As Lily Allen's new video 'URL Badman' confronting internet trolls landed today, cyber bullying continues to dominate headlines. But who are the people who viciously troll, and why do they do it? Here, in a shocking confession, internet abuser Katy* gives a disturbing insight into what really goes on inside the mind of a cyber bully
- As told to Anna Hart
‘Sitting on the bus on my way home from work, I took out my phone. Tapping out a message, I paused briefly to check the wording before pressing send, a satisfied smile on my face. No, I wasn’t texting a boyfriend or Facebooking a friend; I was sending an abusive message to a well-known celebrity on Twitter.
‘It was the culmination of a furious online row that had started with me saying, “Shut up + never open your stupid mouth again”, and escalated with me typing, “You look like the bastard child of Leo Sayer + a rat – just p*** off and die.”
‘They were just two of the hundreds of abusive messages I send every month to actors, singers, bloggers, writers… anyone, basically, who I think is overrated. I’m not proud – I’m actually slightly ashamed to admit it, but I am an internet troll.
'This year the spotlight has been on cyber bullying, with the first Safer Internet Day, aimed at protecting young people from online abuse. Meanwhile, stars including Cate Blanchett read out the abusive tweets they’d received on US chat show Jimmy Kimmel Live. It went viral after Jennifer Garner read out a vile tweet she’d received that said, “You look like a duck’s vagina.”
‘And, earlier this year, Isabella Sorley and John Nimmo were jailed for sending offensive remarks and threats to feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez. So I know what I’m doing is not without its repercussions. But, and this may sound weird, I just can’t stop… because nothing thrills me more than knowing that I, a 26-year-old junior marketing girl living with her mates in a poky Manchester flat, is taking down an in-your-face celebrity in front of the whole world.
I imagine you’re wondering what drives me to send such disgusting messages on Twitter, or relentlessly write mean character assassinations in the comments section of the MailOnline?
‘Perhaps, predictably, I was bullied at school, which left me feeling incredibly traumatised and angry. Feelings that I can now see that I internalised. The bullying stopped after my tormentor was expelled and, on the surface, that seemed the end of it. I started making friends and, by the time I went to university, I appeared quite confident. Normal.
‘Except I wasn’t. I still had feelings of rage and injustice about what had happened to me. I could hide them from friends and family, but those emotions were never far from the surface. When I applied for the role of arts editor at the uni paper – and didn’t get it – I was enraged. The girl who did get the job became the target of my anger, and when her first article went online, I gave myself a fake username and wrote, “What a complete pile of crap.” At first, I felt a rush of terror – that somehow someone would be able to trace the comment back to me. But when that didn’t happen, I felt a twisted thrill that my opinion was out there. It felt like I’d transferred the bad feelings from inside my head to the outside. Over the next few months, I continued to write snide comments under everything she wrote.
‘I made the mistake once of bitching about her to some friends and they were stunned that I was so angry. It was then that I realised the importance of keeping my feelings secret… and anonymous.
‘After joining Twitter in 2008, I quickly realised it was the ideal forum to let rip, which has since become known as trolling. At the time, I’d just graduated and was getting knock-back after knock-back in my hunt for work. One day, after reading one too many narcissistic tweets from a US reality star about her “amazing” fiancé, I snapped. Logging in under an anonymous Twitter name, the adrenaline was pumping around my body as I wrote, “If you can’t see he’s only with you for your money, you’re stupid as well as ugly.” I felt really powerful; suddenly, I wasn’t the loser out there. I had opinions. I mattered. The minute I sent the tweet I felt a twinge of shame and regret. But the initial rush I felt became addictive.
‘I’m not trying to justify my behaviour, but it reminded me of when I was bullied – I would self-harm when I got home from school, and the instinct to troll feels similar. I know that it’s a power trip and it’s no coincidence that I do it when I’m feeling ugly, insecure or unappreciated. But no matter how much I analyse it and know deep down it’s damaging to me as well as the recipient, I still can’t stop. The rush makes me feel good for that instant.
‘My habit soon escalated. I began sending a few messages a month to celebrities and newspaper columnists who annoyed me with their vain selfies or ridiculous comments. Twitter makes trolling very easy. I created several different Twitter handles linked to different email accounts, which all filter into one inbox, so I could access it all from my smartphone.
‘My abusive tweets would become more prolific after another job rejection or a row with my flatmates. And it has got to the point where I now send them every week – on my commute, in my front room, even at my desk surrounded by colleagues.
‘When I was made redundant from my first job, my way of coping was to hole up in my room with my laptop and a serious supply of Diet Coke. My flatmates thought I was job-hunting, but instead I was relentlessly attacking a British model and socialite who I really dislike. She tweeted photoshopped images of a new campaign, and I tweeted, “Without photoshop you look like a spotty 12-year-old boy – you’re so unsexy” and “Take your ugly face off the internet + away from our eyes”, until she finally blocked me.
‘My ultimate aim – like any troll – is to get a rise out of my victim. Recently, I called a singer a “fat ugly cow” and she retweeted it to her 70,000 followers. Some people attacked me back, but just as many agreed with me. My comments aren’t misspelled vitriol: I pride myself on being snide, sarcastic and funny – and hitting them where it hurts. It feels like you’re setting off a bomb in someone else’s day.
‘You might imagine that I’m a loud, aggressive bully in person, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, I’ve got plenty of friends who all consider me a bit shy and insecure and tell me I need to stick up for myself more. But I’d never dream of saying a bad word to someone in person – believe it or not, I’m actually quite scared of confrontation.
‘It took me a long time to admit that what I do counts as trolling; the same way that nymphomaniacs insist, “I just have a healthy appreciation for sex.” I know this is a coping mechanism. I keep telling myself I’ll stop when I finally have a life that makes me happy; when I have a boss who respects me and a boyfriend who adores me. I guess then I’ll have better stuff to do. Right now, though, I don’t – it’s the quickest way to transform how I’m feeling.
‘I have considered therapy for depression, because I know my trolling gets a lot worse whenever I feel bad about myself and it’s far from healthy. But I’m not sure if I could ever bring myself to tell even a therapist what I do. None of my friends know my guilty secret; they’d be horrified. I’ve just started seeing a guy I met online, and I’ve been trolling a lot less recently. I guess the combination of an ego boost and being accountable to someone who questions how much time I spend on Twitter helps. But I still can’t completely kick the habit. I’m not really scared of being sued. I just can’t imagine anyone taking what I do that seriously. And even though I know there are ways to trace usernames, I simply can’t imagine it happening to me.
‘I do have some morals. I would never attack the relatives of teenagers who have been murdered or committed suicide. That kind of trolling I really don’t understand. My victims are all public figures.
‘You might think that a person who trolls doesn’t give a damn what other people think of them, but the opposite is true. I’m obsessed with people’s opinions of me. Trolling is definitely about attention, about getting a response from the wider world. Sometimes, the internet can feel
like a party you’re not invited to, but if you troll, people sit up and take notice.’
Have you ever been the victim of trolling? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org