How to defeat an internet troll

British comedian Dom Joly has contacted the police after an internet troll made abusive comments about his children via Twitter.

The star of Trigger Happy TV was upset that a Twitter user called @deathtojolykids sent a string of offensive messages, including ones hoping that the comic's children got cancer.

Joly managed to get the Twitter account suspended, and filed a complaint with his local police force asking them to investigate.

Earlier this week, in a separate incident, a man was jailed by a British court for 18 weeks for leaving hurtful messages on Facebook and YouTube memorial sites.

Twenty-five-year old Sean Duffy, was imprisoned after pleading guilty to two counts of "sending a communication of an indecent or offensive nature." His victims had included the family and friends of teenager Natasha MacBryde who had killed herself after being bullied.

Duffy had posted the upsetting comments, despite never even having met MacBryde.

The internet is full of trolls

The internet can turn people who might appear perfectly pleasant if you met them face-to-face into ugly trolls online.

The fact is that it's a lot easier to be downright rude and offensive via a computer than if you're standing opposite someone. Sitting in front of a keyboard and monitor can make us forget that there's a real human being with feelings, reading the message at the other end.

Trolls take this to an extreme, revelling in the chaos they can stir up on an internet message board – the more people they offend, the better in their book as they purposely cause trouble.

Don't feed the trolls

The first piece of advice is one that should be familiar to us from fairy stories: "Don’t feed the trolls".

If an internet troll is demanding attention, don't give them any.

Responding to them can just feed the flames, and encourage them to post more offensive remarks. Eventually they should grow bored and disappear.

As tempting as it is to fight fire with fire, you'll only be pouring fuel on the flames if you respond in kind.

Blocking and reporting trolls

When a troll stops being merely annoying, and is plainly harassing you then things get more serious. You should report the behaviour to the internet site you're using (such as Facebook), and block them – if possible – from contacting you again.

If you feel that the social network isn't being responsive, maybe you can get the media to apply some pressure?

You may have to be inventive to get the problem sorted. In my own experience, when my family was threatened by Facebook users, I found Facebook unresponsive and unwilling to remove highly offensive Photoshopped images until I complained that they might be a breach of copyright.

Physical threats against you and your family should be reported to the police, who should take a threat delivered via the net as seriously as one sent via the post or delivered via telephone.

If you're setting up an online tribute site, it can make sense to not make it open to the general public but request that people ask permission to join it. That way, you can delete any upsetting messages and banish any trolls who are merely there to cause offence.

No magic wand

It's a sad reality that trolls will always exist – we can't wave a wand and make them disappear entirely from the internet. But we can reduce the opportunities for them to cause trouble, and we can perhaps make them realise that what they're doing is destructive.

How trolls could make the internet a less safe place

What trolls might do well to realise is this – their antisocial activities, normally hidden behind a cloak of fake names and pseudonyms, plays into the hands of those who would like to do away with anonymity on the internet.

Do you really want to live in an internet world where anonymity has been banned, preventing freedom of speech and stomping on those who have a genuine need to keep their identity secret?

Don't feed the trolls, but most importantly – don't be a troll. You could make life worse for everyone.

 

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