What is a troll? How a useful word became a means of tagging any dissident

I am honest. He is a troll. They are a mob.

Trolling was once a pretty clearly defined behaviour. It meant a kind of puckish, Loki-like internet tendency, the kind of thing that in a world where offline was the only option would have been called satire or mischief. But the word ‘troll’ turned out to be exceedingly useful to people in power, both those with actual political power and those who have cultural and/or media power.

Now a troll means “someone who is mean to me or my friends” and with the metamorphosis of that term has come a feeling that people saying mean things online rapidly jumps the bar set to define harassment. And more ancient words like “bully” or even weaker and more nuanced words like “critic” are being deprecated by people who know that troll gets you more column inches and more of a chance to get your own documentary, TV slot, or radio show.

When David Baddiel mocked Twitter users on the Peston programme, that was satire. When the shitpost left do it to his friends on Twitter, they are trolls and losers. Power is at work here but we’re not supposed to mention it. The government, best typified by troll-in-chief Dominic Cummings, is allowed to mock, gaslight and abuse with impunity, while liberals get their kicks from the pathetic trolling efforts of Led By Donkeys. Anything actually biting or able to transcend the strictures of court jester comedy is considered the work of terrible trolls.

Satire is not just dead but it is being subjected to necrophilia on a weekly basis by the awful Spitting Image and shambling zombie horror of Have I Got News For You. Frankie Boyle’s New World Order, the only TV show that attempts satire, is hidden in the schedules and attacked relentlessly by right-wing talking heads on the radio stations they appear on to claim that their viewpoints are silenced.

What is troll? It’s you, me, and anyone the establishment decides doesn’t get in line with what they find funny, when they find it funny.

Fuck them.

Writer, editor and internet arguer.

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