Well, sort of.
It all started off innocently enough. It was 2009 and Irish blogger and political consultant Leo Traynor was a two year veteran of Twitter. He received a follow from an otherwise innocuous looking account and, as a courtesy, followed back. Minutes later he received a direct message that wherein he was called a “Dirty fucking Jewish scumbag.” He blocked the account and reported it as spam. The next week, the same thing happened again. Thus began a cycle of troll abuse that spread to his email, facebook page and blog. Every manifestation of his online personality was used to attack Traynor. He was subjected to horrible comments as well as photos of corpses and concentration camps. His wife was also on the receiving end of many of these attacks as well, so much so that she completely quit twitter.
Finally, things escalated to the point where Traynor was receiving threatening packages at home; ashes with a note that read “Say hello to your relatives from Auschwitz” and dead flowers addressed to his wife’s twitter. He also received a number of death threats on twitter. He decided to close his twitter account and do what he could to find his abuser.
With the help of a tech savvy friend and a few tricks, he tracked down the troll and found out that it was, much to his surprise… the 17 year old son of some friends of his. He told his friends and they insisted on calling the police, but Traynor decided instead to confront his troll:
The Troll burst into tears. His dad gently restraining him from leaving the table.
I put my hand on his shoulder and asked him “Why?”
The Troll sat there for a moment and said “I don’t know. I don’t know. I’m sorry. It was like a game thing.”
A game thing.
So, that’s what it was…
The Troll’s mother said “If you want to call the Garda we’ll support you in that. I’m ashamed of him.”
I responded: “I’m not criminalizing a 17 year old kid and ruining his future. But I will write about it – and you must all guarantee me that he’ll go and see a counsellor about this or I will go legal on you.”
Then I got up to leave. I looked The Troll in the eye and said “Stand up.”
He stood. I said ” Look at me. I’m a middle aged man with a limp and a wheeze and a son and a wife that I love. I’m not just a little avatar of an eye. You’re better than this. You have a name of your own. Be proud of it. Don’t hide it again and I won’t ruin it if you play ball with your parents. Now shake hands.”
“I’m sorry.” he said, and looked like he meant it. “Thanks for giving me a break dude.”
And there you have it. This story is seasonally appropriate given that as I write it many of you are still fasting in commemoration of Yom Kippur. Traynor’s action was certainly merciful and magnanimous; and while some may be critical I find this story a perfect reminder that Yom Kippur is about both repentance and forgiveness. And that sometimes forgiveness is as hard if not harder than repentance.
Me? I would’ve clocked that kid. But I’m an asshole.