Twitter trolls send out a bad message for GB, but Olympians have handled it with dignity
This month, the eyes of the world are on Great Britain. Our organisation and preparation skills will be examined by eager tourists, as will British society in general. I saw first-hand how a mere smile from a city commuter to an American tourist on the tube can go a long way this week.
This has always been the way with the Olympic Games. For a couple of weeks, the host nation is scrutinised from every angle by a few hundred thousand visitors. Yet, British society is no longer just on display for those who meet it in the flesh. The world is getting smaller.
The behaviour of a single British fan on Twitter was undoubtedly seen by more people around the world than on our little island. It hit the headlines in all corners of the planet. What sort of message did it send out to the world of our national attitudes?
On Monday, we saw the dark side of social media, and human nature. After Tom Daley and Peter Waterfield narrowly missed out on a diving medal in the Men’s 10 Metre Synchro, a mindless jibe rubbed salt into Daley’s wounds.
One of life’s many unanswerable questions asks whether language forms motions of thought, or thoughts effect the implementation of language. Such an intelligent question has no place here, though. The events of Monday night are, in short, the prime example of the absolute dangers of detachment when tweeting. The idea that a screen protects you from the consequences of what you type is becoming far too common.
Broadcaster Richard Bacon produced a fascinating documentary about so-called “trolls” earlier this year. I use quotation marks because labelling the culprits of these terrible abuses adds a sense of competence to their public perception. It’s not big, brave, or impressive to sit behind a keyboard and hurl vile insults at people.
Although the overwhelming response to Tom’s harassment was against the bully, some quietly suggested authorities wouldn’t have dealt with the situation, if it hadn’t involved a celebrity. “Do u really deserve to be arrested just because u said something harsh 2 a famous person?”, a tweeter queried last night.
Surely a more important question about our society would ask if someone deserves such despicable treatment, just because they’re famous. A teenage boy’s father tragically passes away due to cancer. The boy’s job might throw him in the papers, but that doesn’t justify victimising him over such an awful personal heartbreak.
I also note that, although UK police officers dealt with the issue, Twitter failed to. The abusive user’s account is still online. I, for one, was fascinated to see Twitter instantly ban Independent journalist, Guy Adams, who criticised one of its business partners, and turn a blind eye to the culprit of this slur.
From a British perspective, the saddest part of this story is that it’s not in isolation. Tom’s fellow young Team GB member, 18 year-old weightlifter Zoe Smith, was also the subject of online victimisation this week.
These people are the pinnacle of British sport. They might not pick up medals over the next fortnight, but the very fact that they are in with a chance at their age is nothing short of incredible. They are Olympic heroes no matter where they come, inspiring young people up and down the UK.
Moreover, the dignified way in which they have handled their negative encounters is an even greater credit to them.Tagged in: Guy Adams, olympics, team gb, Tom Daley, trolls, twitter, Zoe Smith
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