BEWARE OF THE TROLLS

Do you remember the story of the Three Billy Goats Gruff? You know, three goats that want to cross the bridge to get to the meadow, but the troll who lives beneath the bridge won’t let them pass, and threatens to gobble them up? You’d be forgiven for thinking that trolls are simply the product of Norwegian fairy tales, set firmly within the constraints of make-believe with their ability to harm limited to haunting children’s nightmares. But the trolls of the twenty-first century are just as nasty as their folklore counterparts, lurking on the internet rather than beneath bridges.

As it’s commonly known, ‘trolling’ is when an internet user intentionally causes distress by posting inflammatory comments on a public forum. ‘Trolls’ frequently hide behind anonymous usernames, and their disconcerting comments are made purely to provoke an emotional response from other commenters and readers. In lieu of the tragic death of television personality, Charlotte Dawson, trolling has caught the attention of the Australian media, who have united among a common goal: if it can’t be stopped, we have to teach people how to deal with it.

The good news? If trolling happens to you, you don’t have to suffer in silence. I spoke to Clementine Ford (DailyLife, ABC’s The Drum) and Natasha Devon (Body Gossip, Cosmopolitan UK, BBC Radio) about their experiences with trolling and how they individually deal with online abuse (and how you can too!)

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Clementine Ford

As feminist writers, a lot of the opinions you discuss bring out the worst in internet trolls. What has your experience with online abuse been like?

Natasha: I’ve actually been trolled a couple of times. Once was because I dared to speak out against the No More Page Three campaign, and some of their supporters began bombarding me with relentless and deeply personal insults. The second time was because, following a life-saving operation, I took part in a lingerie shoot for Curvy Kate which showed a 30 inch scar I have running down my abdomen. Some social media users called my body ‘disgusting’ and said the photographs made them vomit.

I have to say, out of the two, the first one was far more upsetting. I love my body for surviving the ordeal which caused my scar and wanted to provide inspiration to others with similar ‘imperfections’, so the backlash didn’t really affect me. But The No More Page Three supporters targeted not just myself but everyone I spoke to on Twitter, criticising my business, my friends, my dress sense, my hair, my boyfriend – my life, basically. It took a lot of strength to get through that time.

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Natasha Devon

Clementine: [My experiences] vary, and not all of them are always abusive. The ones I find the most irritating tend to be the smug ones which tell me I’m worrying about irrelevant things. I can handle someone calling me fat and ugly, but it drives me absolutely spare to be condescendingly told that I’m not writing about the ‘really important things’.

On the whole though I think it’s really important to point out that the vast majority of messages I get – from women and men – are very supportive and lovely.

How do you suggest young people deal with being trolled? What works best for you?

Clementine: I name and shame people who have contacted me privately to abuse me, because I want them to know what it feels like to endure ridicule and criticism when they feel like they didn’t invite it. It is very interesting to see how they react when someone fights back, and it doesn’t take long before the majority of them complain that they’re being bullied.

I think it [naming and shaming] can be scary, but it’s also effective. Trolls or bullies thrive on the silence of their victims, it doesn’t stop them and it doesn’t make them feel like they’ve done anything wrong. Naming and shaming them is a way of exposing them to the judgement of the public.

[People can be] extremely supportive. [Reaching out to the internet] is like calling on an army of back up, and it shows the offending person not only that I’m not afraid of them but that there are countless people out there who aren’t either.

Natasha: I don’t ‘name and shame’…however, I have received thousands of supportive emails, tweets and facebook messages from all over the world after I went public with my scar trolling story. It’s so lovely to see (especially when they say they have scars too and my story has given them confidence) but it’s also important not to invest your sense of self in anything you see online – whether positive or negative. It’s important not to take what people say to heart, whether it’s good or bad. The opinions of your friends, family, teachers – people in the three dimensional world – are so much more relevant and valuable.

Any further advice for young people who are dealing with internet trolls?

Natasha: One of the best pieces of advice on this was given to me by a Police Officer who said “when a puppy is naughty you don’t shout at it, you turn your back on it and fold your arms. That’s the way to deal with trolls”. Blocking and resisting the temptation to look at what they are saying is an important skill to develop. It’s really hard when you know someone is talking about you. It’s important not to look at what they are saying.

You can find more information on trolling from Cybersmart.

Kids Help Line is available for people aged 5 – 25, 24 hours a day/7 days a week.

– Sammi Taylor

 

 

 

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