What, Exactly, Is A Troll
The word ‘Troll’ finds its origin in Norse mythology. In Old Norse and also in Scandinavian folklore, trolls were large lonesome creatures who lived in caves, perhaps in groups or small communities, and were inimical to human beings. They caused much disruption to human societies when there arose any opportunity for an association. This word has almost disappeared from usage except for a resurrection by J.K. Rowling in her Harry Potter series where Harry Potter and Ron Weasley battle a troll to save their friend Hermoine. The modern connotation of the word seems quite different but not far removed.
According to Urban Dictionary, a Troll is “An online troll is defined as one who posts a deliberately provocative message to a newsgroup or message board with the intention of causing maximum disruption and argument” and “One who purposely and deliberately (that purpose usually being self-amusement) starts an argument in a manner which attacks others on a forum without in any way listening to the arguments proposed by his or her peers”. With the advent of Internet communities, chat rooms, blogs, and social networks, there has been the emergence of Internet trolls - people who post inflammatory posts, upsetting statements, rumors, or even biased criticism with an intention to gain quick fame, upset people, or even disrupt the harmony in a community. In this sense, “troll” is both a noun and a verb – it describes both the activity, and the people who engage in it. Online trolls often work under the shadow of anonymity but not necessarily.
Trolling for political purposes has been on the rise in recent years. Trolling is used as a tool for propaganda, political criticism and dissent. It is highly effective as it creates the appearance of criticism coming from the public at large.
According to August 2013 reports, North Korea has recruited and trained an army of about 3,000 Internet trolls who hack and use stolen identities of South Koreans to post inflammatory pro-North comments and posts on online forums and communities. These trolls spread anti-South propaganda through 140 sites with servers based in 19 countries across the world. The trolls and hackers constantly change IP addresses to avoid being detected by computer experts in Seoul. North Korea is believed to be recruiting and training over 200 hackers and trolls each year.
In India, social media trolling on political issues has helped several political parties significantly increase their awareness, public voice, and overall influence. Leading digital marketer, Geoffrey Dorrity tweeted a news report in June 2013 and said “Political #Trolling is leading to a major misuse of #SocialMedia power in #India”.
Political trolling also includes abusive and hypercritical posts, messages, and tweets received by political leaders and activists, especially those who manage their profiles/communities/pages personally. These trolls are often known to make threats and violent/sexually explicit suggestions towards them.
Unmasking The Trolls
Unmasking trolls is essential for any legal action to be initiated against them. Revealing trolls’ identities is often the key to stopping them. Following the growth of the Internet trolls, a number of governments are contemplating legislation that will help combat online trolling.
"Website operators in the UK may soon have to identify people who have posted defamatory messages online, allowing the victim to undertake legal action against the "troll" rather than against the website.” - BBC
In 2012, the UK government sanctioned major changes to the Defamation Bill. Website operators are now provided defense against libel and this allows them to identify the person/s behind trolling/hacking and online misdemeanors. Websites are now authorized to gain protection from being sued if they assist in the identification of people found trolling or posting defamatory messages. This is considered a potent measure against unmasking trolls, hackers, and Internet criminals. Ireland is also contemplating a similar law against Internet trolls.
In Australia offensive online behavior is dealt with on a state level. Laws such as Queensland’s Criminal Code, as well as the Crimes Acts of New South Wales and Victoria help in dealing with the trolls.
In the US, too a number of measures are being taken to combat online trolling. The Arizona House Bill 2549 passed by both houses looks at banning Internet trolling. The law states, “It is unlawful for any person, with intent to terrify, intimidate, threaten, harass, annoy or offend, to use any electronic or digital device and use any obscene, lewd or profane language or suggest any lewd or lascivious act, or threaten to inflict physical harm to the person or property of any person”. Apart from Arizona, 24 US states have cyber stalking and cyber harassment laws and 13 have only cyber harassment laws.
Celebrities are among the easiest targets and victims of online trolls. The following are some famous examples of British celebrities who have been trolled. The UK is one of the worst affected countries where several cases of malicious trolling are reported each week.
Gary Barlow – The musician-playwright became the victim of trolling when Kenneth Tong wrote vile and abusive tweets about Gary’s stillborn daughter. Tong’s abusive behavior was condemned by many celebrities on the Internet and a number of Gary fans.
Tom Daley – 17 year-old Reece Messer took to trolling the Olympic diver and accused him of letting his dead father down. The police arrested Messer after Tom retweeted the abuse to his 90,000 followers.
Caroline Flack – When the presenter was linked with X Factor star James Arthur, Caroline cane to bear the brunt of cyber trolls and abusive internet critics. Caroline responded on twitter asking for her critics to leave her alone.
Gary Lineker – Presenter Gary Lienker claimed that his son who had battled leukaemia as a child was subject to vicious Internet trolling. Gary hunted down the troll – a 21 year old musician Mark Sinnott – who admitted to abusing because he was bored.
Richard Bacon – For over two years the celebrity presenters waged a war against cyber trolls. When Richard replaced Simon Mayo on BBC Radio Five Live, his family also faced the brunt of the trolls forcing Richard to call in the police.
Stella Creasy – The British lawmaker received a number of murder and rape threats on Twitter from a user with the username @killcreasynow.
Helen Skelton – The celebrity presenter was subject to a number of abuses and insults relating to her Olympics 2012 coverage. Helen closed down her Twitter account on account of these troll messages.
Cheryl Cole – In 2012, Cheryl spoke up against the trolls who bullied her on Facebook and Twitter and made life very painful for her. She claimed that the trolls judged her appearance and made very depreciatory, insulting comments.
Alexandra Burke – R&B star Alexandra Burke received a number of abusive messages and murder threats through the Internet. Burke claims that the trolling started after she announced the launch of her new lipstick range.
Ironically, the most famous trolls are those who are successful in safeguarding their anonymity. This is perhaps why the best-known trolling community on the Internet calls itself Anonymous. The group is now known for hacking major websites and disrupting the harmony of many online communities and forums with malicious posts and messages. Apart from Anonymous, a number of individuals came to be known as famous online trolls. Bloodninja is one such troll who targeted individuals on IM and on private chats. Bloodninja enticed chat and IM users into sexual chats and then would digress into a completely unrelated topic. Jason Fortuny was one of the trolls who successfully used Craiglist to troll Internet users. He pretended to be a woman looking for a partner and published all the responses. Jason himself was later a victim of other Internet trolls. Willy on Wheels was a famous Wikipedia editor-turned-troll. Willy, however, had a change of heart, later and apologized online.
While it is often mistakenly assumed that only celebrities are open to troll attacks, studies show that youngsters on the Internet are perhaps most vulnerable to troll attacks. According to a Feb 2013 study, about a third of the youngsters who access the Internet are subject to online bullying or trolling. 19 year old males are most susceptible, studies reveal. The 14-18 age group seems most likely victims.
The results of the survey conducted in UK reveal that -
About 33% of those between the ages 14 and 18 were trolled online in the past six months while over 27% were facing ‘regular’ attacks.
29% reported that their confidence was on the wane due to these attacks and 40% of these troll attacks are about the victim’s appearance or religion and 16% about their race.
Over 47% of the victims of troll attacks keep the attacks secret and did not speak about it.
10% of the youngsters admit to being trolls themselves, while 23% admitted to trolling being amusing.
In some cases, particularly harsh trolling with particularly fragile or young victims has led to actual suicides. Sometimes this leads to criminal charges against trolls. In early August 2013, 14-year-old Hannah Smith (Leicestershire, UK) killed herself after being bullied and trolled online about her weight. Ask.fm the site on which Hannah was trolled allows anonymous commenting. Online trolls went further and posted malicious comments on the Facebook page her family set up as a dedication to the teenager's memory.
What Makes Trolls?
Dr. Hardraker of Lancaster University's Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences conducted a study in 2013 which revealed that Internet users troll because it amuses them and to fight boredom.
Top trolling techniques according to the study are -
1. Digressing from the topic at hand into sensitive topics.
2. Being hypocritical.
3. Displaying antipathy.
4. Endangering others by giving improper, often dangerous, advice.
5. Shocking others by being insensitive.
6. Being aggressive by insulting, threatening, or attacking without provocation.
7. Crossposting - sending an offensive message to multiple groups.
Trolling can cost a community its membership, harmony and worth.“Trolls are also becoming more and more sophisticated. The aggravation typically springs from the degradation of the 'signal-to-noise' ratio...The time-wasting noise of one troll-post is relatively easily ignored, but the noise of hundreds of replies to the troll-post, and complaints about those replies, can entirely drown out the worthwhile content”, says Dr. Hardaker
Anonymity is probably the greatest of reasons Internet users take to trolling. “When people think they're anonymous, they do things they otherwise wouldn't”, says Charlie White in Feb 10, 2013 edition of Mashable. A desire to seek quick attention and creating improbable scenarios in their minds are other reasons.
8 Tips To Handling Internet Trolls
Agree To Disagree – Create a forum or a blog/social media page where it is acceptable to disagree without erupting into heated debates. A friendly environment goes a long way in keeping trolls away.
Publish Your Policy – Ensure that your blog/online community or forum has a clear policy against trolling and inflammatory posts. Publicly post an unambiguous policy statement making it clear that trolls will be dealt with firmly and quickly.
Listen Carefully – There is often a grain of truth to what could be perceived as a troll post. Listen and differentiate between constructive criticism and biased or inflammatory posts/comments on your forum. The “troll” could simply be a dissatisfied customer/member.
Delete Troll Posts – If you are a community manager or even an individual with a social media avatar, monitor your forum/blog/page regularly. It is best to quickly delete posts which violate your policies and are aimed at disrupting the harmony of your community.
Ban, Block, Report – Most communities or social networking sites allow for reporting of trolls. Block the spammers/trolls and ensure your privacy settings do not allow them to view/post on your page. If you are a blog/community manager ban the trolls.
Do Not Feed The Troll – Ignoring the troll is often the best way to deal with him/her. A troll often craves attention and indulging in pointless debate is the same as feeding a troll. Let a post or a comment made by a troll fall to the bottom and be ignored to effectively starve the troll.
Broadcast And Shame – If you have a large community or have a number of followers/friends/online contacts, broadcast any personal insult or provocative remark to effectively shame the troll. What could momentarily look like feeding a troll would also help you gain the support of many in a combat against trolls.
Befriend The Good Guys – A number of leading social media and Internet experts have actively taken to waging a war against Internet trolls. Befriend them and listen to their advice. This could be invaluable to handling trolls effectively.
Freedom Of Expression
Freedom of speech and expression are highly regarded in most countries these days. The First Amendment of the US Constitution protects free speech. When extended to the sphere of online interactions, this leads to a sharp decline in common courtesies extended in a conversation and when the anonymity of the Internet is added, this gives rise to a number of bullying and trolling incidents. Often, this also makes it difficult to punish Internet trolls. In the current scenario, however, social networking sites and Internet leaders have taken the war against trolling seriously and launched a number of online campaigns to prevent online trolling and assist victims. Former marketing director of Facebook, Randi Zuckerberg and former Google CEO Eric Schmidt advocate phasing out of anonymous posting. Sites such as YouTube have done away with anonymous commenting. On August 21, 2013, Huffington Post announced that it would end anonymity for commenters. Founder Arianna Huffington said, “Trolls are just getting more and more aggressive and uglier and I just came from London where there are rape and death threats.” There still remains a fine line between trolling and expressing outrage – the differences often tend to blur.