I arrived home from holidays to find a hand-addressed letter in the letter box. The contents weren’t so nice, though:


The anonymous writer clearly took great offence at my opinion piece in Aftenposten a couple of weeks ago, where I argued that we should be more tolerant of people sharing their joys and griefs on Facebook. One of my examples was that of a grieving mother who posted a photograph of her stillborn child, and the anonymous writer is very upset that I thought we should accept that.

This letter isn’t threatening or sexist like the many awful attacks on women who write in public online. It’s just an angry, disturbed person. Anonymous letters in my home letter box are not fun, though. When I flipped the envelope to see where it was postmarked, I saw the writer had put sticky tape over the stamps so that the postmark smeared and the placename couldn’t be read. Nasty.

Just a troll, really. But an offline troll with handwritten envelopes sent to my home has a different level of creepy to a nasty comment in my blog, which can easily be deleted. I used to think the best thing to do with trolls was to ignore them. Don’t engage. Don’t feed the trolls.

But your classic troll wants to be seen by everyone. On the other hand, an anonymous letter printed out and mailed in a hand-addressed envelope only wants to be seen by one person. The same goes for anonymous phone calls and SMSes I assume. I suppose the phone calls and the SMSes (which I fortunately haven’t received) want a response, though, whereas the anonymous letter makes it impossible to respond. Unless, of course, you have a blog and write about it as I’m doing here, or happen to post a photo of the stupid letter to Facebook, which may or may not lead to the anonymous writer reading my response to their anonymous letter. Perhaps it’s stupid to put this online. But I don’t like the idea of just shutting up and putting up with bullying.

The letter is of course also another example of the strength of our cultural taboo about speaking of, and certainly showing images of, miscarriage and stillbirth. Long before social media, photos of deceased loved ones were common though I don’t know how widely the photos were shared. More recently, parents of stillborn children have been recommended to keep photographs of their children to help remember and grieve, but they probably haven’t shared these photos beyond their closest friends and family. With social media this changes. People keep blogs and special memorial websites commemorating their lost loved ones, and they share photos of miscarried babies shown with true love and care. Having had three miscarriages myself, I know how difficult they are, and the lack of openness about miscarriage certainly made the experience harder for me. If a grieving mother wants to share a photograph of her stillborn child I will wholeheartedly support her right to do so. That doesn’t mean everyone, or even most of us, would want to share such a photograph. And it doesn’t mean you have to like it or that you have to look at it. Feel free to block the mother on Facebook. But life isn’t all easy, and part of being human and living with other humans is accepting each others reality, grief, joy and mess.


5 thoughts on “An offline troll

  1. M-H

    How interesting that s/he went to so much trouble to let you know how they felt. I can’t read the letter, but I can imagine what it says. I’m especially interested in them addressing you as “Professor” – as if they don’t believe you are a real one. I imagine this person is ‘not online’ so I doubt they will ever know how you have responded. Which is a shame.

  2. Espen Andersen

    Anonymous trolls, or “anklebiters” as I call them, should always be exposed for what they are: Cowards who dare not state their opinions in public.

    I would not deem the person who sent this letter to you very threatening, though. The letter is is characterized more by lack of language and argumentation skills than anything else (rambling sentences. It does not make any threats, is sent to your office address, and seems to me to be from someone rather elderly (the use of “sogar”, a rather oldfashioned word meaning (roughly) “even”, for instance, and “utgyder”, indicates this.) The sticky tape over the stamps need not be for consealment, but simply to make them, well, stick.

    So I wouldn’t worry too much. Most anklebiters turn out to be rather pathetic creatures, and this one is no exception.

  3. Jill

    Yes, I agree that this is not a particularly threatening anonymous letter, Espen, fortunately – although it was sent to my home address, actually. Well, to the wrong street, but the post office helpfully figured that out.

    Anklebiter is a good word for it 🙂

    M-H, the “professor” is definitely intended to mean “not really a professor”: the last sentence says “And you’re not really a professor!, you just pretend to be one!” I’m not sure what that’s about!

  4. Shkurte

    This letter sounds disturbing. I think you have opened up an interesting discussion, and it would be interesting to hear from all sides. Therefore I must say that I completely disagree with you on this topic. While I think that talking about our grief is very important, and I always talk, talk, talk about things that bother me; but posting it on facebook where one has 500-100 “friends” some of whom one has met once or twice, seems impersonal to me. What happened to talking to that one (or two) special person(s) who understand(s) you better than anyone else? What happened to intimate moments which are shared with a few? Everything has to be shouted out now, advertised or exposed. There is no intimacy anymore. I am sorry about women who have had miscarriages, but I am not interested in seeing a picture of their stillborn. I am happy for women who are pregnant, but do I need to see a picture of their uterus? I know that you are going to tell me that people do not need to have many friends on facebook, or that they do not need to share everything with everyone; that they can choose. But how many people actually do that? Anyway, it is ok for me because I am not on facebook. If people classified better what they shared with whom they shared it, I would sign up right now. In order to avoid being bombarded with super personal information (TOO MUCH INFORMATION), I cannot sign up for facebook.

  5. Geir Holst

    Accepting each others mess.

    It seams you are rather a tolerant lady, and that maybe serving to me in some contexts.
    I´m quite sloppy, and tolerant with my own miss habits, and this mislead me to believe I was a tolerant person. I have cleared that up now, I´m intolerant.
    Ass long ass you really seam to be a tolerant person, the fact that I am sloppy and intolerant wont bother you very much.

    # this works to my benefit when I can trust that you will never confront me with my sloppiness and lack of respect for conventions, universities, titles ore what people consider their rights in general.

    # this is intolerable when you accept literation of my environment both spiritual and practical by not confronting what me and my similar dislike and can not accept.

    If someone with a university degree in natural sciences could explain to me the concept of “0 tolerance” I am tempted to declare “0 tolerance” for tolerant people. Because I find them intolerable.
    You might find it in your goodness to help me in that matter, since you have a degree your self.
    In my closest (apart from my mother, and she wont pass credential requirements since she is to old and closely related to me) environment most people never finished any schools.
    Until then and further notice, you are in the clear and may feel safe.

    I´m sorry I broke the golden principle, but I´m sure You´ll find it in you to forgive me. 🙂

    I wish you a good day, and that you work out this hate love thing about Norwegian values, because there really is no such thing in my opinion. There only is “values” and evaluations of them in a cultural context. And culture is all about behaviour, ethics too (#ethos# ancient Greek). May bee you can work out why I appear sloppy and Intolerant?

    Migration is changing behaviour, and with it all values and evaluations are changing.
    I would like to pass a vote in every country, all over the world.
    I would not like the world to have one stable sett of values, not adapted to geography, climate and local society, and in stead adapted to a mono culture sett by dominance of money and trade.
    I accept I can not have my way in both cases, and often I wonder why I bother to vote at all.

Leave A Comment

Recommended Posts

Triple book talk: Watch James Dobson, Jussi Parikka and me discuss our 2023 books

Thanks to everyone who came to the triple book talk of three recent books on machine vision by James Dobson, Jussi Parikka and me, and thanks for excellent questions. Several people have emailed to asked if we recorded it, and yes we did! Here you go! James and Jussi’s books […]

Image on a black background of a human hand holding a graphic showing the word AI with a blue circuit board pattern inside surrounded by blurred blue and yellow dots and a concentric circular blue design.
AI and algorithmic culture Machine Vision

Four visual registers for imaginaries of machine vision

I’m thrilled to announce another publication from our European Research Council (ERC)-funded research project on Machine Vision: Gabriele de Setaand Anya Shchetvina‘s paper analysing how Chinese AI companies visually present machine vision technologies. They find that the Chinese machine vision imaginary is global, blue and competitive.  De Seta, Gabriele, and Anya Shchetvina. “Imagining Machine […]

Do people flock to talks about ChatGPT because they are scared?

Whenever I give talks about ChatGPT and LLMs, whether to ninth graders, businesses or journalists, I meet people who are hungry for information, who really want to understand this new technology. I’ve interpreted this as interest and a need to understand – but yesterday, Eirik Solheim said that every time […]