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Newspaper’s campaign to ‘Stop the Trolls’ – feasible measure or lofty ideal?

Submitted by on September 13, 2012 – 8:13 am2 Comments

Thanks to the relative anonymity of the internet, being a jerk online is no real challenge. So while most people are happy to extend the same social courtesies online as they are in the real world, there does exist a dark and dingy corner of the internet populated by troublesome folk who thrive on creating aggro for others. Trolls.

Most are content with rick-rolling unsuspecting peers or correcting other people’s spelling and grammar in an eye-rollingly self-righteous fashion, but others – the Mac Daddies of the troll kingdom – are determined to create real misery and lasting damage.

The reports are unceasing. British Olympic diver Tom Daley faced malicious abuse at the hands of a 17-year-old Twitter user during the Games this year. Such was the severity of the taunts that the boy was eventually arrested, before issuing a snivelling apology. Australian TV personality Charlotte Dawson ended up in hospital after being worn down by incessant trolls who told her: ‘go hang yourself’. British singer Jessie J was on the receiving end of more than 150 identical death threats from one troll, and pop star Pink got a barrage of abuse after tweeting that she was the new face of Covergirl cosmetics. ‘Too bad they can’t Photoshop the bitch off your face,’ read one response. Lovely.

The list goes on and on, and the long-established party line is simple: don’t feed the trolls. Delete, block, ignore. But now, after furious fans of One Direction told singer Briden-Starr Aspinall they wanted to ‘cut her eyeballs out of her head’ after she allegedly winked at one of the band’s members, the Australian press has said enough is enough.

Sydney’s Daily Telegraph and have launched a petition to “stop the vile and abusive trolls on Twitter that facelessly and mercilessly attack not just celebrities and sports stars but other everyday users simply for the thrill”. They claim their goal is to push for Twitter to be obligated to work with authorities when “cowards have broken the law, bullied and abused others simply because they can, hidden by their anonymity”.

Is this an achievable goal? Given that Twitter recently made clear its view on freedom of speech, it’s unlikely that it would be prepared to intervene during  rows taking place on its platforms. Plus, of course, the fact that Twitter has no access to personal details aside from email addresses. Plus the argument that being nasty to someone in real life – while unpleasant – is not generally grounds for punitive measures, so why should that be the case online? Plus, plus plus…

Petitioning to get rid of trolls online is a lovely idea. But so is world peace. And finding a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. Lovely, but highly unrealistic. Trolls thrive on reactions, and this petition is a considerable serving of oxygen to fuel their fires.

Don’t feed the trolls!



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