Game of Trolls
Padraig Reidy: Who's Troll-y Now?
22 Oct 12

You know you’ve made it when you’re on the front page of the Sun. By that measure, the time of the troll has truly come, as Britain’s favourite paper has led with the story of the singer Adele being “targeted” by “sick trolls” “threatening” her and saying the star’s baby “should be killed”.  Note the fact I had to put almost every word in scare quotes. The Mail ran the same story with the same tone, as did the Independent.

The story “reveals” that some people made jokes about a celebrity and her baby on Twitter. But what none of the quoted tweets appears to do is to “target” Adele. There is an OfficialAdele account, but it’s unclear whether she actually runs it, and it’s not exactly prolific. In any case, not one of the “sick jokes” made by the “vile trolls”, is actually directed at the account. There are just some rubbish jokes, chucked into the ether, and picked up by a journalist desperate for Monday morning copy. As so often happens with red-top stories, we have a celebrity, and a big current talking point — free speech on the web and cyberbullying — conflated into one big nothing.

Trolling can be defined as posting irrelevant, off topic or inflammatory material in order to get a heightened, perhaps irrational response. No wonder tabloid newspapers are so nervous about it — they’ve been sole practitioners for years, and have only just realised they’ve got rivals.

By Padraig Reidy

Padraig Reidy is the editor of Little Atoms and a columnist for Index on Censorship. He has also written for The Observer, The Guardian, and The Irish Times.