What Are Trolls? Bullying Online

The more you write about specific Trolling incidents the more the “Trolls” win and we all lose

The Angry Troll is a 35 year old lonely “boy” Photo: Shutterstock

I agreed to an interview with 60 Minutes this week regarding the Charlotte Dawson “Troll” incident because I have been helping their producer with a story on Internet Trolls for a few months previous to this incident. My job as a Cyber Safety Advocate and consultant is to educate and provide solutions to help with online safety, but I must say I was quite hesitant to speak with 60 minutes as I am not comfortable talking about individual cases, especially the very sensitive subject of Charlotte’s attack it only adds to the drama and gives oxygen to the abusers. However, as an educator I decided that I would offer my expert opinion and I was happy with the outcome. I’m writing about it now because I want to be sure that all the points that were not aired were set out here.

Trolls And Me

I have had over 15 years experience with online forums and online communities both as a moderator and a participant, sometimes dealing with Trolls, fraudsters and online stalkers. As well, I have witnessed many of my online friends and my own family subjected to online abuse.

I have also been the victim of online Trolls (in a rather mild way) in the past, if you’ve been online for as long as I have you can’t avoid it. I have also assisted family members, clients, teachers, students, parents, friends and colleagues in dealing with trolling stalking and cyber bullying. My role as a Cyber Safety trainer and speaker is to educate employers, parents, teachers, students on how to handle cyber bullying and protect online privacy. I combine my role as a Social Media Consultant and a Cyber Safety Advocate that offers a unique perspective .

I am not a mental health expert, my opinions come from years of research and experience as a forum moderator a blogger and as an online community member, and lastly as a mother of two Teens 12 and 15 yrs of age, who are passionate users of computers and online games. But my lay person’s opinion is that Trolls bully for attention for sport and a deep need to stroke some deep seated urge for power to the point of sadism.

My advice around dealing with Trolls or abusive behaviour online is to always ban, block, report and reach out for help from a trusted friend or mentor/parent/teacher. I feel this is the safest way to deal with online abuse. If the Troll goes away, all well and good but unfortunately, if a Troll, or cyber bully is determined to get to you, avoiding them is almost impossible. It can turn from mild abuse very quickly into a frightening stalking episode, one that even police may find hard to deal with, and often avoid. I won’t go into all the ways I’ve personally seen stalkers and trolls get at people, it only advertises their methods. Reporting cyber bullying and Trolling is also vital to bring it out in the open and have accountability.

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I have in the past also gone “undercover” to help expose a stalker or an Internet nasty, several times. I think I have a Nancy Drew detective side of me that is burning within. I do it because I have a strong need for justice and if I see someone being victimised that I like, I find it really hard to not help. Some Trolls and online frauds are really stupid, leaving traces all over the place, others are far better at hiding. I’ve learned over the years how to trace people online and it’s not that difficult.


Why Do I Care?

I was bullied as a child, not badly, but I learned to avoid the bullies by being a bit of ham, and getting a laugh, but witnessing my own children being bullied hurts more than anything and that is why I became involved in online protection from cyber bullying. Both my boys are a little “different” and have been the target of offline and online abuse, one of them since he was 4. I’ve taught them resilience, avoidance, and all of the techniques I’ve outlined above. And yes some of the bullies did get their comeuppance.

Been There Done That!

Years ago I had a pretty high profile on an online gaming community and as a result was constantly Trolled, 10’s of thousands knew of me, but it never got out of hand because –

  1. I was lucky,
  2. I had things locked up
  3. I had some amazing supporters
  4. Most importantly I learned to deal with it!

I was also not a combative type of person in general. I soon learned after a few mistakes not to bite back, and if it was bad I blocked them. I also chose when to leave comments unmoderated and when to moderate depending on the post.

No One’s Perfect!

However having said all of the above…I’m super sensitive about my Dyslexia…overly…I should know better when someone criticises my spelling, but depending on my mood and what they say…I will sometimes chide someone for abusing me about my spelling and I’m not talking about just pointing it out, that’s OK because it can be quite helpful, I mean calling me a moron, or laughing at my idiocy, call me an idiot about most other things, but Dyslexia is my sore point, my trigger…It’s been a shame and embarrassment to me all my life, and also because my son is also Dyslexic and I see how he suffers, I hurt for both of us.

I was “Trolled” on Twitter once for my bad spelling, a silly little mistake, however my tweet was re tweeted with a comment saying “moron alert”. I replied to the tweeter saying thank you for that, but I’m Dyslexic, and its hurtful to be called a moron. The Tweeter replied that if that in fact was true that he was sorry. I pointed him to a post I’d done on being a Dyslexic, and said it was indeed true and that my son was also Dyslexic and was constantly called names…the tweeter then apologised again and said he would certainly be more careful in the future. I clearly met a human being, someone who originally thought I was a faceless person, he was trying to get a laugh at my expense and yes rather cruelly, who knows why, oh and he wasn’t anonymous by the way. I have used this approach a few times, but wouldn’t recommend it, it’s dangerous.

The first time I used this type of approach was as a 28 year old when I got a constant heavy breather on my phone. I lived alone, and at first it was just lame…then it got annoying…I put my calls through to my answering machine and changed the message getting my boyfriend to talk into the machine to put the guy off…but one day I picked up the phone and there he was literally heavy breathing…sigh…So I just started talking to him. Um…who are you? Whats your name? I’m curious why do you do this? I was seriously intrigued, It was probably my first phone interview! Well…lo and behold he started talking to me. He told me his first name, that he was lonely, aged in his 30’s, that he lived with his mum, that he couldn’t help it….I ended up telling him how I felt, and then we broke off and I wished him the best…a day later, he rang me again. He’d mistakenly rung my number again, when I heard the breathing I said “Robert is that you!!!” I heard a sharp intake of breath and he hung up. I never heard from him again. I became a human. It’s funny now when I think about it, and I don’t think I ever felt in danger back then, but his constant calling did make me feel apprehensive.

Many people have said there are no real rules to dealing with Trolls, and yes, that’s half right. How I responded each time to a Troll or bully was based on my own experience, what they said, what their profile looked like, a whim, my mood at the time etc…The few times I ever fought back I was lucky that worse didn’t happen. For the average “new to the Internet Joe” I can’t recommend anything other than get evidence, block, ban, report and get support.

Re-Tweeting Trolls, as has happened this week with a few high profile Tweeters, has worked for some people, I’ve seen it turn the situation around just like it did with my heavy breather, but it depends on you, the Troll, the circumstance your mood your sense of humour, So many things. Again I wouldn’t recommend it.

Lets not judge, lets help

What needs to change. Reporting tools need to improve ,make it easy to find them. Allow users to filter their feeds if they want. More education on what to post online, privacy settings and how to deal with negativity is a must. For the worst of the worst, accountability has to be in line with offline behaviour. Death threats via post, print, phone or in person is taken far more seriously than ones said online, I guess it’s just harder to trace at times, and can be overwhelming in the frequency.


I’ve seen many Trolls use their real names online, or have pseudo names linked to other platforms, not even bothering to conceal their identity, asking for real names on every online platform, even if you could, won’t stop online bullying. Also I’m a supporter of “handles” strongly so, many online environments use “handles” or pseudo names for privacy reasons and for fun, and its so important to protect those who want to protect their privacy, which they absolutely have a right to, especially teenagers on gaming environments. And the real names on Facebook don’t deter rampant cyber bullying.

Freedom Of Speech?

I’m passionate about Freedom of Speech, NOT Freedom of HATE Speech. Live and let live. You have a right to complain publicly or argue a point publicly, but the moment it gets abusive you’ve crossed a line you are being abusive. You are clearly then either trying to win though intimidation or you have lost your composure due to feeling inadequate, and that in my book is weak and shows your lack of expertise.

Thick Skin?

The elephant has a thick skin but will sit by their young when they die for days and days on end. Thick skin doesn’t mean lack of heart or lack of sensitivity, it means being able to hide the hurt better. Never assume a person should be able to handle it, walk a mile in their moccasins first!

Last But Not Least

Suicide has effected my family. Suicide is a lonely business. If you ever lose control, try to remember the ones left behind suffer the most, you owe it to them to stay alive. Call someone any time of day or night, there is always someone who cares. Don’t fight it alone. You don’t need to.

If you need to call Lifeline they have qualified councillors who WILL help you gladly http://www.lifeline.org.au

See my other post on how to Block Ban and Report and the other on Trolls.

Short Post On Blocking and Reporting A Twitter Troll

The Problems With Trolls and Facebook Tribute and Memorial Pages

I’m a Cyber Safety Consultant For Community Brave

Edit: 10th Sept 2012

Definition of a Troll: A troll is someone who posts inflammatory,extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community, such as a forum, chat room, or blog, with the primary intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.

A lot of what Charlotte Dawson and some others are experiencing is not Trolling it was outright abuse and cyber bullying. Trolling is an old term that has been hijacked primarily by the media, who are technically using it incorrectly. A smart Troll wants to incite disagreement but not so much that they get banned, they want to see the fruits of their opposing view. Sure most Trolls love to get people upset, they may not even agree with the point of view that they post, but avoiding being banned or blocked is important to them initially. Being banned on a particular forum can be a badge of honour however, and some have been banned just for simply disagreeing strongly with the majority or the owner of the platform.

Some Trolls, can post very close to the line when it tips over abuse, even calling the opposition idiots and morons without getting banned. There is a very wavy undefined line as to when it crosses over from Trolling to abuse, in Internet Terms. However death threats and other illegal abuse clearly crosses the line from Trolling to abuse.

All of this publicity will ensure that many other celebrities will certainly get abused. Social media and online abuse will certainly get worse, police certainly can’t chase down every abuser on social media. Education about how to deal with abuse and how NOT to attract it is far more important than trying to chase down every abuser. If you break the law online with abuse and you can be traced than you deserve to be prosecuted.


Follow Me on Twitter! Click here ? @_LeonieGSmith


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