How do I deal with trolling?

Today’s focus is the Australian Communications and Media Authority‘s Cybersmart website is trolling. Wikipedia defines a troll as

 a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people,[1] by posting inflammatory,[2]extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a forum, chat room, or blog), either accidentally[3][4] or with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response[5]

Cybersmart advises people having difficulties with trolls to:

  1. Ingore
  2. Block
  3. Report
  4. Talk to family and/or friends
  5. Assist friends if they’re having the same problems.

Read more here.

Generation gap causing issues with cyberbullying

A recent article in The Australian newspaper has stated that parents who don’t match their children’s online skills are ill-equipped to deal with all aspects of cybersafety.

THE generation gap has left courts ill-equipped to deal with cyber bullying, a senior judge says.

And a top cop says parents must match their children’s cyber skills to stay a step ahead of online predators.

Australian Federal Police Deputy Commissioner (operations) Michael Phelan, who will also speak at the two-day conference beginning on Thursday, urged parents to match their children’s abilities online to ward off trolls and stalkers on social media.

“The digital divide between what children know and what their parents know can mean that we may be one step behind children and, subsequently, one step behind the offenders,” he said.

Read the whole article here.

Why trolls and hackers should be afraid

A while back The Age published an interesting article that claims online trolls and hackers, who have previously been able to remain anonymous, can now be identified by their writing style.

“Your writing style can give you away and on the internet anonymity is difficult to achieve,” say the US researchers who have developed online tools to analyse writing.

The researchers, from Drexel University in Philadelphia, studied the leaked conversations and contributions of hundreds of anonymous users in underground online forums.

They were able to identify 80 per cent of users using stylometric analysis to match writing styles to authors.

An interesting invention and may help deter bullying.

Read more here.

Police urged to charge and prosecute creators of cyber hate

Former Victoria Police officer and now cybersafety expert Susan McLean has urged Australian police to ‘track down and charge’ people who post hate pages online, The Age reports.

McLean states that

police already have powers to pursue posters of such content. Under section 474.17 of the Commonwealth Crimes Act, it is an offence to use ”a carriage service to menace, harass or cause offence”, punishable by three years in jail… ”There have been many cases in the UK where these people have been hunted down and charged and jailed. We need to do that in Australia.”

Read the whole article here.

How civilised are we?

Seth Godin, author, public speaker and entrepreneur recently wrote a very interesting blog post entitled Civilisation. He talks about how we want to me more civilised, but don’t spend much time talking about it. He says

The people who create innovations, jobs, culture and art of all forms have a choice about where and how they do these things. And over and over, they choose to do it in a society that’s civilized, surrounded by people who provide them both safety and encouragement. I’m having trouble thinking of a nation (or even a city) that failed because it invested too much in taking care of its people and in creating a educated, civil society.

My take on this short and very readable post is that to live and thrive in a civilised society, it needs to be, as Godin says, a place of ‘safety and encouragement’. I believe this ties back to making a positive digital footprint where we don’t troll or abuse, but use the space to encourage others and in turn, be encouraged by others.

Charlotte Dawson comes face to face with her Twitter troll

Last night, Channel 7 news broadcast a story where Charlotte Dawson came face to face with two of her Twitter trolls. One troll states:

“There’s real life you and internet you. Yeah I gain a bit more confidence on the internet,” he says.

Another trolls says:

“They’re just things that I say. They’re things that I say on twitter and twitter isn’t real life.”

While a third states:

“I don’t necessarily mean what I tweet half the time it’s what I, what it’s… What my twitter is, is basically just a bit of fun,” he told Charlotte.

To me, this is a worrying mindset – the belief that online life doesn’t impact on real life. It does. What you post can affect your employment, your relationships and can even be subject to police investigations.

See previous stories about Dawson and her Twitter trolls:

If you have problems with online bullying, visit or call Lifeline on 131 114.

Protect yourself against trolls, they are bullies

In response to the Charlotte Dawson Twitter affair, the ACMA released a guide to protect yourself against trolls on sites like Facebook and Twitter. The five steps to protect yourself and friends are:

  • IGNORE the troll—don’t respond to nasty, immature, offensive comments. Giving trolls the attention they want only gives them more power.
  • BLOCK the troll—take away their power by blocking them. If they pop up under a different name, block them again.
  • REPORT trolls—report to site administrators. If they pop up under a different name, report them again. If they continue, contact the police.
  • TALK with friends and family—If a troll upsets you, talk about it … it’s not you, it’s them. Visit the Cybersmart Online Helpline or call Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800.
  • PROTECT friends from trolls—if trolls are upsetting a friend, tell them to Ignore, Block, Report. Tell their family and other friends and encourage them to seek support.

Read the entire piece here.

In an article published in The Age around the same time, George Wright tackles the topic of trolls. He says

Trolls need a passive audience, it is their oxygen. If they feel they can say what they like without censure then they will. It’s one thing to escalate policing the problem to the likes of Twitter/Facebook and Google, but the most immediate and long-term solution is, as a society, to call them out and say that it is not OK, and sideline them.

When a spiteful tweet is targeting someone, the troll’s pleasure is increased when the victim’s own network is a silent witness, or even prolongs it by sharing it. Nasty comments can be diluted and the heat dissipated by your network of friends running interference so to speak. Fellowship is the key – early intervention in the event is preferable to legislation.

My own experience in these matters can be distilled into the following points. When witnessing someone being bullied online:

  • Don’t ever share/retweet nasty comments – even “funny” ones.
  • Give the target of the online attack some positive attention to balance out the negative. This doesn’t mean you have to agree with their position, but acknowledge they don’t deserve this level of disrespect.
  • Don’t spin nasty comments into some form of comedy and then share them.
  • Don’t follow/friend a troll and if you do, unfollow/unfriend them as soon as they start. They will soon get the message that their comments are negatively affecting their social status.
  • Encourage the victim to log off and take a break for a few hours. Bullies get easily bored. Remind your friend that this is not a sign of surrender, there is no war, the troll does not win when you do nothing; they win when you keep raging at them. Invite your friend out for a coffee and laugh at the bully in real conversation.
  • Don’t troll the bully.
  • Don’t tell the victim to harden up or “get over it”.

Read The Age article here.

More news on Robbie Farah and vile tweets

On Monday we reported that Wests Tigers rugby captain Robbie Farah was the recipient of vile tweets about his recently deceased mother. Farah approached Police and the Prime Minister to intervene and ensure that trolls were adequately dealt with and laws reflecting the use of social media were updated.

However, yesterday, Yahoo news reported that Farah himself had sent a questionable message to the Prime Minister. In something that may shock many people, a tweet from September 2011, which Farah had deleted soon after it was published, has been unearthed. The Yahoo report states:

New South Wales Premier Barry O’Farrell says he wants to work with the Commonwealth to send a strong message to people who harass others on the internet.

“I think it’s unacceptable, whether it’s a star footballer or whether it’s an average citizen out there, to get either racist, defamatory or other inciteful messages from someone who thinks they can do it anonymously,” he said.

“We are seeking a review of existing Commonwealth legislation to see what between the Commonwealth and the states we can do to close any potential loopholes that exist.”

NSW Police Minister Mike Gallacher says he will speak with police about cracking down on online abuse and agrees the Federal Government needs to intervene.

This case is a classic example of a digital footprint that cannot be ‘cleaned up’ just by deleting offensive tweets or posts. Once published, these posts or tweets can come back to haunt us.

Charlotte Dawson Twitter attack

Most of you have probably heard what happened to television host and Smile Foundation ambassador Charlotte Dawson over the past few days. Being someone who has a high profile, Dawson is often targetted by trolls on Twitter.

Some people block and report said trolls to Twitter, but in this instance, Dawson tracked down a person responsible, who was in turn suspended from her work. The suspension seemed to trigger an outpouring of further attacks, which ended in Dawson’s hospitalisation.

Read more from 3AW here.

Catherine Deveny wrote in yesterday’s Age:

What makes high-profile people engage with trolls? Or anyone? Self-loathing narcissism? I hope Charlotte Dawson gets well soon. And I hope she learns to use the block and unfriend button liberally.

Charlotte believes the best way to silence the bullies is to out them. I’m not convinced. I have no hesitation blocking haters, trolls, bores, wowsers or pedants. My feed, I choose. If people want to hate-follow, they can hate-follow someone else. My policy? No troll oxygen.

It’s a sad state of affairs when people hide behind anonymity to hurt others. And there is nothing worse than being bullied, particularly if you are isolated from the support of others for any reason.

The answer is to block, report, unfriend. Don’t engage with the trolls. Read more about these strategies here and here. Twitter has avenues to deal with these people. If, unfortunately something similar happens to you, use them.

I’m not criticising Charlotte Dawson’s actions, but the evidence of the results of the escalation of trolling is before our eyes.