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When confronted, online trolls sound like reasonable people

Commentary: A British news channel calls some of those who have emailed or left threatening Twitter messages to a politician.

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


Anonymous teenager in mask on internet at night

Behind the mask could be someone you chat to in the coffee shop.

Getty Images

When you read some of the vile things posted on Twitter, do you try and imagine what the person behind the nastiness is really like?

Do you envision them going about their lives with permanently snarling expressions, spitting at those who dare to disagree with them?

The UK's Sky News thought it would try and chat with a couple of people who sent nasty online messages -- in which they identified themselves -- to British politician Anna Soubry. 

She's a conservative, but happens not to be sure that Britain should break away from the European Community and return to its isolated self-regard.

One troll had written to her: "I hope you do spend the rest of your life looking over your shoulder in fear, it's the least you deserve." 

Another suggested she should be hanged. 

Listen, though, to how these people sound when a Sky reporter talked to them.

They sound like everyday people, don't they? 

Indeed, they're at pains to make it seem as if the positively unpleasant and even threatening things they wrote are perfectly reasonable expressions of disagreement. The woman who wishes Soubry to live in fear insists that her comments are being taken out of context. Wait, that's a politician's argument.

The man who suggested that the politician should be hanged first makes a speech in favor of hanging, before finally conceding: "To say they should be hanged, it's a debatable point and maybe I regret [writing] that."

Maybe.

As Twitter begins to clean house a little, banning some of those who peddle hate and harassment, it's worth remembering that those who rage online aren't necessarily those who rage in real life.

The web gives them an excuse to vent in a manner that at least some parts of society still frown upon.

Soubry didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. However, she told Sky News that she believes these people are stirred up by certain right-wing newspapers. She also admitted: "I do get worried."

Part of the worry lies in the fact that with some threats, you have an idea of what your enemy might look and act like.

Online, it could be anybody.

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