Unpacking an Unhinged Twitter Troll

Twitter can be a nasty place, and at one time or another we’re all to blame. Real people have passionate discussions and sometimes go over the top. Or, misinformation gets called out with a saltier-than-necessary rebuke, while trolls and bots are everywhere, fanning the flames of reaction. The digital wall between people often means we say things and use tones we never would in person.

Normally I wouldn’t write about something like this, but on August 15th I was targeted out of the blue with a nine tweet harangue primarily comprised of flailing rage and little else. I know very little about the person responsible but for a brief period we did follow each other. After seeing a regular pattern of similarly antagonistic behaviour toward others I unfollowed them, and they unfollowed me a short time later.

Using their nearly 9300 followers, they often make it difficult to have a discussion. When their ire is raised, quite regularly, what they subjected me to is their standard M.O. A tweet thread full of assumptions and conflations, with their followers liking, retweeting and sometimes piling on with comments. I didn’t experience any comments, but regardless, this is a really awful way to use Twitter.

My Tweet

A little background for context is probably useful here. Vancouver has been in the midst of a Park Board pilot this summer which split Stanley Park Drive into one lane for bikes and one lane for vehicular traffic. There is a LOT of discussion with some very passionate supporters and some very fervent opponents. Below I was responding to someone else’s frustration with opponents who don’t want to share the road. In my reply I’m referencing a local radio station with an older, conservative demographic, referring to two of their hosts. One of them is very anti-bike, to the point of platforming only bike lane opponents. Any more context is largely beside the point for this post, except that this is a VERY volatile issue. I have whited out the name of the person I replied to out of fairness to them.

Cranky and Old
Sure, I might not use exactly this language with another think-through, but their demographic is definitely older, their listeners are generally not cycling-friendly, and their callers don’t tend to be supportive of the bike lane pilot.

I’ll just say one other thing about myself at this point. I’m probably pretty much in CKNW’s core demographic. As such, old is not used remotely in the pejorative sense. I’m getting older. I know it. My body and mind knows it and not remotely ageist to say a media outlet with an older demo speaks for older people. With regard to this issue, they most certainly ARE cranky, because their complaints usually begin and end with deriding cyclists and making many unsubstantiated claims about their need for the whole road.

Their Thread

My tweet above was retweeted with this. This isn’t the last time I’ll come back to age. I have no idea how old they are, but at 56 (in a month) I may well be older than them. Cranky? Sure, sometimes. They’re hardly one to talk. Privileged? Yup. Not a day goes by that I do not recognize that I am lucky. With regard to the cycling pilot, though, I and others like me want Stanley Park more accessible to a wider range of transportation modes. That’s all.

After the retweet above, the remaining eight rants below are simply comments in their thread.

I really don’t get this one. They know I am in favour of the bike lane (and told me previously they find cyclists on Twitter rude), and they’re suggesting I feel oppressed about something, but it isn’t clear what. I’ve not once suggested I’m mother-fucking oppressed in any way, only that park access should be more fairly balanced between cyclists, pedestrians and drivers. Based on what I’ve witnessed, I take the complaining about my (or cyclist in general) privilege to mean we’re only interested in something that improves access we already have.

I guess it’s time for a little more context. I’m a pretty competent road cyclist and haven’t had many problems riding in Stanley Park on the road. However, the bike lane pilot isn’t about cyclists like me. The reason I support it is that it opens up the road to slower city riders, e-bike enthusiasts and TONS of families while allowing people to keep distancing. The rationale for it in the first place was to allow pedestrians to distance on the seawall (normally a ten foot wide shared perimeter path) during the pandemic by moving cycling traffic to the new bike lane and reducing cars to one. In fact, in many ways for those of us who do SPLoops as training rides, it’s worse.

Tech Dude?
Most of this thread is so absurd it’s just laughable, but if any of the tweets are actually insulting it’s probably this one. I guess they’d seen that I was planning on doing some travel that I had previously referred to as bucket list. OK, and … ? Many people actually take time off work to do some travel. So, let’s fill in some blanks for this completely erroneous and insulting tweet.

First, I actually do user-centred research, testing and design work in higher education, but I guess it helps to call me a tech dude since you can paint me as young and entitled. No idea, really. Second, I haven’t done very much travel in my life, so at 55 my wife and I took a year off to do just that. We got exactly one trip done and then had our plans shut down due to COVID. Oh, and I should further point out that the only reason we did this was because my wife took a package and left her job. So, she currently has no job and will have to try to work again in a COVID/post-COVID job market at 58. In fact, now we’re spending travel money on rent with zero income until January 2021. As for all the other stuff about lists and them having a new list? Smells like rage, melancholy and a big shoulder chip.

Unhinged Isms
As you can see, this thread just starts to completely unravel now. If you’re keeping score, this began with my tweet criticizing a couple of radio station hosts for their (and its) platforming of anti-cycling rhetoric and its appeal to older privileged folks who expect both lanes of Stanley Park drive dedicated for their use exclusively. In three tweets since, my demographic and occupation have been wrongly assumed and impugned, and now the whole thing is also about capitalism, racism and colonialism? I only include this for completeness and absurdity. The mental gymnastics one has to do to make my tweet about this is a pretty bad take. Fuck them forever into eternity (Did I get that right?).

Kitchen Sink Offense
Nope. Didn’t mean wealthy white people, and nope, I’ve pretty much established by now that it isn’t me. As previously mentioned my parents are dead and I’m nearly 56, but they just keep on making a toxic ass of themselves. And, I’m pretty sure I did leave racialized, poor, working class and disabled people out of it, but oddly enough they didn’t. And, that’s because they try to make pretty much everything they dislike for whatever reason about the things for which they carry that massive shoulder chip.

Again, my tweet wasn’t ageism, rather it was a reference to an older demographic who CKNW serves, and who thinks cyclists shouldn’t have safe infrastructure for riding on the road. I have many seniors in my building too. Does that have anything to with my original tweet? Nope. Trump incontinence? Is that even a thing? I have so many other problems with Trump, this wouldn’t crack the top 100 and I’ve never thought he was too old to be president.

But I get it. We’re at the I don’t like this guy so I’m just throwing the kitchen sink at him stage of the rant now. If there ever was a point to make, this thread ceased doing that long ago. It’s literally assigning a bunch of isms to me that simply aren’t there, implied or otherwise. So, in their words, yeah, STFU seriously.

What are We Fighting About?
No, no we don’t. There’s nothing to go right to fight about when it’s literally an illogical rant entirely concocted from drawing a long and tenuous bow, and the ten pound chip on their shoulder. I don’t got them at all. There have been no attacks by me on people you care about, but I’m writing this to point out how ridiculous it is when someone takes things to this kind of trolling extreme. The only attacking was done by them, on me.

Gee, thanks I guess? Again, I suspect I’m supposed to be a snotty, spandexed, mid-20s roadie who’s full of some kind of ageist angst. Since I’m not, again, this is here for completeness and absurdity and nothing more.

I think what bothers me most is deranged people with axes to grind about their own situations, who take things entirely out of context and level unfair assumptions and insults, while using their followers to mob people.

The only one here who thinks they’re enlightened while demonstrating they’re not, is them.