All it takes is a news report on the death of a statesman, rock legend or movie star to bring the usually silent contributors to internet discussions scuttling out of their holes, pouncing on the slightest opportunity to cast their pearls of vindictive wisdom before the common swine of social media.
From the first post on my Facebook newsfeed the morning of Walker’s tragic accident, messages of sympathy and condolence appeared every few minutes, (at which point I have to admit I Googled his name, not being a fan of the Fast and Furious movie franchise that made him famous) and it soon became obvious that he had been a much loved and respected figure in an industry so often populated by superficial and cynical egomaniacs.
In an age when celebrities tend to see a chance to do good deeds as more of an opportunity to get good publicity, it was good to discover – albeit in tragic circumstances – that here was a man who really did “do a lot of work for charity, but I don’t like to talk about it”, not only setting up a disaster relief charity in the wake of a tornado which hit Alabama, but also personally funding and helping distribute aid in earthquake-ravaged Haiti.
All without the slightest hint of a photo-op or magazine exclusive.
And yet not 24 hours after this online outpouring of seemingly genuine grief and compassion, the mean spirited, troll-like inhabitants of the Weird Wide Web hunched over their permanently sticky keyboards to start producing rants and memes that would render any subsequent display of public emotion trivial and confrontational.
First we had a wave of rants berating users of social networking sites like Facebook for posting memorials to Walker which failed to also commiserate with the families of Roger Rodas, the driver of the car in which they both died.
As if they themselves had been busy posting tributes to Rodas the whole time, champions of the common man that they are.
But that was nothing to the pseudo-indignation that was unleashed when, a week later, Mandela died and the whole world mourned a man who many considered the father of modern South African society, a man who was the face and voice of oppressed black South Africans even during 27 years of imprisonment.
It was then that the Trolls went into creative mode, knocking together a particularly fine example of their art.
This one featured pictures of both Walker and Mandela, but instead of showing respect to two good men it chose to once again castigate those unfeeling enough to have paid tribute to a mere film actor when there was a real-life, bona-fide saintly hero to be eulogising.
The text went along the lines of;
“If you’ve spent a week grieving over a dumb movie star and don’t know who this man (Mandela) is, then YOU are what is wrong with the world”
Now, this automatically assumes that anyone with the compassion to mourn for a charismatic and generous entertainer is unable to feel similar emotions toward a Nobel winning politician.
But worse than this is the fact that people are then encouraged to engage with these agent provocateurs, giving them the satisfaction of responding with the skewed logic of trolls everywhere.
For despite having started off their diatribe seemingly in support of the ANC leader, when someone in the comments posts an objection that they should be free to show equal respect for both men, they somehow reverse their position and resort to the fatuous “One man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist” argument, belittling Mandela’s contribution and instigating a less than dignified slanging match between other commenters on the thread, before slinking off to their hole unnoticed.
What none of these anonymous cyber-trolls seem to understand (or more likely choose to ignore) is that some young people who grew up with certain celebrities in their lives really do feel a bond with them and are genuinely devastated when they pass away.
It is almost certainly a more profound and sincere loss than that felt by the politicians and pundits who cry crocodile tears for the cameras at the thought of a week of retrospective news specials and biographical documentaries when a head of state dies.
And I’d like to think that they also don’t give enough credit to those same young people, most of whom are perfectly well aware of what a great man Nelson was and what he contributed to the world.
So don’t give them the satisfaction.
Because unless they read every obituary, in every paper in the world, every day of the year and then mourn the loss of every life lost that day, they are just like the rest of us.
Each of us touched by the lives of others in different ways, not always knowing the way in which our lives are affected by those we don’t get a chance to meet but still open to being part of their legacy.
(Much respect and gratitude to Ho for his fabulous “Cyber-troll” cartoon, done at very short notice this afternoon)