Idiots used to be corralled in places called pubs, in which they could bore each other with their crazy opinions while drinking themselves into alcoholic dementia but now — suddenly — they are everywhere. You can read a perfectly decent paper like The Guardian and looming at the bottom of every article is a septic tank teeming with snapping trolls.
The article in question might be anything from a think piece about the universe by Stephen Hawking to a sly piece of wit by David Mitchell, yet the trolls always have the same view: "OMG, this is such crap." That pretty much sums up the view from each witless avatar, whether it be Rastamouse16 or BigBoy8 or CrapForBrains22.
Throw in the Twitter feed, which now runs across the bottom of every TV program from Video Hits to Q&A, and you have the perfect horror — a giant party in which the most boring people in existence have you cornered.
Twitter has always felt like a bad dinner party — one in which everyone is talking and no one is listening. All the same, YouTube may be worse. Consider the hissing sack of snakes that has attached itself to Rebecca Black — the 13-year-old American girl who, with the help of her parents, has recorded a perky video in which she sings about her day-to-day suburban life.
The lyrics, it is true, are hardly Dostoevsky but they are no more or less meaningless than any pop song and the melody, damnit, is kind of appealing. A reasonable response could range anywhere from slight annoyance to mild toe-tapping pleasure. Instead, many of the YouTube trolls suggest the girl is such a bad singer she "should commit suicide". No, really.
At last count, the video had been viewed 65 million times on YouTube in the space of a few weeks.
More than a million people have logged on in order to record their ''dislike'' of the video. As I write, the comments — mostly negative — are coming in at the rate of 30 every 10 seconds. A sampling from the past 10 seconds: ''Never heard something so STUPIDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDD.'' ''Hata's lol dhiss suck.'' ''nobody likes you'', ''she sounds like shitt''. And ''die bitch die''. The fact that someone who is unable to spell the word ''shit'' feels entitled to hand out songwriting advice to a fellow citizen may be one of the chief marvels of our age.
It's crowd behaviour of the worst kind; YouTube hands out the pitchforks and off we all go to seize the witch.
The only upside: fame being what it is, this remarkable level of hostility will make Rebecca Black a star.
The planet may not be so lucky. It's increasingly apparent that the internet may bring about the death of human civilisation, beating out previous contenders such as nuclear holocaust and the election of George W. Bush.
The agents of this planetary death will be the climate-change deniers who, it's now clear, owe much of their existence to the internet. Would the climate-change deniers be this sure of themselves without the internet?
Somehow I doubt it. They are so damn confident.
They don't just bury their heads in the sand, they fiercely drive their own heads energetically into the nearest beachfront, their bums defiantly aquiver as they fart their toxic message to the world. How can they be so confident, in the face of so much evidence to the contrary?
It's the internet, of course, and the way it has given climate-change deniers the perfect forum — one in which groups of quite dim people can swap spurious information, reassuring each other there's no evidence on the other side, right up to the point they've derailed all efforts to save the planet. Call it ''mutually reassured destruction''.
In decades past, the climate-change deniers would have swapped theories in the pub or at a barbecue. But at the barbecue there was always one person willing to put a contrary view, to say: ''There's another side.'' And unless the barbecue was particularly nutty, there was no one handing out gestetnered sheets of dodgy science for people to take home.
The net allows the climate-change deniers to bleat about the scientists and whine about a price on carbon without fear of ever hearing a different voice, right up to the point of planetary collapse. To reformulate T.S. Eliot: ''This is the way the world will end — not with a bang but a whinger.''
While we await death, at least there's the Rebecca Black video to keep us entertained.
It's attracting more comments by the minute. In the time I've been writing this, the comments have risen from 40 to 60 every 10 seconds. By the time you read this, everyone on the planet will have presumably logged on and told this 13-year-old girl the precise manner in which she should commit suicide. Hurrah for us: it will be the first planet-wide act of bullying since the whole world mocked Kim Jong-il's haircut.
First thing tomorrow the whole internet will collapse, unable to cope with the quantity of bile pumping through the pipes. There will be a final Nigerian email pinging into your mailbox and then silence for ever.
We can but hope.