A Toronto Transformation

The Trouble With Trolls

women in animal masks Sometimes it feels like the internet is a masquerade…for jerks.

I’ve been thinking about trolls lately.

No, sadly, not the fluffy, neon-haired bejewelled belly button type (what a weird fad that was).

I’ve been thinking more about the type who prowl the internet looking for unmoderated forums to spew bilious, hateful trash. You know, the ones you encounter when, against your better judgement you think, “I’ll just quickly scroll down to the comment section of this thoughtful piece of writing or this heartfelt video.”

I believe in dialogue, I believe in letting people have their say and I believe in participating in important conversations. After all, respectful debate is essential for human evolution and democracy.

But man, few things are as optimism-crushing as a comment section on a viral post.

My personal policy is to try never to say anything online I wouldn’t feel comfortable saying to someone’s face and/or be comfortable having everyone I know hear.

For some folks though, the possibilities that come along with perceived anonymity are too tempting not to test out.

Online, you can be whomever you want.

And for some reason, I guess a lot of people really want to be assholes.

Maybe they feel powerless or invisible in their own lives. Maybe they hate themselves or are bored with their lives and don’t have the resources to deal with that productively. Maybe they’re genuinely mentally ill.

Whatever the reasons, they bring their racism, misogyny, intolerance and bullying to the internet and let fly. Some seem to believe the nonsense they’re spewing, while others pathetically claim to be writing loathsome things just to get a reaction (the original definition of an internet troll).

Recently, a woman accused of “trolling” a family whose toddler went missing was unmasked by a news team when they found out Scotland Yard was investigating her Twitter account, with which she obsessively tweeted abuse towards the family, who she believed were responsible for their child’s disappearance. According to news outlets, she was found dead of an apparent suicide a couple of days later. The situation has sparked some debate over whether exposing so-called “trolls” in this manner is the right thing to do.

I don’t know exactly what the solution is. I value my privacy online, and I value free speech, but I do think that we need to take online harassment, threats, and hate speech seriously, because the internet doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and the more encouragement these so-called “trolls” receive either directly from other mean-spirited commenters cheering them on or through lack of consequence, the more likely that behaviour will be picked up by others and the more it will bleed into their lives offline.  And even if it doesn’t, we all know by now that sadly online bullying can have devastating and fatal consequences.

Some say we should just ignore online bullies and trolls, but Stephanie Guthrie had an interesting take on misogynist trolls in particular in this awesome Ted Talk last September:

What do you guys think? Have you encountered online bullying or trolling on a personal level? How do you think we should deal with people who make it their mission to threaten or make others miserable online?


7 Responses to The Trouble With Trolls

  • Ruthenium says:

    It’s so important to have this conversation since many people, or trolls, still think it’s ok to bully people online. I never understood this kind of treatment towards other human beings.

    • metamorphocity says:

      There seems to be such a disconnect that happens to some people when they sit down at a keyboard. They plug in their laptops and unplug all civility and compassion and can somehow justify their actions by telling themselves that the internet isn’t part of real life.

  • Traci says:

    Wow, this is an intense topic. I have experienced some online bullying after my work was chosen for a design and illustration festival. Some of the people who didn’t win said the most awful things, and the words have stuck with me, though I was okay at the time and still am. I know, hopefully for a fact, that these comments would never have been said in person. I’m going to watch the TED Talk now.

    • metamorphocity says:

      That perceived anonymity can do weird things to people, eh? I’m so sorry you went through that and glad you were in a good enough place in your life to withstand that kind of bizarre abuse!

  • dtsirgielis says:

    That Ted Talk was really eye opening. You also bring up an interesting topic in terms of mental health. I’m interested to know if there was regulation and these “trolls” and they were actually found out to be mentally ill, would they get help?

    • metamorphocity says:

      I just feel like there must be mental illness behind some of this behaviour, you know? Wouldn’t it be amazing if instead of outing these people in the media, we were somehow able to help them understand why their behaviour is problematic and cope with whatever issues are underlying their need to troll?

  • vdiplacido says:

    The comments under a YouTube video are so interesting to me. It’s usually 50% people hating on other people, and 50% requests from struggling artists to watch their work. (Maybe I should leave a few percent points for conspiracy theories, too). But I think most people know to expect those kinds of comments on certain forums, and avoid reading beyond the first page. Online bullying/trolling can be particularly harmful on sites youths use: I remember ask.fm being a big one.

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