A friendship of strangers

I like the internet. I like it a lot. I have no TV, and surfing the internet is my way of keeping in touch.

Like many people in this brave new world, I am a member of a number of online communities. Facebook, of course, but also some forums where like-minded people (and sometimes non like-minded) people come together. To many of my hobby related forums, like the hobbies themselves, I am not loyal – as my hobbies change and flow, so does my forum attendance. But there are a couple of forums at which I would consider myself a regular.

There is one forum in particular of which I’ve been a member for some time. Unlike many forums, it contains a large membership from the UK, which means that many of the experiences are things to which I can relate. The members represent a huge variety of geographical locations, backgrounds and ages. It is incredibly interesting to read the debates between such a varied group of people, and I genuinely feel my outlook has been broadened and enhanced through this.

Over time, you feel you get to know something about the other regular posters. What they do, where they live, what they like and dislike, whether they are supportive or challenging. Also, you can easily see who the popular posters are, the cool people, the ones who, if this were the school playground, would have a large group of friends and would rarely be laughed at or challenged by others. I don’t suppose it needs saying that I was never one of the cool ones, and am still not :)

Occasionally – as in any relationship, I suppose – something happens that make you think quite differently. And one such thing happened this weekend. One of the regulars – a highly prolific poster – was outed as a troll. A troll on a forum is someone who posts with the intent of making mischief, and can range from simply creating a new username to post something contentious to being very vindictive. Sadly, it turned out that this particular troll is someone who has ‘struck’ before, and once she had been identified, there was a concerted effort to deal with the situation to remove her from the forum. She was discovered, and uncovered, by some very observant people who developed concerns over the inconsistencies in her stories.

This incident surprised me for a number of reasons. First, I had had no such concerns. I had not picked up that her stories were particularly extreme, or unbelievable, or inconsistent. Whether this is because I do not read as many posts as I thought I did, or whether it is because I tend to take people at face value, I don’t know. Both, probably.

Secondly, I had thought of this poster as being incredibly popular. She seemed to be one of the in-crowd.

Lastly, she wrote her posts as if she had met a number of the other regulars and was on very friendly terms with them. I was very surprised to find this was not the case. Really very surprised indeed – as were others, it turns out.

It has made me realise that you really can’t take things at face value on the internet. Not at all – not even in a virtual community that you think you know. And this saddens me, although I suppose it doesn’t surprise me if I think hard enough about it.

But actually, I’m proud of the way this community dealt with this. The way they uncovered the troll, dealt with this, and are coming back together as a community. It’s clear that one ill-minded person is not going to bring the others down. And this makes me happy again.

I’m a simple soul at times.

To mark this event, I felt the need to draw a troll. This was finished some time after the event, so was added in later. I like this troll…

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