Editorial: Why does an earnest teenage girl enrage the trolls?

The internet has brought a lot of positive impact to the world and the global economy, improving logistics and opening up a whole new universe of opportunity for young entrepreneurs. Not since the dawn of the 21st Century has there been a more fertile ground for new and innovative ideas to disrupt old ways of thinking and creating new wealth. But, as is so often the case with a human endeavour, the positive is often counterweighted with a fair bit of negative.

There is little doubt that the internet has brought about a sea change in communications. Today, everyone with an onramp to the information highway has access to a global platform for their ideas on a scale unprecedented since the days of Gutenberg and his innovation of movable lead type that brought inexpensive books to the masses—and the masses developed an insatiable appetite for information. Newspapers were born and the precursors of the modern media began being hawked on street corners around the globe.

We like to think that those were more pristine times, that a golden age of truth and freedom of expression blossomed across the land. Like most myths, that is more myth and fairytale than any reality reflected on the man in the street.

Pamphleteers hawked the same kind of “fake news” and incendiary language that is so common on the average Facebook page today. Barons of industry bought up newspapers and used them to twist reality and political opinion to their own ends. “Remember the Maine” propelled the US into a war with Spain from the pages of the Hearst dailies in a fabricated version of the more contemporary “weapons of mass destruction” fallacy that cost the lives of hundreds of thousands and whose ripples are still snuffing out innocent lives to this very day.

In the early days of newspapers in this province, each community would have at least two newspapers, one would support one political party, the other its rival. The winner of the election would award the lucrative Queen’s Printer contract to their supporters.

But as society matured, print media, for the large part, became less and less beholden to the masters of the Queen’s favour. Journalism became a vocation for most of its practitioners and the pursuit of the truth, the seeking of justice, were held out as ideals in the industry. That truly was a golden age and it hopefully has not yet ended in these days of hyper polarization and the consolidation of news outlets in the hands of a new small cadre of corporate barons. Time will tell.

But one curious aspect of the social media connection between the modern digital news outlets and the general public has come to the fore in recent days that The Expositor thinks deserves comment. What on earth about a young autistic (Asperger’s is her superpower), but very articulate, 15-year-old girl so unsettles internet trolls that they stoop to hurling hysteric vitriol at her online like a troupe of manic chimpanzees whose banana grove is being threatened by their rivals? A perusal of the comment section below any article about Greta Thunberg reveals an almost unprecedented pattern of shocking misogyny and downright viciousness.

The Expositor has seen something similar in recent weeks in comments being posted about the young climate protestors who recently talked to this newspaper to beg their governments to do something about the impending threats presented by climate change. Generally, these written attacks do not counter with reasoned arguments or factual exchanges, but rather stoop to derogatory and derisive diatribes aimed at the personalities, intelligence and motives of the youth. There is but one word to describe a decent reaction: shame.

We still live in a free and democratic nation and the free exchange of opinion and open debate are a vital part of those freedoms for which so many have given so much, even onto their very lives. But to hurl invective at children goes far, far beyond the pale—however much one does not agree with that child’s position. To attack children trying to make the world a better place and save humanity from its worst inclinations, and to do so with nothing more than the digital equivalent of a chimpanzee’s armament, does nothing to further an argument—instead it belittles and demeans the caster.

The youth of today are standing up for their future. Perhaps instead of a reactionary response, humanity’s collection of trolls would do well to listen.