Trolling for Information….
Was shocked at the recent news that Dom Joly has had to call in the police over recent “trolling” attacks on his Twitter account. I grew quite fond of him and his scaredy-cat ways when he was on a reality TV show a while ago and, while I accept he’s not everyone’s cup of tea, the troll in this particular case makes really horrid threatening remarks about his family and, in particular, his children. Up until now, I had heard of trolling in regard to certain comments on blog posts etc., and never been that concerned – you can delete these comments after all. Then last night, on Twitter, someone was receiving a troll “attack” on their blog and having a little back and forth dialogue on the subject. This was just a regular mum with an inoffensive blog post. I finally woke up and realised it can happen to anyone. But I am also appallingly ignorant about them. I have no real idea what a troll is, so I decided to educate myself.
The first thing I have learned is that the term “troll” is not adopted from the name usually given to small, hunch-backed midgets with challenging hairstyles living under bridges and waiting to scare random goats. That’s where I thought the term came from: someone who sits “underneath” a comment stream or Twitter message trail and just watches; then comments nastily to disrupt the conversation. Well, Mrs Pigletinapoke, you are wrong. According to website http://www.flayme.com “trolling” is actually a fishing term, a method of “trailing bait through a likely spot hoping for a bite.” I’m no Ray Mears, so would never have got that one in a million years! However, this definition puts a whole new perspective on the activity for me. Trolls are not the passive watchers I thought they were, waiting for a chance to assert themselves inappropriately. No, these are people actively seeking confrontation; actually instigating it where none exists.
It seems a troll is more like your regular stalker-type but with a serial killer’s mentality. They’re not your average “autobot” that seeks out and feasts on any keywords in your blog posts or tweets and then signs up to follow – in the main these bots are equivalent to the irritating telephone salesmen that keep phoning you with offers on things you don’t want. Annoying but essentially harmless. No, a troll is much more personal. He or she likes to be mean. Nastily mean. Death-threat mean. Not just in a cynical, dismissable way but in a really unpleasant, trying to screw around with your brain kind of way. Offensive, bigoted and often appallingly well-informed, trolls can attach to you or your internet persona for whatever their sadistic reasons are and literally make your on-line life hell.
Lord knows the internet is a scary enough place! This blog alone has been randomly found by people searching the web for such things as “man-pig”, “men dressing up then kissing”, “wasps in knickers” and the absolute weirdest: “dried pig scrotum”. In what context one would ever be searching for that, I don’t even want to know! So the emergence of trolls who search for people to pick on is a given when you consider the sheer strangeness of some of the people active on the world-wide web.
I’m no psychologist but even I can assume that these people must be attention-seeking shut-in types with an axe to grind against anyone who does not fit their mould or who catches their eye in some way. They pick on a person, a personality trait or an opinion and crap all over it for the sheer “fun” of it. It’s worrying stuff for someone like me, and for the children I have brought up in my image. I don’t do well with full-on confrontation, and I’m pretty sure my kids would be horribly upset by anyone deliberately being hideous to them, even if that person is only on-line.
So what can we do to protect ourselves against these so-called trolls?
There are three main theories from what I can glean. One camp advises not to “feed the trolls” – ignore, disengage and even remove yourself, your blog, your social network accounts etc. for a time before changing your online ID etc. This is the most straightforward option, but a little voice in my ear whispers “Isn’t that a bit defeatist?” I don’t do confrontation, but neither do I do bullying and this seems like a clear-cut case of bullying to me if you have to remove yourself and re-set your on-line life while the troll that caused the problem remains untouched. So hiding is not what I would recommend.
Another camp advises “understanding” the trolls – trying to get to the route of their issue with you and realising that they are probably depressed or have some sort of impaired judgement problem of their own. Yeah, yeah – enough with the “kill it with love” approach. Some of these trolls may also be vindictive little teen busstards who simply think it’s funny to sit on-line and insult other people. Loving and understanding a fairly normal teenager is hard enough, without having to pick the best bits out of a twisted sick “misunderstood” one. I would love to see the altruistic person who can receive such abuse or see it being directed at their loved ones and still “love” the poor depressed person doing it to them. I’d like to shake that person’s hand, they are a better human than I will ever be.
The third camp seems to make most sense to me. You don’t engage with the troll, you simply report him to the site host each and every time he/she enters your sphere. The website host or social network have an obligation to investigate anyone making threatening or abusive comments to another person on their network. They can shut the troll’s account down. He may re-surface, but surely even a depressed aggressive shut-in is going to get fed-up with having to re-create an account 300 or so times and will go back to pulling the wings off bluebottles or whatever they do for their sad kicks. If the comments and threats they have made are racist, religiously motivated or sexist, those messages and the promotion of them is also illegal. You can bring in the authorities to deal with them. Some may think they are untraceable, but my friend in the Met Police assures me there are ways to track anyone down on-line: it just takes time.
I guess the upshot is that the internet, like the school playground or workplace, is just another dog-eat-dog arena where everyone is trying to be top banana and crap on the people they consider beneath them. It is society displayed in on-line form. It’s been going on for centuries, and I have concluded that what I have to do is teach my kids to recognise on-line trolls for the bullies they are, and deal with them as they would in any other social situation. Their existence is a fact of life – how you deal with them is the important thing for you.
Have you been the victim of a trolling attack? How did you deal with it? Would love to hear what other people think.