What's the difference between God and Bono?" wrote a poster on a newspaper comments board yesterday. "God doesn't walk around Dublin thinking he's Bono." If "Jeffman" was hoping to be applauded for his wit, he had another thing coming.
"That joke's been here for 25 years," chided one. "Bono doesn't walk around Dublin," quipped another.
Admirers of the Dublin rock star might want to stay well clear of the comments below The Guardian's "first listen" review of U2's new album: virtually all had the man born Paul Hewson in their sights. And just about everything seemed to be fair game - from U2's tax affairs to his singing ability and from his relationships with world leaders to his friendships with corporate bigwigs.
That the article had broadly positive things to say about the album didn't matter: here was an opportunity to indulge in a little Bono-bashing.
It was a similar story on Twitter where endless abuse was heaped on Bono and U2. Several appeared outraged that the new album, Songs of Innocence, had been uploaded to their iTunes account free of charge. "Putting U2 on my phone without my permission," fumed one, "is like force-feeding lamb to a vegetarian."
While Bono would have expected some opprobrium after inking a rumoured €100m deal with Apple which sees the album being made freely available on the iTunes accounts of 500 million people worldwide, even he must have been surprised by the extent of the ill-feeling.
"You'd think he had stolen stuff from these people," broadcaster Dave Fanning says. "What he's actually done is made a brand new U2 album available free of charge. What a gift that is for the fans, but for some - no matter what he does - Bono will always be seen as the bad guy. The negative responses have been ridiculously over-the-top, as they always are whenever U2 do anything. People have been knocking him from day one, but he just gets up and gets on with it. Does it affect him? I don't know - but I do know that that sort of vitriol would affect a lot of people."
Fanning has had a long-term association with U2, going back to their earliest days, and he says he, too, is sometimes pilloried for defending his friend. "I don't know why people waste their energy attacking him when they could be doing something else with their lives. I've seen the campaigning work he does in the Third World and he's the real deal. There's nothing fake about it. He doesn't have to do it, but he feels compelled to."
It says something about the society that we live in that he's attacked for that. Nobody is forcing anyone to listen to U2. As for those people who are outraged that U2's album has suddenly appeared in their iTunes library, why don't they just delete it? And rather than going on about commercial sell-outs, or whatever, why don't they investigate all the great new music that is being released all the time? But instead of doing that, they're more motivated to spew their bile on social media. It's pathetic."
The Irish academic Andy Storey - who has long been a critic of Bono's African aid work - believes much of the negativity the frontman attracts is self-inflicted. "There's such a sense of pomposity about him," he says, "It gets up the backs of many. He's hypocritical too when you think about U2's [perfectly legal] tax avoidance, which flies in the face of his appeals to help the world's poor. And his backing for organisations like the Gates Foundation - which is sponsored by Monsanto, proponents of genetically modified food - does not sit well at all."
For others, like the Dublin-based Daily Telegraph journalist Mic Wright, it's Bono's failure to engage with his native land that has bothered many here. "The U2 singer is like an Easter Island head of patrician arrogance," he wrote in 2013, "the "fixer" of Africa whose relationship to his native land's struggles is very vague. While he has wrung his hands so much over foreign aid it's a surprise they still function, he has left Ireland to it. To many it seems as if Ireland is just too small, too petty a problem for the great Bono Vox to turn his gaze upon it."
Olaf Tyransen, the rock critic and author, rejects such a view: "It's so often forgotten that U2 contributed €5m to a fund to help young musicians in this country. They didn't need to do that, but they wanted to. And anyone who has met Bono can attest to his kindness and decency. He lives the rock 'n' roll lifestyle, but his campaigning work has paid off. Just ask those in Africa who are alive today thanks to the work he has done on countering malaria.
"You know, Bono gets a huge amount of flak but he handles it in a very dignified way. He would have been within his rights to call the new album F*** the Begrudgers considering all he has to put up with."