Opinion

Why We Need To Stop Using The Word Troll

As Lily Allen is forced off Twitter by people mocking her mental health, columnist Lucy Vine says we need to start seeing each other as people again

I’ve decided I’m going to stop using the word ‘troll’. I’ve always felt weird about it because it makes me picture goats on a bridge, but more importantly, I’m worried it’s started to change the way I think.

Every time I call one of those people on Twitter a troll, I’m seeing them as subhuman – as a monster – instead of what they really are: real, live human beings with mums and dads and family and friends, who are making a choice to sit at their computer and write despicable things. By referring to them dismissively as ‘trolls’, I’m excusing them. I’m pretending to myself that these people who spent their weekend blaming Lily Allen for the death of her child and mocking her mental health are not real. When someone is saying something that monstrous, it feels necessary to pretend they are actual monsters. Except they’re not.

It started a couple of days ago, when the singer posted some stuff on her Twitter account about our country being ‘taken over’ by ‘extremist’ pensioners. It was a heavy handed point, designed to show up some of the prejudice immigrants and Muslims are exposed to on a daily basis. And because of course, Lily was then viciously attacked, with some Twitter users even accusing her of being insane. She tweeted back, ‘I DO have mental health issues. Bi-polar, post-natal depression, and PTSD, does that make my opinion void?’ One woman responded with ‘She has mental health issues now? Sure it’s not the side effects of drug abuse?’ Nice.

Others picked up on the post-traumatic stress disorder Lily suffered with after her son was stillborn in 2010, telling her, ‘If you didn't pump your body full of drugs you wouldn't have miscarried.’ Lily responded: ‘I didn't miscarry, I went into early labour and my son died from his chord wrapped round his neck.’ And then someone sent Lily this tweet, that burns my fingers to type out: ‘The baby knew you were going to be such a horrible mother so it decided to go out on its own terms.’ It got over a hundred likes.

I’ll say it again at this point: these are real people – people who could have sisters or brothers or children of their own – and yet, something about this world we currently live in, means they felt OK about telling a woman that her child’s death was her own fault. We’re more divided politically than we’ve maybe ever been, and with extreme views, comes extreme anger. While I’m dismissing people as monsters – ‘trolls’ – I know they’re doing the same to me. The people who wrote those things to Lily are able to justify doing it in their heads, because they think she is the monster, not them. It’s the same reason people can so readily dismiss the plight of refugees and attack Lily for her views – because they have dehumanised them. The more we see each other as less than human beings, the more we’re going to act like less than human beings. These are not trolls, they’re people who have told themselves this behaviour is OK. And it’s f*cking not.

Lily had enough around that point, tweeting, ‘My timeline is full of the most disgusting, sexist, misogynistic, racist sh*t. Really, new levels.’ She later posted a screengrab of Twitter’s response to her complaint, informing her they’d ‘found that there was no violation of Twitter’s rules regarding abusive behaviour’. Honestly, I have no idea what constitutes abuse, in that case. Maybe, with everything happening out there – when you have a US President who publicly attacks anyone who dares to disagree with him – maybe the bar is higher now when it comes to what we regard as unacceptable.

But either way, it’s yet more proof that, as women, we need to help each other and stand together. Next week is International Women’s Day and this Sunday 5 March, Care International are marching for gender equality in London, focusing in particular on the 65.3million refugees who’ve been forced out of their homes around the world – y’know, the people Lily Allen was trying to speak up for in the first place. From midday on Sunday, I will be joining the likes of Dr Helen Pankhurst, great-granddaughter of suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst and my boy-crush London Mayor Sadiq Khan. Because we need to start recognising each other as people again. Lily Allen is a human being, refugees and immigrants are human beings, and yes, these trolls are also human beings. If we can all start remembering that fact, maybe we can move some way towards treating each other like humans again.

Get more info on the when and wheres of the march here: www.careinternational.org.uk/March4Women

Follow Lucy on Twitter @lecv

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