When Twitter started, its early adopters probably imagined it turning into a place that would change society for the better. A place where utopian humanitarian campaigns would be RT'd into government legislation and you could find out what Alicia Silverstone's favourite vegan breakfast was. Twitter has revolutionised world news, and it also allows me to follow a fictional account of Disney sensation Lizzie McGuire. These are both great things. Unfortunately, like all great things, Twitter has been tarred by the one essential human flaw: shitty fucking manners.
It has apparently become basic policy that if you disagree with somebody you immediately have to tweet that they're an old slut. We all do it. Except, we all don’t, because most of us understand that when you @ somebody on Twitter, their phone is going to vibrate on the table in front of them, they’re going to unlock it, excited to read some fresh encouraging piece of communication from hundreds of miles away, and they’re going to see that you felt compelled to threaten to rape them. Which is a really, really weird thing to do. Indisputably, the majority of insults are aimed at women and concern their sexual behaviour or physical appearance. Frankly, it's embarrassing for the internet that these people exist.
For some reason, I feel like this week's barrage of sexist Twitter fury, unleashed upon Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Hadley Freeman, your girlfriend, your aunt, the Wayans brothers in White Chicks and the corpse of Mother Teresa, hints at a deeper cultural problem lying beneath all the rape and bomb threats. (I mean, when are rape and bomb threats ever not indicative of a deeper cultural problem?) Is this what happens when you raise a generation on porn and failed hopes? Is this why people still think it's OK to use the terms "dear" or "love"?
What this all leads me to believe is that a lot of people have literally no idea how the internet works, so I’ve written a short guide to existing online. Please follow it. (I am aware that Hadley Freeman published a similarly titled "guide" this week just after I had clicked the last full stop of this piece, which is good because internet trolls are so stupid they almost definitely need two guides. Also, Hadley, I love you.)
Tip #1: Capitalisation Is the Online Equivalent of SHOUTING
Those days when your mum left her phone’s caps lock on because she didn’t really understand or care that you could switch it off are over, friends. You are no longer being summoned for DINNER IN 15 MINS (I miss it too). No, when you capitalise things in a tweet to somebody you don’t know, it’s the same as walking up to a stranger on the street and shouting in their face. It’s quite a high dosage of psychopath, and quite a small dosage of sexy. Here’s how to work out if writing in all caps is appropriate: it's not. Capitals are to start sentences and names with. or not even, if you’re e.e. cummings.
Tip #2: Your Parents Are Probably Reading This
Sometimes the best litmus paper to dip into your half-baked rape tweet is the classic, “What would somebody I love and admire think if they read this horrible insult I’m about to send directly to a stranger?”
Tip #3: Don't Get Mad Because People Are More Famous Than You
I know we’re all totally pissed off after being raised on a diet of Big Brother only to realise we’re no more or less important than every other person on the planet, but surely by the time we're literate enough to use Twitter we should have come to terms with that? Seriously, superiority complexes are so unchill.
Tip #4: Trolling Is Not a Philosophy
While there are certainly a lot of assholes on the internet who genuinely believe they have the right to insult and abuse whole demographics, there is also the school of full-time trolls. Anonymous users who dedicate evenings and weekends to criticising random celebrities and journalists in such an absurdly parochial manner it's clearly coming from a place of (limited) self-awareness. These are people who feel the need to channel their own self-loathing and dissatisfaction onto others using the medium of Twitter. Those pricks who pride themselves on being able to quote Nietzsche and Schopenhauer in the same breath while simultaneously completely missing the point, spending their time secretly re-watching the entire series of Breaking Bad because they have precisely zero friends. At best it's pitiable and at worst it's incredibly disturbing.
Tip #5. Why Bother?
This is quite a simple one.
Follow Bertie on Twitter: @bertiebrandes