I make no secret of the fact I'm pretty Twitter obsessed.
I absolutely love it. I use it to keep abreast of breaking news, keep in touch with people (and there really are some fantastic people on there), promote my blog posts (much to my followers annoyance, I'm sure) and just to have a good old rant; whenever I feel the need (hourly, usually).
It's a fun, micro-blogging site which brings me humour, information and knowledge. All in equal doses.
However, yesterday, things took something of a sinister turn.
I'll air anything on Twitter, my views on politics, celebrities, the news, television; you name it, I've got a view on it and yesterday afternoon it was the latter that resulted in me discovering just how disturbing social media can sometimes be.
I sent a tweet out having a bit of a moan about the Celebrity Big Brother line up. I expressed my disappointment in the lack of celebrity housemates that were entering the house. That was it.
Within minutes I had a tweet back from a Big Brother fan page who I don't follow. Nor do they follow me. Because I've now blocked them, I can't find the tweet they sent me but they called me cynical and basically had a bit of a moan at me for what I said. Now, I was in a bad mood yesterday, in fact I've been in a bit of a mood for a few days if truth be told. I'm attributing it to the January Blues I seem to suffer from on an annual basis. So, I fired back a "Oh cock off" response.
Normally I'd be up for a bit of a debate, I'm not one to shy away from voicing my opinions, especially when it comes to Reality TV, but yesterday I just wasn't in the mood. Perhaps I shouldn't have sent my 'oh cock off' tweet, however, I did. I'm not particularly proud of it but I'm also not going to apologise for it. We all do and say things in the heat of the moment and I am no exception to that.
What followed this 'oh cock off' tweet I sent, was a raft of messages that can only be described as vitriolic.
An account began to send me some rather strange messages and tweets.
The first few messages were just a bit immature. "You call yourself a blogger" (had that one before). "You really are pedantic", "Leave (Big Brother fan site account) alone". "Otherwise I will get (another Big Brother fan site) on you". I laughed. I thought I'd suddenly entered a school playground. It literally was that pathetic.
Maybe I should have just blocked the account. I'm usually quite block button happy you see. But I didn't.
I fired back that they'd made an otherwise boring day quite funny and thanked them for it. I'm sarcastic to a fault.
A few messages went back and forth between me and the Troll, I never once insulted, I just continued to be facetious and let them waffle on.
They told me I had 5 minutes to apologise to the Big Brother fan account otherwise they would have me suspended from Twitter. I told them to go ahead, report me, as I'd already reported them.
This person then started with the personal insults. I look so fake (nb. Only my tan and nails are fake). I'm ugly. I'm a bitch. I'm a prick. The insults are not only in messages but they're also now being sent as direct tweets. So this person is being public with their hate.
All the while, I'm just carrying on being sarcastic.
I'm a crackhead. I need to drop dead; 'she' says.
Things soon start taking a really strange and nasty turn.
Over the course of a few hours, this individual, this sad, pathetic person sat behind their phone or computer screen tells me how she's going to stab me. She's going to travel to Bristol and beat me up.
Now, I have a thick skin. Sometimes I think it's a little bit too thick. I know she's not going to harm me, she's just a pitiful Twitter troll with nothing better to do. Her words don't offend me, if anything I'm finding it all laughable the very fact that someone would go out of their way to send me these tweets was as ridiculous as it was amusing.
But then I thought of something.
I imagined a young boy or a young girl feeling a bit low. They might have low self-esteem, perhaps they're being bullied at school or college. They like to use Twitter in the same way I do, to keep up to date with what their favourite celebs are doing or follow their favourite television programmes. And then they start to receive messages from someone telling them they're ugly. Or that they should drop dead.
That person doesn't have a thick skin like myself. They're already in a bad place and low on self-confidence. What effect could those words have on that vulnerable person?
There have been plenty of times I've read articles about young people who have harmed themselves because of something someone has said online. They've been made to feel worthless by someone for absolutely no reason. They have been threatened, again for absolutely no reason.
And that's not OK. In fact, that worries me.
What gives someone the right to make another feel threatened online?
I question would this person go up to another in the cold, hard light of day for no reason and say "I'm going to stab you, you're ugly, you're a bitch, I'm going to beat you up". The likely answer to that is no.
So why is it OK to hide behind the luxury of a computer screen and spout venomous bile like that?
Actions always have consequences. And sometimes those consequences can be dire. Sometimes those consequences can lead to disaster and the thought of a vulnerable person sitting at their computer reading the words "You're a bitch, you're ugly, I'm going to stab you, no one likes you" and actually believing those statements breaks my heart a little.
I, along with countless of my followers have reported this account to Twitter. To date they have done nothing about it. The account is still live, and while I've not received anything for a number of hours now, that's not to say I won't in the future. I'm led to believe this particular Twitter troll is a seasoned pro and has done this time and time again. When 'she' is removed from Twitter she simply sets up another account and starts the whole process over again.
I don't know what the answer is to this. Really, I don't. However, I just wanted to highlight my experience with the often heard of phrase 'trolling'.
I've written previously that trolling and having a debate or difference of opinion are 2 very different things and I'm afraid to say that this experience definitely falls into the trolling category and it's left me feeling really quite disturbed.