simply stuck with the soundness of my argument that the original on-air commentary had no business on air.
What followed was a series of interjections by another group of fanboys and girls of the king troll, who were quick to rush to his aid by entering into the conversation with no direct provocation. They were hybrid trolls: a sinister combination of White Knights, who were there to defend the “good” reputation of their king, and Flamers, who insult and denigrate.
I was called a ‘Troll blogger’ for pointing out the egregiousness of the commentary. My credibility as a veteran of the bike industry was called into question. I was told I was the one making an attack. I was called an embarrassment. And then came the comments about my appearance, all of which likened me to various men. I was told I look like ‘Dudley Moore snorting Bovril’, Screech from Saved by the Bell, and various others. All of which I found quite entertaining, really. Nevertheless, attacking how a woman looks is its own level of nescient nastiness employed by trolls, particularly men attacking women. Had my skin not been well leathered after years of working in a male-dominated industry, such comments might have been more detrimental to my mental health.
Trolls give zero f…s about the damage they might be inflicting on others, and this is what makes them particularly heinous human beings.
It was suggested, by a woman, that if I was an example of the women who work in the bike industry, then she wouldn’t hire women to work in the trade if her job was to do so. I particularly love it when women defend men who say terrible things about women, simply because their personal, face to face experience with said man is a positive one. In this case, this troll completely ignored the fact that the comments happened during a broadcast. They were recorded. Other people heard them. It was in no way something that happened to me personally.
At some point, the trolls played the ‘libel law’ card, yet in a way that demonstrates they have zero clue about how the libel law in the UK actually works. My observation about the seediness of the commentary was held by many, many others. So, it was never going to have an impact on the livelihood of the commentators. But lets say they did lose their jobs over it. If the broadcaster had received enough complaints to take action, then defamation simply doesn’t apply.
The same libel law troll then went after the sponsors of a friend of mine who happened in to the exchange. Now, if this troll had been successful in negatively impacting my friend’s sponsorship, then that WOULD have been grounds for libel, against the troll. This gives me the hearty guffaws. Play the libel card. Then act in a libellous fashion, all the while not realising that you are doing the very thing you are wrongly accusing others of doing. That, my friends, is a textbook example of Dunning-Kruger for you.
Even as I write this, a full day after the exchange started, I’m still the subject of subtweets by this group. My entire timeline is being scrolled for the purposes of forming characterisations about me.
In other classic bullying behaviour two of the trolls played the victim card, and told me to stop contacting them. They put themselves into a conversation between myself and their king, then made out that I was the one trolling them, by replying to their comments to me.
I was called a troll. There is a special place in hell reserved for trolls whose M.O. is to call other people trolls, when all facts point to nothing of the sort.
My failing in this scenario was forgetting the basic rule of not taking the bait. What’s worse, is that I took the bait thinking that reason and logic might win the day. I was completely wrong about this. There is no winning when wagons are circled, and the anti-intellectual trolls feel that one of their own is being threatened. Once this happens, they will employ every trolling tactic out there.
In the end, no one wins the Game of Trolls. The trolls don’t, because they just look like assholes the whole time to anyone with half a brain. Those on the receiving end certainly don’t, because they, like me, will try and find answers to simple questions like ‘how can people be so…’, while the shroud of acrid self-disappointment drapes over you when you realise that a huge amount of time has been wasted on entirely inconsequential people. And people who have pulled up the proverbial chair don’t, because at some point they see they are watching good people getting blasted by idiots, and since at the time they are being rightly sensible by not engaging, they take their empathy and go back to the things that really matter.
Don’t let the turkeys get you down
The lesson to be learned is that the rule about not feeding trolls should be followed. People can only control how you feel if you give them that control. If your guard drops, and they pounce, you’ll regret that you’ve let cognitively microscopic people get the better of you for a short while. Go outside, hop on a bike, and allow the restorative power of being on two wheels remind you that life is far too short to let the turkeys get you down.