Paperlate: Has online trolling gone too far?

Black and white portrait of Keith Emerson smiling
(Image credit: Kevin Nixon)

The sad death of Keith Emerson last month became a greater tragedy with the news that the gifted musician had taken his own life.

He was plagued by health concerns and worries that his prodigious career might be at an end, coupled with the black veil of depression that apparently troubled him as well. However everything took a more sinister turn when Emerson’s girlfriend Mari Kawaguchi said that online comments from disgruntled ‘fans’ had upset him. “Keith was worried,” she said. “He read all the criticism online and was a sensitive soul. Last year he played concerts and people posted mean comments such as, ‘I wish he would stop playing’.”

Trolling is nothing new. Since Prog magazine’s inception, we’ve been the target of those who don’t agree with what the magazine does, frequently in an unpleasant manner. We’re in the public eye, we accept that. And we know that the abuse is aimed an an inanimate object, even if it can appear quite abusive at times. Even just monitoring reactions to news stories in our social media pages and other forums can reveal a startlingly nasty streak in some of the people who populate our world.

Because of the way the Internet works, and if Facebook and Twitter can’t adequately deal with the problem, it’s difficult to see this particularly nasty side effect of the web ending soon. But the tragedy of Emerson raises an interesting point: should people be more aware of the potential consequences of what they may feel is even the most throwaway of comments? That seems like a no brainer, but I’m sure we’ll have many people responding that they have every right to express their opinion. And indeed they do. Unfortunately, there are those out there who actively seek out people to hound, or just delight in being nasty to others. I hope none of them are reading this. I’d wager they’re beyond the reach of good old fashioned reason, anyway.

You know the old adage: email in haste, repent at leisure. We’ve all been guilty of firing something off without thinking or in a knee-jerk reaction. And possibly suffered the consequences. Some may even feel that a sneery comment isn’t even trolling. Or that if they’ve paid good money, they’re more than entitled to express an adverse opinion. This only clouds the issue further.

Most of us would not consider the medium of text messaging or email an adequate way of conducting a realtionship. So should we be giving more thought to opinions we express via the same medium for online consumption by others? It is an awkward area to try to make some sense of. But if we’re not in favour of draconian policing of the Internet, then what’s the answer? Maynard James Keenan’s theory of an extinction level event clearing the world of trolls may be a bit far-fetched. Maybe we just need to heed the words of that popular Buddha meme that does the rounds instead: try not to be a cunt.

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Jerry Ewing

Writer and broadcaster Jerry Ewing is the Editor of Prog Magazine which he founded for Future Publishing in 2009. He grew up in Sydney and began his writing career in London for Metal Forces magazine in 1989. He has since written for Metal Hammer, Maxim, Vox, Stuff and Bizarre magazines, among others. He created and edited Classic Rock Magazine for Dennis Publishing in 1998 and is the author of a variety of books on both music and sport, including Wonderous Stories; A Journey Through The Landscape Of Progressive Rock.