With the advent of the internet came many wonderful innovations. Suddenly, those who were millions of miles apart were easily and instantly connected, the answer to almost any question was readily available at the click of a button and we no longer needed to leave the comfort of our settees to get things done. Along with all these positives, however, came the inevitable baddies. One of the most prevalent among them? Trolling. Whether we’ve experienced it first hand or witnessed others endure it across their social media platforms, there’s no denying the existence of of this digital harassment.
Working as a journalist in the 21st century, it’s not long before your digital baptism of fire. At some point, even the most innocuous of writing will irk some or other keyboard warrior in desperate need of a hug (though they don’t yet know it). Once, in a previous role, it was suggested to this very writer that she must have had to sleep her way up the ladder to have landed the editor in chief’s position. I didn’t, but hey, sticks and stones.
The thing about that old phrase, however, is that sometimes words really can cut you; the simple stroke of a keyboard can be quite powerful. Why? Because behind the safety of a computer screen, pissed off people can be all kinds of brutal. They’re not facing you, they’ll never face you, so they don’t hold back. With no legislation yet in place to handle such a new form of harassment, there’s little consequence to a troll’s behaviour. They revel in the opportunity to get under your skin and sadly, they’re often successful.
New research has been carried out to confirm what many claim to experience. According to the Pew Internet Research Project, this new study found that online harassment in some shape or form — be it name calling, insulting or even serious threats — actually affect the majority of Internet users. A staggering 73% of people online have witnessed abusive trolling in some way, while 40% reported a firsthand experience of it. Sadly, this doesn’t shock us whatsoever. It’s rampant.
Delving a little further, it was revealed that of that 40%, 27% said they had been insulted with offensive names while 22% of the participants said their bullies had tried to embarrass them on purpose. Worryingly, 8% reported counts of physical threats online while 6% had experienced sexual harassment online.
As part of the study, the authors also sought to explore how participants deal with such trolling, whether they ignore it or confront it. 60% ignored it and depending on the scenario, this is probably the stance we’d take too. Responding, in many cases, will serve only to exacerbate the situation, giving your troll more ammo and an excuse to come back with more meaningless words. Sometimes, the smartest thing you can do is to say nothing at all. Consider it noise, feel sorry for the individual on the other end of the computer and carry on. There can be no fire with out oxygen, remember. And don’t forget the almighty ‘block’ button.
If you do take it upon yourself to engage, it’s likely that you will come up against a brick wall. No troll is going to rationally back down when they realise the error of their ways, so your own rationale will be largely wasted. Save your energy for those who deserve it.
If you find yourself at the wrong end of a troll’s humour, what you must always remember is that it’s never personal (as odd as this sounds), it can’t be. The problem, we must remind ourselves, lies entirely within the misery of the troll. Never you.
Have you experienced online trolling first hand? How did you handle it?