Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Comeuppance for a toxic troll

Peter Marshall.
Peter Marshall.

For nearly a week, anonymous blogger Kracklite slagged off the police in the most vituperative way. Then he got a call at home from none other than Police Commissioner Peter Marshall. The oh-so-brave troll freaked, slamming the phone down and squealing, "Mummy, Mummy, the nasty policeman's coming to get me".

The online bleating that followed was pathetic. "I was frightened. I don't know if it was his intent to intimidate me, but that was the effect" and "I've committed no crime. I'm no rapist, but now they know who I am and where I live and they want to scare me". This from a mature educator who for days had hidden behind his computer screen lobbing unsubstantiated abuse at the commissioner's organisation.

The joke is that in his fright, Kracklite seemed to have forgotten he left his name and contact details on the police website claiming to have information he wanted to pass on about a senior officer's comments relating to the Roast Busters controversy. Mr Marshall was responding to this offer. A police spokeswoman says he had no idea the person he was ringing was Kracklite the blogger.

Kracklite, like all the anonymous abusers who slink around the web, refuses to identify himself, but in previous post he indicated he was both near middle age and a teacher in a tertiary institution. In other words, someone who should know the bounds of civilised discourse.

Shall I remind him? On Sunday morning, just two hours before he rushed to his computer to bleat that "Marshall just tried to call me personally at my own home ... this is really scary", he was writing, "This is what the idiot and coward Marshall should be saying ..."

In previous days he'd written more than once, "I'll be having pork for dinner tonight, as a symbolic gesture" - pig being derogatory slang for police. He claimed to know "an ex-cop, female and gay ... who was forced out (pun unintentional) ..." and also "people who have been victims of police corruption and rape ..."

As a paid commentator you quickly learn that such unsubstantiated and anonymous ranting comes with the job, particularly since the explosion of the Wild West environment that is the internet. So I'd be less than human not to delight in the odd mouth-frother taking a pratfall in his own bile. Especially when it seems he was fleeing from his own shadow.

In an earlier post, Kracklite attributes another outburst to a behavioural disorder. He told an upset online Lilith, "I have Asperger's and emotional nuances, especially in a medium such as this, are completely obscure to me."

Asperger's or not, an experienced university teacher, of all people, should know the rules of debate and defamation. In a democracy, surely the first rule is to have the courage of your convictions and put your name to your views. Whatever we may think of the juvenile Roast Busters, they didn't skulk away in the dark like their educated adult critic.

If you're living in places like China or Fiji or Sri Lanka, there are reasons why critics might feel the need to hide their tracks, but in a democracy like New Zealand, anonymity is the enemy of free speech. It's the voice of the mob, the bully and of unreason.

I'll happily concede an exception for whistleblowers, although many are so driven by the rightness of their deed that they're happy to be linked with their actions. Edward Snowden, for example, whose leaks to the Guardian are exposing the spying of the US National Security Agency, said he had no intention of hiding because he had "done nothing wrong".

It's time for grown-ups to reclaim the web. The weird thing is, on the odd occasion I do respond to a Kracklite-like outpouring, you often find a polite and reasonable person at the other end. It's as though flushed from the anonymity of the mob, these trolls suddenly return to civilised society.

- NZ Herald

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Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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