Tuesday, 15 May 2012
Alice in Troll-land
Never one to shy away from the big issues, I thought I'd put the collapse of Europe to one side and instead concentrate on a mild spat between two journalists, one of which no-one had ever heard of before a couple of days ago.
In the blue corner: Giles Coren is a journalist for the Times. He published a piece last weekend in which he worried about his young daughter's safety and talked about how he yearned for a return to the comfy womb that was his Prep School. He's an entertaining writer. As a newspaper columnist and one who revels in being provocative (mostly by the use of innuendo and mild ranting) and as one who is a regular user of Twitter, part of his raison d'etre is to stir up opinion, some of which will nod in sage support of him and some of which will inevitably violently disagree. As someone who wrote a book entitled 'anger management', he's clearly an irascible fellow and likes nothing more than a good old spat on Twitter.
In the red corner: a 23 year old journalist called Alice Vincent (she's the non-famous one in this story) and hence information on her is limited. Having read his article, she tweeted Giles with the following:
"Columnists basing their opinions around their chldren. So yawn. Your column today is one step up from a mumsnet blogpost, @gilescoren"
Despite the use of the word 'so' in this context, which is irritating in itself, and the fact that she wrote a later tweet breaking up his name using an apostrophe (think Gile's instead of Giles'), it's actually rather a good put-down. Coren clearly sees himself as something of an alpha male - the enfant terrible of the animal husbandry and allotment world, if you will. Vincent manages to strike two blows - the first is the attack on Coren's own journalistic integrity and the second is achieved by comparing him to something he would regard as total anathema. However, she's clearly struck a raw nerve, because Coren's response demonstrated just how far the bile had risen:
"Go f*ck yourself, you barren old hag"
It's concise, pithy, straight to the point; everything we look for in quality journalism. In fact, if one looks through Coren's timeline, it's littered with profanity and playground insults. He seems to rather like it, and I guess that's his prerogative; you certainly know what the risks are when you choose to insult the man with the tiny beard. He has replied to a direct tweet from a woman he doesn't know, in which she expressed a withering opinion on his latest article. His response is less offensive in many ways, bearing in mind that it strikes nowhere near the heart and is offensive only in a very abstract manner. The fact that she's 23 means that she's not old, it's unsurprising that she's childless (it would be more surprising if she were sprogged up) and though she's no Venus de Milo, she's far from being a hag.
The most boring aspect of the whole spat is the amount of guff that it's generated on Twitter, with (according to Coren) around 85% of the Twitterati supporting him. Supporting him in what? The right to use rude words? The right to take umbrage when his work is criticised? The right to have children and then talk vaguely about them in his column? The fact of the matter is that Coren is just being Coren. It's what he does, it's his USP. He's the gentleman farmer in the wax anorak who talks about provenance of asparagus one minute and calls someone a c*nt the next. It's what we middle-class folk love. Alice Vincent is just a catty wannabe journalist who deserves all the abuse he chooses to give her. And besides, she started it. She should be happy that she's got a rise from him and she should let his clumsy factually incorrect insults wash off her like rainwater from a fresh-picked beet.
Accusations of 'Trolling' seem a trifle overblown. A troll (for those who don't know) is someone who posts inflammatory messages in an online community, with the primary intent of provoking readers into an emotional response. There's no trolling to see here. in fact, there's nothing much to see here. Move along please.