Football | Ian Wright, internet trolls and ‘The Imp of the Perverse’

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In his first article for The Season Ticket, Niall Lanigan discusses the recent racial abuse directed at former Arsenal and England footballer Ian Wright by an Irish teen, and explores the issue of vicious social media commentary.


An 18-year old man from Kerry was interviewed by Gardai recently regarding racist messages sent via social media to BBC football pundit, Ian Wright.

Regarding the incident and the general messages of this nature that he receives, Wright had said that he knows he is ‘not meant to look at them’ but these abusive messages had ‘hit me so hard’.

Quotes that would suggest that not only was he clearly upset by these abusive messages but also that they are quite commonplace for him to receive, regardless.

Truly bleak but, alas, not surprising to most people.

But why are the hatred and nastiness of these ‘trolls’ such a widespread and accepted feature of social media? 

Andy Warhol famously said that everyone will have their 15 minutes of fame.

In the era of Reality TV ‘stars’, bloggers, vloggers and attention-hoggers, one could argue that Warhol’s window of opportunity might now be reduced to a mere 15 seconds. Any type of popular post can go viral.

As social media has become more entwined with modern life, people seem to be striving for their moment in the sun with greater fervour, whatever that may entail. This helps to create a validation for general, outlandish behaviour online. However, many people fail to see the irony that the more people reach for this moment, the more fleeting their fame will be, as the next person is lined up to readily take their place.

But that does not fully explain the theme of more vicious social media commentary, as was experienced by Ian Wright and by many other celebrities.

The explanation may possibly lie in a story by famous author, Edgar Allen Poe and one of his works, ‘The Imp of the Perverse’. This story discusses the narrator’s ‘self-destructive impulses’ and is a ‘metaphor for the urge to do exactly the wrong thing in a given situation for the sole reason that it is possible for wrong to be done’.

As Poe stated in his story:

‘There is no passion in nature so demoniacally impatient, as that of him who, shuddering upon the edge of a Precipice, thus meditates a plunge’.

‘The Imp of the Perverse’

It seems that because your brain goes to such an effort to ensure that you don’t carry out this perverse impulse, that the will or desire to do it, paradoxically, becomes stronger and stronger in your consciousness.

Our brain first envisages a horrible scenario that could possibly happen (as a survival tactic) and, after imagining it, feels more and more compelled to act on it, due to its mere presence in our consciousness.

Have you been walking along a cliff and, even for a second, felt an urge to jump off? Have you been waiting at a train platform and the thought of pushing someone off as the train arrives suddenly enters your mind?

These are but a few examples.

Of course, the majority of people never act upon these urges and simply think that they are temporarily losing their mind. These ‘intrusive thoughts’ are actually quite common, believe it or not, so don’t worry!

But back to these trolls.

Social media is providing a medium for people to express some dark, impulsive thoughts that they previously could not or would not. What happens online is viewed as ‘not real’, a mythical place where you can abuse someone, friendly or otherwise with no consequences.

They aren’t in the same room as you when you post a comment, so no big deal, right? Add in the anxiety/stress/anger that comes with being in the midst of a pandemic, alone with your thoughts and only your phone for company, and it is fuel to the flames.

The ‘How’s Life in the the Digital Age?’ report, published by the OECD last year, stated that cyberbullying is prevalent in Ireland and the UK, as well as a number of Eastern European countries.

As was seen with Ian Wright most and, even more tragically, with Caroline Flack’s untimely passing, online commentary has serious, real-life consequences, for both the victims and the perpetrators.

Social media and modern life are now so inextricably linked that one can easily envisage it almost as a coil of DNA; part of the blueprint for modern life.

And, given the prominence of social media in everyday life and the fetishisation and conflation of celebrity and notoriety; it would seem that these imps and trolls are, unfortunately, here to stay.

Niall Lanigan