LAST week I was watching an episode of Sex and the City that first aired in 2004. To me, that wasn't that long ago -- I remember being an adult watching it at the time on TV. However, in this particular episode, Carrie was struggling to set up and manage an email account -- and was a woman with a then state-of-the-art iBook and a prominent newspaper column.
IT occurred to me that now, only eight years later, Carrie would not only have an email address but probably three blogs, Pinterest, Tumblr, Facebook and a Twitter account from which she would tell the world what she had for breakfast.
How far we've come online in such a short time sometimes frightens me, and while the ability to contact just about anybody with a tweet or comment is amazing, it's also a little terrifying.
I got into Twitter over three years ago. As a journalist, I quickly learned that it was an invaluable resource, both for networking and gathering information, but at the time in Ireland it wasn't quite the giant it is today.
I'd tweet away, wittering on about this and that without much thought about what I was putting out into the Twittersphere.
This week, though, a video popped up online of celebrities reading mean tweets about themselves on US chat show Jimmy Kimmel Live.
I knew celebs dealt with trolling on a daily basis, but the video reminded me of an incident I'd had a few years back with Alexa Chung.
She had created a second Twitter account that was private, just for her uber-cool pals, while leaving her primary account open for all us plebs to follow. Not only did this defeat the entire purpose of Twitter's open-door policy, it also felt elitist and very hipster -- a typical too-cool-for-school mentality.
I tweeted my opinion on the matter, something along the lines of who does she think she is with her
dual accounts, and @ mentioned her in the tweet -- the pleb account of course, and not the special private members only one.
When we mention a celebrity directly in a tweet, I think many of us are under the impression that they'll never even notice it due to the sheer amount of followers they have and the influx of tweets they must receive each day.
However just like us mere mortals, celebs seem to zone in on the negativity. Within seconds I had a direct message from Ms Chung herself, chastising me in the most irritating way.
I can't recall exactly how she phrased it, but her message contained words along the lines of: "Now, now", as if she was giving out to a child.
The gist of her message was "why are you being nasty about someone you've never met?"
The thing with celebs is, though, that we do feel like we know them and sites like Twitter close the gap. They invite themselves into our lives, and thus I felt able to comment.
Alexa's behaviour irked me, so I felt the need to bring her down to earth by putting my negative presence in her newsfeed.
Granted, I had a point and I wasn't just being mean for the sake of it, but my tweet obviously had an impact.
Still, I felt ashamed afterwards, and that regret is the difference between accidentally being a bit of an eejit online, and real, honest-to-God trolls who get off on the feeling of causing pain, a fuss or a negative reaction. Actually, it's their main reason for even being online, and Alexa's direct message would have only spurred a troll on more.
"A troll is someone on the internet who provokes people to get a negative emotional response, and causes disruption to the flow of communication and conversation online," explains online communications consultant Damien Mulley.
Community manager of WorldIrish.com Darragh Doyle elaborates. "A troll will deliberately set out to make malicious, vindictive and provocative comments online for a reaction. They add no value to a debate -- they're the schoolyard equivalent of bullies who spread vicious rumours, but would never have the courage to say it to somebody's face." So could my admittedly snide tweet to Alexa, and the probably countless other tweets I've sent to celebrities over the years be deemed trolling?
No, says Doyle. "There's a big difference between those and people who express a negative view online, as unpopular as it might be, and trolls." Phew!
Trolling has been big news this past week thanks to the arrest of a 17-year-old known by his Twitter handles @Rileyy69 in the UK, after he maliciously tweeted British Olympic diver Tom Daley (18) about his late father.
The remark was vindictive, and was intended to cause pain.
However, Daley chose to retweet it to his thousands of followers, and the young troll quickly began alternating between grovelling to Daley and issuing death threats to those abusing him. "It possibly wouldn't have gotten to that stage if Daley and his fans didn't respond. This was an ignorant kid at the other end," says Mulley.
Sure, the kid shouldn't have said what he did, and no doubt regrets it, but weren't the hordes of people tweeting him threats and abuse in return guilty of trolling, too? They were also trying to illicit an emotional response, based solely on one, admittedly horrible, tweet. It begs the question -- if you jump on the bandwagon and tweet something malicious or threatening to somebody in the public eye, could you be arrested too?
"This was something that got massively out of hand and should have been stopped by Twitter before it hit the headlines" says Doyle. "Here a teenager with some very dodgy tweets already was thrust into the spotlight, gaining over 50,000 followers in a little over 48 hours. It hasn't been confirmed that his arrest is specifically over the Tom Daley tweets, but again, I doubt when he was making these comments he had any idea of how it would end up -- or that it would be reacted to at all."
That's just the thing with trolls -- they need fuel for their fire, and Daley retweeting him was what caused the real furore.
"Tom Daley has been receiving 50,000 tweets a day since the Olympics started," says Conor Lynch, CEO of SocialMedia.ie "One could wonder how he even saw this tweet and have time to do his training.
"There are literally billions of social media updates every week so social media is almost impossible to police. It's like the Wild West!"
The answer must be then, to self-police? Doyle agrees. "Here's a simple test -- would you say it to the person's face if you could? Would you be happy for your name to be published next to that comment in a newspaper?
"I have a simple rule -- never say anything online that you aren't prepared to see on a billboard outside your mammy's house. Saying something not nice online is fine, as long as it's a belief/opinion you actually hold."
Trolling isn't the only way we use the internet negatively though -- a new study by photo site MyMemory has revealed that two fifths of women over 18 admitted to purposely sharing pictures of their close female friends without make-up or in an unflattering position --and I'd wager that many more are guilty, but just won't admit it.
So it's not just celebs we're malicious to, but our own mates. What is it about the internet that triggers this desire to be nasty?
"Social networking is built around status updates that appear in friends' newsfeeds. Many people like sharing how perfect their lives are -- so a little dig at their imperfect friends seems to be all part of human nature, be it online or offline," says Lynch.
Mulley is of the opinion that it's all about revealing a friend's true appearance or nature, rather than the glossy one they present online.
"This is people wanting to smash the shiny veneer of someone they see as superior to them, or indeed, someone who portrays themselves as flawless."
Whatever the reason, it's true that the internet reveals our darker thoughts and impulses, whether we realise it or not. I've learned both professionally and personally that tweets can have a real impact, and while I'm not about to do a Chung and create a private account, I do think before I tweet and self-censor.
Free speech is all well and good, but when your inner troll threatens to rear its ugly head, it might be wise to simply say your nasty piece out loud in a silent room. And hey, if you feel silly doing that, why the heck would you want to put it on the Internet?
Rileyy69 tweeted after Daley didn't win a medal: "@TomDaley1994 You let your dad down i hope you know that."
And Tom then tweeted to his 923,000 followers: "After giving it my all... you get idiots sending me this."