Constitutional Hill

Hell is other people (trolling the Internet)

There is something about the anonymity provided by the Internet that seems to bring out the worst in people. Too ashamed of their opinions to write under their own names, they regularly post the most irrational, uninformed and hateful diatribes in the comments sections of news websites and blogs. Like Jean-Paul Sartre once wrote (and I paraphrase): “Hell is other people trolling anonymously on the Internet”. As a public service, I offer seven points of advice to these poor, lost, souls, knowing all too well that this advice will likely go unheeded.

1. Just a thought, but next time before your fingers hit the keyboard in an apoplectic rage, read the full article or post and make sure you understand what is actually being communicated. Don’t get hoodwinked into banging out a response (and wasting valuable drinking time in the process) by the usual trigger words or phrases such as “black”, “white”, “homosexual”, “affirmative action”, “racism”, “ANC”, “DA”, “atheism” or (and this is where you have to keep your wits about you), “white privilege” or (calm now, dearest, stay calm), “unearned white privilege”. The author probably placed one or more of these words or phrases in the article on purpose to drive you into an irrational rage and trick you into making a fool of yourself. It’s probably all part of an ANC plot to make you look stupid. Don’t fall for this sneaky, communistic ploy! Read on to the end of the article instead.

2. Which brings me to the question of anger. No, not anger, more like blind, white-hot, irrational rage. I am told there are pills you can take for the wild anger you feel whenever you are told (steady now, breath in, breath out) that homosexuals cannot be killed or discriminated against, or (please, I beg you, don’t flip out on me so early in this piece) that you continue to be the beneficiary of white privilege. (You are likely to be on medical aid after all, unlike the vast majority of South Africans, so you can probably afford the happy pills.)

And if pills don’t help, pour yourself a drink or watch an episode of Vetkoekpaleis, Sewende Laan or Isidingo instead. Or think happy thoughts, like that time in 1989 when you heard F.W. De Klerk was elected leader of the National Party.

Once you’ve calmed down and your blood pressure is back to normal and you can see again, at least attempt to crack a smile. Smiling calms the nerves, I’m told. He who laughs last and all that airy-fairy stuff. (Don’t worry, you’re not going to become gay just because you managed to crack a smile. I laughed for years before I discovered I was gay.)

3. If you still feel the urge to scratch that itch after calming your nerves, try to use logic and reason to work through the anger before you damage the keyboard as you thump out yet another sarcastic, sexist, racist and homophobic diatribe. Remember, the writer is probably testing you, trying to see whether you can put your Model C education to some use, whether you can actually respond to any of the conceptual points made in the original post and whether you can construct a logical argument and engage in any meaningful way with what was written. I know, this is not your style. You are used to being right. It comes with being white and privileged (there now, don’t take the bait!). You are not used to have your preconceived assumptions challenged. After all, to you whiteness probably means never having to say you are sorry. But now is a good time to start practicing for the day when your skin colour won’t automatically confer authority and influence.

Constructing an argument and engaging with the substance of what another person has said or written can actually be quite a bit of fun. Empowering too. It sure beats the feeling of hopelessness and sense of rage and futility you feel every time you spot those trigger words that challenge your authority as a white, heterosexual, male, patriarch. I know, this behaviour – engaging logically with arguments – is usually associated with the educated classes. People like Nelson Mandela or Trevor Manuel. But you probably tell your mates that Mandela is a swell guy, so maybe its time to put your education to good use and prove that you can follow his example.

(Shame, I know chances are your education sucked – mine sure did – but those of us who are white and whose parents could not afford private school fees cannot help that we were taught by affirmative action teachers who got their jobs only because they were members of the Broederbond and had mastered the art of never having an original thought in their heads. I know, old habits die hard, but with a bit of hard work – you know, what you always tell black people to do – you too can better yourself and regain the ability to think for yourself.)

4. Don’t be tempted to believe that the first thought that oozes out of your brain is an original one. Just because all your friends agree with you and because they laughed at what you believe to be a clever put down of the pesky “white privilege”, “moffie”, crowd (or those maddening people who still refuse to vote for the DA, after all the DA had done for black South Africans!), does not mean it has not been said a million times before. Trust me. It has. You yourself probably already wrote down that very same thought in an anonymous post you typed out last week after reading an article on Julius Malema. Usually, your thoughts are neither new, nor original. After all, prejudice is as old as human existence itself.

5. Try and concede a good point made by the author you wish to engage with. For example (and I know this is not easy), write: “Yes, the earth is indeed round and revolves around the sun. Good point!” This at least gives the appearance of thoughtfulness and magnanimity on your part. If you find that you are genetically incapable of actually conceding that anyone else may have made a good point, fake it. There is nothing wrong with faking level-headedness. In fact, it is a good skill to develop. Think of it as a competition in which the best faker wins. That way you will be able to harness your sense of innate superiority while impressing others with your magnanimity.

6. Stop wasting your time trolling the Internet for articles that you know will outrage you and read a book instead. How about reading a book by an author who is not like you in any way, a book written by somebody of a different race, a different sexual orientation, a different gender (Harry Potter doesn’t count) or a different political viewpoint. (If I can read Hermann Giliomee, you can read Slavoj Žižek.)

Read a book about something outside of your comfort zone. A book on ballet or curling, a book written by a Marxist economist, a book about a gay love affair or about a great soccer player, a book about somebody living with HIV, a volume of poetry or (and I know I am pushing my luck) a book written by a black person about the destructive power of white privilege. Books allow you to reflect on your own life and the lives of others. It may even inspire an original thought (see number four above). Besides, books do not have a “comments” function so you will be spared the shame of having written an embarrassingly uninformed and stupid comment while you were angry (see number one and two above).

7. Try to be funny and self-deprecating. I know, for many white people the notion of white privilege is no laughing matter. I know you probably have not yet forgiven black people for Apartheid and for making you feel guilty about benefiting from it, but that does not mean you cannot milk it for a few laughs. This is a risky strategy, as the piece you are reading right now amply illustrates. (See what I did there? By conceding that you might not be having much fun reading this and that I might not be nearly as funny as I was hoping to be, I am trying to buy some sympathy.) Sometimes this works. Sometimes it does not. But what do you have to lose? Probably only your farm or your house. (Ha. Ha! You must admit, that was kind of funny.)

PS: To celebrate your recovery I have implemented a new authentication mechanisms to ensure all commenters identify themselves before they comment.

  • Herman Lategan

    He he he … love it.

  • Michael Osborne

    @ Pierre

    “try to use logic and reason to work through the anger”

    You prescribe a cure that may be worse than the disease. For me, “logic” and “reason” are no more than contested narratives in a hegemonic discourse of phallologocentrism, in its most WHITISH hue.

  • George Gildenhuys

    Long overdue! Welcome to the 21st century Prof.

  • Maggs Naidu

    Haai bo Pierre – he who laughs last is, er, … gay? ” I laughed for years before I discovered I was gay”

  • Maggs Naidu

    Pretty nifty changes Pierre. Good stuff.

  • Deseré Barnard

    Uitstekend en baie snaaks!

  • Lethwele Lister

    Thanks for the wonderful article which in more ways than one spoke to me. I am formerly “Ze Philosopher”.

  • Lieb Van Zyl

    Well written Pierre. But yes, your advice will go unheeded and undeeded. I just made up a new word. That is what the internet allows me to do. Ag sometimes the uninformed comments serve as entertainment. And sometimes it scares me. Because the uninformed appears to comprise the majority of our population.

  • Karla Saller

    stopped reading the comments long ago but just to see what you are so amusingly on about i checked out the Mogoeng v Hoffman post. goodness! well done for keeping a sense of humour :)

  • terence grant

    I am caught between the devil and the deep blue sea …between a rock and a very hard place…with whites on the one side hurling abuse at me for siding with blacks and blacks on the other hurling abuse at me because I was born with a white skin…telling me that all whites are beneficiaries of apartheid….that I a first-generation South African should have rejected the “free education”that was paid for so many times over by the money my wealthy grandfather brought with him from Britain in 1948

  • Mark Nel

    Stop allowing anonymous comments on your Blog. Anyone who wants to hide his/her true identity simply shouldn’t be given a platform.

  • Pierre de Vos


  • Chris

    “The author probably placed one or more of these words or phrases in the article on purpose to drive you into an irrational rage and trick you into making a fool of yourself.”
    We all know you do that Professor. As for the reading, I’ve found myself totally unable to read anything by Christian von Glück.

  • Maggs Naidu

    “We all know you do that Professor.”

    Haai bo! If that were true then why would “the author” be so pissed of (at those driven into an irrational rage and making fools of themselves) to the extent of requiring them to apply for Visas to express their irrational foolishness?

  • Ozone Blue

    Well this website has certainly been transformed.

    Slow as f*7ck and broken in too many places to mention. Probably cost more than Freestate Online as well.

  • Ozone Blue

    “(If I
    can read Hermann Giliomee, you can read Slavoj Žižek.)”

    Normally I prefer to read the enlightened views of Robert Mugabe or Andile Mngxitama. I’m trying to think back about the good old days when the Broederbonders who studied at Stellenbosch (you remember that racist place) stood on public platforms and compared homosexuals to pigs and dogs and promised to decapitate them all. Or the days when PW Botha threatened to kill all the black people and chase them into the sea. But I simply just cannot remember those events anymore.

    Zizek – it helps to understand what he writes. You must try it some time. Reading can also be very much like masturbation or repeating the phrase “white privilege” a million times – if you don’t really engage with the subject it feels meaningless and leaves you empty.

  • Chris

    He writes that to annoy them even more.

  • 1Zoo1


    Sometimes people do not blog under their real names because of concerns over compromise.

    Example: would Anonymouse have given us such insight into the magistrate’s profession if he had to be exposed?

    You never know who might pop in and tell us something extremely valuable.

  • Ozone Blue

    I guess Baba Jukwa might have to face the axe as well. Luckily not all bloggers are technologically ignorant or so naively trusting of the global liberal hegemony that they would publish under their own name – except of course when their jobs are to be famous philosophers or professors in constitutional law employed by Anglo American, or they do not say anything that would undermine or subvert the unchallenged ideologies inherently embraced by the dominant culture.

    “What makes the all-encompassing control of our lives so dangerous is not that we lose our privacy and all our intimate secrets are exposed to the view of the Big Brother. There is no state agency that is able to exert such control—not because they don’t know enough, but because they know too much. The sheer size of data is too large, and in spite of all intricate programs for detecting suspicious messages, computers which register billions of data are too stupid to interpret and evaluate them properly, yielding ridiculous and unnecessary mistakes whereby innocent bystanders are listed as potential terrorists—and this makes state control of our communications even more dangerous. Without knowing why, without doing anything illegal, we can all of a sudden find ourselves on a list of potential terrorists.”

  • Maggs Naidu

    “new authentication mechanisms” – FAIL!!!!!

  • Guest

    Many of your readers would be very grateful to you if you blocked anonymous posters to your blog. Especially but not only the regular ones who clutter up this page and chase away people who would like to engage with the actual argument. Dear readers, for your instruction, compare the comments on this Blog page, which is often dominated by anonymous posters who comment on each others’ posts instead of on the article, and the comments on The Daily Maverick which also carry Pierre’s writing. The Daily Maverick does not allow anonymous posting. But presumably they have a larger team of people who can delete where necessary. Pierre, could you please, please block your regular anonymous pontificators and ask participants to use their real names?

  • Brett Nortje

    What a strange rationalisation for censorship! Is Pierrot going off the rails?

  • Maggs Naidu

    Hey Brett – you look like a DOG. Are you related to the Chinese Lion?

  • Ozone Blue

    ‘But presumably they have a larger team of people who can delete where necessary.”

    Yep. That summarizes “Thought Leaders” and “Daily Maverick” no doubt.

  • Ozone Blue

    I would say hell is not “other people” but rather not being in communism.

  • Maggs Naidu

    Guest, How would you know that “Many of your readers would be very grateful”?

    It will be great if people properly identify themselves, but it’s their choice.

    You’re a right, regular hypocrite aren’t you?

    Anyway – most times people comment on comments rather than on the piece posted.

    It seems to me that the comments and comments on comments are what most readers are interested in.

    How would the administrator know whether a name is false or not? On the net everything can be falsified – sounds like an exercise in futility.

    The updated blog has some good features nevertheless – to be able to respond directly to a comment is one.

    Email notification is missing though.

  • Ozone Blue

    Agreed. Especially the ability to censor your own posts the morning after the drunken white rage.

    BTW – what were you up to yesterday maggs?

    Naked man wanders on M5 highway

  • Mikhail Dworkin Fassbinder

    @ Pierre

    “Try to be funny and self deprecating”

    Pierre, I have always tried to leaven my insights wi

  • Mikhail Dworkin Fassbinder

    @ Pierre

    “Try to be funny and self deprecating”

    I have always tried to leaven my insights with “jokes” and witty asides. Yet no one laughs! Is that because I am a humourless idiot?

  • Brett Nortje

    Maggs, you’re just feeling deprived coz your kids don’t look at you like Bullet looks at me. Anyway, now we know what De Vos was doing at 30000feet in the first class cabin of a BA flight to Paris. Hammering out a tirade against ‘white privilege’!

    Who would have thunk it?

    I have a question. Not that I could care less about Schelmbosch, mind. For all I care the place should have been burned down to the ground after General Smuts graduated.
    But don’t you find it strange that Pierrot has yet to write a word about renaming Grahamstown or Rhodes?

  • Ozone Blue

    Brett – perhaps he was in France looking at exist and retirement plan with the blood money.

    “But what do you have to lose? Probably only your farm or your house. (Ha. Ha! You must admit, that was kind of funny.)”
    Aug 15th, 2013 by Pierre De Vos.

    “The summit congratulated his honorable Robert Mugabe for winning the election in Zimbabwe,” a South African foreign ministry official said. At its meeting in Malawi’s capital Lilongwe, the group also named Mugabe, Africa’s oldest leader, as its deputy chairman and said it would hold a summit next year in Zimbabwe’s capital.”

  • anton kleinschmidt

    There was a time you had it, Pierre,
    And then it slipped away.
    There is a lesson, thus hard learned
    When troller’s romp and play.
    So go back to the drawing board
    And make a brand new start
    In which these silly scribblers
    Have no destructive part.

  • 1Zoo1

    You don’t seem to understand that Prof’s articles are the start of the debate, not the end of it.

  • Ozone Blue

    Couldn’t you post your stupid poem under MDF’s redundant meaningless entries just below? One of the advantages of this new format is that comments on comments can be posted where they belong.

  • Ozone Blue

    So ja. you know FASCISM when you see it – when some people we know remain numb about CC outcome on Marikana yet fixating on “transgender rights” in Germany. Helping those poor bastards with legal has now become a matter of choice, charity – and not a government obligation. Perhaps Bono or Bill Gates gives a fuck?

    It is pretty scary. I say fuck “getting involved”.

  • Mitchell Black

    Some would argue that Trolling in itself is a form of combative
    rhetoric, that the trolls themselves are providing a service to the very
    people they are trolling! By providing authors with a means to argue
    for the sake of arguing (which is often the sole reason some trolls
    troll) they are playing the role of devils advocate to the author.
    Whatever the argument put forward by the author, perhaps it could
    benifit from being exposed to “troll logic” – however stupid that may
    sound – the author would be forced to re-examine his work in order to
    “Feed the Troll” (the term the internet has widely assigned to rising to
    the argumentative bait proposed by a troll) and thus as a result it may
    be improved!