Trolling the trolls

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noun: troll; plural noun: trolls
(in folklore) an ugly cave-dwelling creature depicted as either a giant or a dwarf
Verb :  to fish with a hook and line that you pull through the water
noun: troll; plural noun: trolls
a person who makes a deliberately offensive or provocative online posting

When retiring politician Nova Peris received racist and sexist comments on her Facebook page, she decided to share the comments publicly. A middle-aged chiropractor has subsequently been charged with “using a carriage service to cause offence”. (He denies posting the comments and claims his Facebook account was hacked.)

In her response to the post, Peris wrote, “You must have a terrible life … to continue as an adult spitting such racist & vile hatred towards a fellow human being.”

Video game reviewer Alanah Pearce decided to contact the mothers of boys who posted online threats to sexually abuse her, telling them of their son’s behaviour. “It turns out that mostly they’re young boys and the problem is they don’t know any better,” Pearce said.

Peris and Pearce join a growing list of high-profile women who turn the tables on social media bullies, naming and shaming those who post vile comments from the safety of their internet devices. Both agree that those who troll and cyber-bully may not be happy people.

As society struggles with our ever-changing communication channels, how do we uphold every human’s right to courtesy and dignity? Do we have the right to name, shame and bring to account those who bully us?

Media personality Meshel Laurie discovered that ‘naming and shaming’ her trolls in fact brought out the worst in her, the victim. This week she wrote about the consequences of ‘naming and shaming’ her trolls. After sharing screenshots of horrible comments she received, the men she named became targets of online hatred themselves.

Laurie contacted the men and found out more about their personal stories.  She discovered that many were in a bad place. Her realisation was that “…happy people with great lives don’t fat-shame strangers on social media. Sad, lonely, isolated people do”.

Laurie concluded that, in ‘real life’, she would attempt to help people who are sad and lonely. But the intensity of social media had unwittingly turned her from the bullied to the bully. “I’m disappointed in myself, but tomorrow’s another day,” she said.

So here’s the dilemma – nobody should have to put up with cyber-bullying. How do we control this insidious and sometimes life-threatening behaviour but also understand that those who choose to bully may themselves be desperately in need of greater support?  What do you think?

Image by Jason Howe via Flickr

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