Social media becoming UNsocial: Trolling

How many of you are aware of the term “trolling”? The “digitalisation” era has brought, together with its innovations, a couple of drawbacks. And one of them is internet trolls: “an abusive or obnoxious user who uses shock value to promote arguments and disharmony in online communities”. Named after the wicked troll creatures of children’s tales, an internet troll is someone who stirs up drama and abuses their online anonymity by purposely sowing hatred, bigotry, racism, mysogyny, or just simple squabbling between others. Trolls are everywhere (blog sites, game chats, news sites, forums) as they enjoy being seen and receiving attention.

In most of the cases, trolls enjoy making fun of or judging other people, as the computer screen protects their identity and they always remain virtually untouchable. I truly believe that the best approach to trolls is ignoring them and just pressing the “spam” button; but what happens when their online activity put other people’s lives in danger?

Trolling is part of an international phenomenon that includes cyber bullying. One of the first cases took place in the US state of Missouri in 2006, when 13-year-old Megan Meier committed suicide after being bullied online. The bully, Lori Drew, was a middle-aged neighbour who had set up a MySpace account to win – and later betray – her trust. Drew was acquitted of unauthorised computer use in 2009 due to concerns that a conviction would criminalise false online identities.

So, my question to you is: who should be responsible for tackling bullying? Is it the Police or the social networking sites where all these comments are posted? Considering the fact that there are cases when people lose their lives because of trolling, the phenomenon should become a criminal offence in its own right and at present, the arrest category of “internet trolling” does not exist.

The Communications Act 2003, which governs the internet, email, mobile phone calls and text messaging is sometimes used to catch the worst serial offenders. Under section 127 of the Act, it is an offence to send messages that are “grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character” whether those targeted receive the message or not. But police seem reluctant to implement the Act and only two people were jailed for trolling last year.

From my perspective, Police and the social networking sites should work together, as online anonymity is quite difficult to handle. Police should have the power to force internet providers to hand over the details of trolls and Facebook and Twitter should be made to take down any troll comments.

Current research shows that 1 in 3 people are bullied online. I strongly believe that we should start finding solutions and addressing this problem. What do you think it would work? Online moderators? Better social media policies? New laws?

Tell us your view.

Ruxandra

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