Amanda Todd was 15 when she hanged herself last week. She'd been bullied, repeatedly, for a mistake she'd made a few years before. New schools and the pining for fresh starts weren't enough to outrun her bullies or those who thought they had a right to judge her. And no matter what her desperate parents did to try to help her get past that one stupid moment in her life, there were dozens, perhaps even hundreds of others who just couldn't let it go and bludgeoned her with it repeatedly.
Within hours of her death, trolls were bullying her and those grieving for her online yet again, posting hateful, perverse messages that crowed over the fact that she'd given up.
They were, of course, anonymous — because that's what trolls do. Most people who are bent on spreading hatred and misery don't sign their names. In a bygone era, they were the mean-spirited folks who left anonymous notes and spread cruel rumors in whispered voices. Back then, they didn't have the tools the Internet provides to widen the pool in which they spewed.
Then or now, it would apparently be way too classy to sign your name and stand behind your opinion. That alone says that those who hide while spreading hate are ashamed of themselves.
They should be.
Over the years, we've had some heated discussions at work on whether this or that comment board on a story should be closed down because of how vituperative and hateful the comments are. Anonymous, of course.
It never ceases to amaze me how badly people can behave when they think no one will recognize them. And it's not just on stories of mistakes people have made, either.
I wrote a story about a man whose wife was dying of a degenerative disease that also impacted some of their children and how it had wreaked havoc on the trajectories of their lives. Commenters picked apart his decisions following her diagnosis, as if somehow he'd started the whole trauma, rather than as someone doing the best he could in literally awful circumstances.
Some people always find something mean to say, regardless of what the story is. And that's after moderators have culled the worst of it.
It happens so often that my colleagues and I frequently warn people who are kind enough to entrust us with their stories about what they can expect.
Themes of forgiveness, faith, encouragement and brotherly love often don't take center stage when people are allowed to judge each other. You just have to wonder where the deep anger toward people who are probably strangers comes from and whether there's a more constructive way to work through what must be some serious personal issues.
I don't know many people who have never made a mistake or would like to be judged — make that hammered — over the ones they did make.
I'd like to think for some it's not real hatefulness, but more of a nasty habit. "Look at me. I'm devastatingly sharp. My wit cuts." Perhaps, if someone were to point it out, it might be stopped or at least lessened.
So here goes:
If you only write negative things on stories and you seem to have something nasty to say about every single story you read, regardless of the topic or the publication, you're a troll. If you read the comments and then add to them without even reading at least part of the story, you're a troll. If you look for other opportunities, like a rest-in-peace Facebook page, to be mean, you're a bully and a troll.
Perhaps you should go back under your bridge and take a nap.