It’s a wonderful thing, the Internet.
It’s not only the greatest depository of human knowledge ever created, but a great leveller that allows everyone to have their say on anything under the sun.
An virtual army of concerned individuals, bloggers, citizen journalists, pressure groups and other networks, ensuring the previously hidden agendas of governments and big business are being questioned and exposed as never before.
With the rise of online conversations in Internet forums and comment sections, new ideas and information spread like wildfire, crossing and re-crossing the world in a matter of milliseconds.
At least, that’s the theory.
But as with almost everything, there is a downside.
In this instance, it’s the existence of the online ‘Troll’, or the ‘Cyberbully’.
The intention of the troll is to disrupt, be provocative and get a reaction.
Trolling can be mixed with bullying, but cyber-bullying requires very personal, very vindictive behaviour; either of someone the bully has met in person, or someone in the public eye where there’s lots of personal information out there about them.
Cyber-bullying often involves a sustained campaign against an individual, while trolling often has no rhyme or reason.
It’s difficult to understand the motivations of trolls, some do it because they’ve got an agenda or an opinion contrary to what’s popular.
Some do it because they’re angry and spiteful, and some do it just for the hell of it.
Some even get paid to do so, as has been witnessed recently by whistleblowing ex-trolls.
Trolling begins with de-individualisation, the concept of social psychology thought of as the reduction or loss of one’s self-identity, a virtue made possible by the anonymity of the internet.
When our sense of self is pushed aside, we’re much less likely to stick to social norms, manners or even the law.
This anonymity leads to a lack of inhibition.
When people think their actions aren’t traceable, they say and type things they are too cowardly to ever say face to face.
The inhibitions are removed, because they have no connection to the emotions of those they effect.
Historically, the internet has always been hostile to women, as it was once the domain of nerdish males, but this has changed in recent years.
The assumed profile of the troll is a singularly unattractive, single, unemployed, overweight white male with no real-life friends.
But in reality, trolls can be ordinary working people, of any colour and they’re just as likely to be women….. although they often use male or male-sounding usernames.
Trolls are also often teenagers or students, as many recent examples have shown.
Irish writer Leo Traynor famously confronted his troll, after he traced the troll’s IP address.
The troll was a 17-year old boy, who broke down in tears and sobbed, “I don’t know. I don’t know. I’m sorry. It was like a game thing.”
Slater’s troll was a law student.
“He was a young boy and thought because he could use Facebook, he was technically literate.
He thought he was anonymous, and he thought he was bulletproof.
Being unmasked is the biggest fear of the troll,” says Lyons.
The best thing you can do (to a troll) is ‘call them out’ in a thread.
Tell them you know they’re trolling and tell them their behaviour isn’t acceptable.
Don’t give them the emotional response they seek.
If you do this in a calm, un-emotive manner, the troll will lose interest.
The adage “Don’t feed the trolls” is relevant here.
Trolls are only there for the response and the reaction.
If ignored, eventually they’ll run out of places to ply their trade.
Trolling moves into cyber-bulling when it gets strategic – a person goes out of their way to harass – and the worst form of such bullying is called “cyber hickery” or “snerting”, a sustained campaign of domination that targets one or more specific individuals.
What makes trolls break into a cold sweat is when you take them from non-entities to a higher profile.
When you blog about them, or highlight their online activities, they soon realise that their name will be forever associated with trolling in Google searches.
Slowly, the trolls begin to work out that their digital footprint is with them for a lifetime and can negatively affect their real-life reputation and even future employment prospects.
The consequences of their trolling activities then takes on a whole new meaning.
The internet isn’t a place you can hide forever, look at how easily music companies trace online distributors of unreleased music for example.
Everybody can be found.
Inspired by: STUFF.CO.NZ