I started working in radio at the age of 18. It was the year 2000. We’d just survived the millennium bug. The computers hadn’t imploded, or ended civilisation as we knew it.
Text messaging was also being embraced at stations across the world. SMS was really “taking off”, according to one boss. “What?!” blurted out one old jock. “Like the listener will ever give up the phone to call the DJ. Never.Gonna.Happen.”
You get the idea.
It seemed so simple to text. It was a revolution. Interacting with your favourite djs had never been easier.
After a few years of working on other people’s shows, I got my “big” break. Now I was under no illusion that anyone was actually listening to a student radio station on a Monday morning at 4am. In fact, it made it slightly easier. No pressure.
So when the station manager told me they thought it was important for the listeners to interact with Leeds Student Radio, I thought he was completely batshit crazy.
“We’ve strapped a Nokia 3310 to the desk. The number is 07855662117.”
(It clearly wasn’t that exact number)
So let me get this right…people are expected to listen so intently as to remember a 10 digit phone number? If one required a definition for delusions of grandeur, then surely this was it?
But this grey Nokia 3310 strapped to a desk in a Leeds Uni cupboard was to be my first experience of what we have now come to understand as “trolling”.
The first message I read from that tiny mobile screen was “You’re shit. You’re boring. Get the fuck off.” Can you imagine how much hope, joy and excitement was in my little heart as I went to open that? Only to be greeted by the hate filled bile at 5am on a cold, wet winter morning. I’m sure it would have been tougher to take if it hadn’t been for the quarter bottle of vodka I’d neck before every show to deal with the nerves.
That would continue in much the same vain, for the remainder of the broadcast. Which was about one month, twice a year.
The following year I got an ACTUAL job. AN ACTUAL JOB IN RADIO. Paid and everything. I’ll never forget my first ever pro-troll. Dave, the taxi driver from Wakefield. That’s how he signed off every text message. Loud and proud.
When he didn’t, I could recognise the number. I’ve never forgotten his first message. It was so angry. It contained so many swear words, it would be so hard to mistake his hatred for me.
“You’re the worst fucking radio presenter I’ve ever heard. Shut the fuk up u stupid cunt. This is the shittest radio I’ve herd.” (The great thing about trolls is their spelling is often atrocious. I imagine it has something to do with the explosion of anger that kickstarts their furious tapping on a keyboard.)
Say what you REALLY think Dave.
It’s worth pointing out that these days text messaging systems in TV, radio etc blank out swear words so the person can’t actually read what’s been said. But back in the day you got the full message. In all it’s glory. One really got a sense of the emotion in a troll.
Around that time, another troll of mine wasn’t as angry or hateful, but often made me uncomfortable. She was a woman from Scunthorpe who would often send in pictures of herself naked. Her questions were basically about my penis, or what I like kissing? This wasn’t your classic troll activity, granted. And I know this happened to other people on air. It was, however, still uncomfortable. And weird. Very, very weird.
Like with most things in entertainment, there is no training on how to deal with this. In fact, the only advice you’ll ever hear is just to ignore it.
Anyway in 2005, I left Dave from Wakefield and the pervy woman from Scunthorpe, and headed for a bigger station in Leeds. Galaxy 105. What I found here was that as the audience size increased, so does the level of troll.
One massive fan of the show would often text me and tell me that I was a “posh cunt.” Now as someone who’s lived all over the place, I know i have the most generic accent possible. A slight Northern twang probably. Possibly even a whiff of Yorkshire. But nothing that would make you think I spent my weekdays in Chelsea, and weekends in the country. The same person actually turned up to a DJ set once, and said the same thing TO MY FACE. Imagine taking the time to do that. But I got used to it. Essentially, he was saying “you don’t sound like me and I don’t like that.” Galaxy 105 was a Yorkshire station for Yorkshire people. It’s strength was it’s regional pride. And I understood that.
However in 2006, there was a definite gear shift to the next level of the troll.
Whilst on-air threatening messages with varying degrees of violence directed at me started to appear during my shows. So I began searching the number to see what else they’d been sending to the station. They’d be contacting one other presenter, my mate Dave Kelly. Dave was on after me and i remember briefly mentioning it in passing as we handed over one night. We laughed it off. Neither of us reported it. They were just words. But not long after, in bold black capital letters, the most punchy, impactful, hate filled message arrived.
“I WANT TO PUSH YOU OFF THE HIGHEST BUILDING I CAN FIND AND WATCH YOU FALL. AND AS YOUR HEAD SMASHES TO THE GROUND. I WANT TO SEE THE BLOOD DRAIN FROM YOUR HEAD.”
They had my attention.
I thought it best to report it. A lovely lady who looked after me told me she had to ring the police. They quickly arrived to interview me. They offered to have someone walk me to my car and follow me home, but it felt overly dramatic. All very unnecessary.
A few weeks passed. Dave Kelly and I stopped getting the messages. The police contacted us to say we wouldn’t be hearing from them again, and not to worry.
WHAT HAPPENED? WHO WAS IT? AND WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
As the years passed, social media exploded. Facebook and Twitter became the playground for the opinionated, ignored and unheard. Finally, they had a platform. They can tell you exactly what they think. Solicited or not, 24/7.
As a radio presenter today, there is an expectancy to curate the station’s online presence, as well as your own. I therefore know what people think about me on a daily basis. Good, bad and indifferent.
My experience with the trolling we’ve all come to see and experience online is, at times, bizarre.
There was the man on Twitter who claimed to have gone to school with me . He would tweet me vague things about what had happened whilst there. Always implying something sinister. And all completely made up.
Then there’s the people who think you’re 100% responsible for the entire output of the radio station you work for. They hate the music, something someone said, the adverts. They are relentless and grinding. They get blocked quickly.
More recently, the troll’s new paradigm of “guilty, until proven innocent or guilty” visited my little corner of the internet.
A man listening to me on the radio, believed i’d been doing Jimmy Saville impressions. Disgusted, and rightly so, he took to Twitter to express his outrage. He contacted Radio X and Ofcom, (and lots of other important people) to have me taken off air. And i’d probably agree with him…if it had happened. But it didn’t matter to the hundreds of people who’d already retweeted his calls for my head. They hadn’t even been listening, but they were also “shocked and disgusted.”
And just in case I was in any doubt these people weren’t listening, they began to tell me.
One inquisitive tweeter asked his followers, “Did @danocdj do an impression of Jimmy Saville on @RadioX today? Seeing many retweets so guessing it’s true.”
GUESSING IT’S TRUE?!?!?!
Then I laughed. Then I felt deflated. Then I felt despair. Then I shook my head.
Noel Gallagher once told me in an interview that “the man on the street is a cunt.” I disagreed with him. But I was starting to think he might be right.
We really had hit the bottom. Not one, but many people believed I thought it was appropriate at 1:20pm on a Friday afternoon to be doing Jimmy Saville impressions. I contacted my bosses, they checked all the show audio. It definitely hadn’t happened. Still the retweets clocked up. It took a couple of days to gradually die down. But die down it did.
What had the instigator troll been listening to? Did he just make it up? Was it all a big mistake? Again, so many questions.
So few answers.
Occasionally, one gets an answer. Danny Wallace writes brilliantly about confronting a troll in his book, ‘I can’t believe you just said that.’ I thoroughly recommend it for a play by play account of how someone reacts IRL when confronted about their actions online.
I too, have confronted one of my own. The long story short, was that a 14 year old boy, (posing as an adult) ended up apologising when I explained what his actions were doing, to not only me, but the universe as a whole. He told me he was bored. That he didn’t think he was doing any harm.
It’s become a potent mix. That mixture of boredom, hopelessness, relative anonymity, anger and the realisation of how little control one has in the wider world.
Online we have control. A tiny weeny bit of control. But control of our own little bit of cyberspace none the less. You are the master of your own Twitter ship. You get to set the course. Unfortunately, a lot of people haven’t learnt how to sail. So it’s like setting off in dense fog. Lots of people are just smashing into each other because they haven’t got a bloody clue.
I can’t know most people are doing their best in life. I operate from a place where I hope they are. But I fully accept that most people don’t know, what they don’t know. So if someone isn’t aware that they’re constantly pissed off with the world, and with themselves, they’re only ever going to operate from that place, doing the best they can.
Does that make their behaviour right, or acceptable? No. But it does give us a place to start from. We most certainly need to educate at school level the impact we can have online. And while we get to control our own minuscule parts of the internet and certain parts of our lives, we can no longer operate from such a personal base. We need to think bigger. And contemplate how our words, thoughts and feelings will affect humanity, as a whole.
This is not controlling what each individual can say, think or feel. This is not about silencing voices. This is about realising the positive impact we can all have on each other. And ultimately, how our interconnectedness as human beings thrives when we stick together, and support one another.
I’m not saying we all need to agree on everything. I’m not declaring peace and love is the answer mannnn, or hippy liberal BS. However, I can quite happily accept you have a different opinion to me without becoming angry. OR SHOUTING SWEAR WORDS AT YOU ONLINE LIKE A CHILD. I’m just a person saying do me a favour, let’s treat each other with some respect and decency.