Dom Joly: Calm down, Hastings. I don't give in to pier pressure

Click to follow
The Independent Online

More hassle on Twitter last week. I think I'm going to have to discontinue my account soon, as I seem to offend somebody every time I put finger to key. An early rule that I learned was never to drunk-tweet. I'm always a little too honest after a couple of bottles of wine, and keen to take on every troll online. The problem is that I can never remember this important rule after a couple of bottles of wine... it's like Tweet 22.

So, one day last week I woke up and scanned the news – Hastings pier had been burnt down overnight. I didn't stop to think. Up went my first tweet of the day – "Had a great night out in Hastings last night, all got a bit messy, can't remember much but woke up smelling of petrol...". I thought nothing more of it. An hour later, I returned to my laptop to find that the local Hastings paper, not content with having their biggest story since 1066, had decided to mount one of those Daily Mail-wannabe campaigns against my "hurtful Tweet". It was urging readers to start a campaign if they were offended by my "joke".

It didn't bother me – I'm not one to succumb to pier pressure. I should, however, have predicted this would happen. There is nothing that a local paper likes more than the opportunity to splash a hate campaign against some sleb who has bad-mouthed their town all over their tiny front page. As the battle-scarred veteran of similar campaigns in the golden, urban idylls that are Swindon and Weston-super-Mare, I speak from experience. Following something that I wrote in this paper about Weston-not-so-super-Mare, an effigy of me was burnt in the middle of town, followed by a slug race in which all the slugs bore my name. I think I have gone some way to repairing my fight with Swindon but it could blow up again any time.

Curiously, soon after my spat with the good people of Weston-super-Mare, their pier also burned down. Fortunately my Battle of Hastings began shortly after the burning down of their pier rather than before, or people might start putting two and two together and making five.

Someone did make a sign saying "Dom Joly did this", and tacked it up on the beach facing the smouldering remains of Hastings pier. It was photographed and put on Twitter within seconds. So far, however, the police have not been to my door.

What I was really staggered by was people's propensity for being offended. It must be so tiring to trawl the internet looking for things to be "appalled" or "revolted" by. Then you have to write abusive messages to whoever offended you telling them how offended you were and what kind of sexual acts you believe all members of their family regularly perform for very little remuneration.

Facebook seems to be a far more tolerant and polite community than Twitter. Now it seems that scientists at Yahoo might be coming to my aid. They are attempting to devise ways to automatically flag irate tweeters and keep them from ruining online conversations for others. Researchers are apparently developing techniques to identifying negative posts that are off-topic. This, in my opinion, encompasses most of Twitter. The Yahoo boffins, however, claim not to be trying to block trolls and delete their comments – they hope to steer them into more productive discussions by attempting to "defuse" situations or by "using humour".

In my experience, it is the very use of humour that attracts the trolls like flies to dung. I wish the boffins luck, but I don't hold out much hope.