Last night I got a death threat on Twitter. Worse than a death threat in fact, it was an explicit threat to murder someone I care about.
So, I signed out, got a book out and went about the rest of my evening. Not frightened away, or bullied away, but just not wanting to spend my Saturday night in a blazing room (metaphorically or literally).
I'm normally very good at ignoring the toxic tweets, but they do worry me. I don't feel physically threatened by them, but they do serve as a massive slap to the face about how angry and unpleasant some people can be. But the thing that really worries me, is how close to the surface that venom is.
I'm gobby on Twitter, I am aware of this. I mouth off about politics, nonsense and silliness perpetually. This has apparently been worthy of threats to my personal safety, threats of sexual assault, arson threats, people digging into where I grew up and went to school and most offensively, someone digging around and finding out personal information about my mum. I've had threats on here that that have been so grave I have had to take it to the police.
I don't think it is my opinions that cause it, I suspect it is the rather extraordinary number of you who follow* (*tolerate) my ramblings, musing and idiocy that attracts people who, for whatever reason, really need some attention.
They leave me genuinely concerned that we live in a society where there are so many people (and it is not just one or two) who have such ugly rage and hatred bubbling so close to the surface that they want to lash out with such malice. The troll who writes the offensive comment on youtube isn't just flippantly angry, they are walking, talking, typing human beings who like their cup of tea in a particular way and have a favourite record and are known by the person in their corner shop. These little bundles of rage are walking the streets right now (when they're not sat in a darkened room with a lap top). Has the internet made this kind of ugliness more common? Or has it just provided a forum where people can unleash their nastiness?
I am not sure. What I do know, and it's something people seem to forget an awful lot, is that most people on the internet are real life human beings. Nearly everyone who types something has to cut their toe nails, has bills to pay and probably has a family member who is a worry. The trolls and the trolled. Real living people.
The one thing I am certain of, is that the level of trolling I see on the internet does not come from a place of happiness. There is simply no way that the level of abuse I see and receive comes from people who feel loved, cherished and valued. And in there I think I have my solution.
I have no control over who tweets me or with what temperament (and would not seek to) but I do have complete control over how I react to them. I try not to bite back, I try to remain calm and I rarely block people without several warnings. I try to initiate some kind of interaction which is anything less than hate-filled. Because if I can't win someone over to a minimum of polite in 140 characters, what hope do we have for the bigger picture?
I shall continue pouring my nonsense onto Twitter and people are more than free to chose to read it or not, I'm not going anywhere and there is an unfollow button right there if you don't like what you see.
But here's a novel idea maybe we could try for the internet: if you are ever unsure, a little bit cross or happen to come across someone who has a different view or lifestyle to you, before you type, pause a moment and think "Is this polite?".
You never know, people could actually start applying it to everyday life too.