“People have been mean since the beginning of time. It’s not new.” – A comment left on a YouTube vlog about Ashley Judd’s TED Talk “How online abuse of women has spiraled out of control”.
Last year was a year of many firsts for Eco Warrior Princess. Some of these ‘firsts’ were exciting, like how we reached 30,000 unique visitors in a month, and the first time partnering with a vehicle manufacturer (Toyota) to promote an eco-friendly car (Camry Hybrid). And then there were the ‘firsts’ that weren’t so good: multiple internet troll comments on our website.
I launched Eco Warrior Princess in 2010 and aside from comments marked SPAM, had been fortunate not to have to moderate hate speech or abusive comments. A frequent reader of other news sites like NYtimes.com and viewer of YouTube videos, I am aware just how ugly and poisonous comment sections can be. After reading awful ‘discussion’ threads (I used this term loosely as discussion should not be taken to mean civilised discourse) often thought how better behaved the EWP community is. Until we received two comments awaiting moderation that were so horrible that I was left with no other course of action but to delete them.
As someone who believes in free speech, you’d think the decision to delete would have been more difficult. In fact it wasn’t. The two comments were so inappropriate, irrelevant and offensive, I refused to subject the authors to them. No good would have come from approving these comments. These weren’t just comments from people who were publicly disagreeing, or being insulting or even rude. These comments were filled with so much profanity and hate as to constitute verbal abuse. As far as I could discern, the comments were not written to advance the discussion but to specifically get a rise from the authors. The decision to delete was a straightforward one.
People are entitled to free speech, but targets of online abuse also have rights. Preventing harm and ensuring that the community is protected from harassment and malicious intent is why we moderate at Eco Warrior Princess.”
Cyber-bullying, intimidation and threats.
Online bullying can take many forms, from abusive status updates, comments and emails, continuous harassment, spreading rumours on social media or fake videos and images designed to humiliate an individual.
Social media discussion threads too are often rife with vitriolic and disgusting messages and rarely are the comments moderated. One only needs to follow a thread on Twitter to understand the human capacity to spread hate speech and promote violence.
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Non-profit organisation Feminist Frequency founded by Anita Sarkeesian which calls out sexual assault and harassment, racism and bigotry, received these threatening and disgusting tweets on Twitter (warning: violent language may be disturbing to some):
Actress Ashley Judd, a rape survivor and victim of sexual harassment and online threats took to the TED stage in 2016 to deliver a powerful talk revealing her ongoing experience of verbal abuse on social media.
That Judd continues to be the recipient of online hate attacks and the subject of further ridicule in YouTube vlogs reveals the extent of the trolling and cyber bullying problem.
While some people will say “don’t feed the trolls” and “ignore the bullies” it’s easier said then done. NoBullying.com received 9.3 million visits in 2016 from people seeking help with bullying, cyberbullying and online safety. The scale of the problem is huge.
” ‘Don’t feed the trolls’ frames conversations about aggressive online behaviours solely in terms of the aggressor. Even if a person avoids feeding the trolls (and/or the person accused of trolling), he or she is still playing into the aggressor’s hands.” – Dr Whitney Philips, a communication lecturer at Humboldt State University, writes in The Daily Dot.
Bullying has moved from the physical realm to the online realm, and is no less sinister in its intent. Even with educational resources at our fingertips, avoiding and overcoming the harmful effects of bullying is difficult. The resulting psychological harm can lead to someone taking their own life.
Ryan Halligan a victim of continuous bullying and cyber bullying by his class mates could no longer deal with the abuse. He committed suicide at just age of 13. And it’s not just young people being taken as casualties. New Zealand and Australian TV personality Charlotte Dawson who battled depression and was also the victim of cyber bullying eventually took her own life in 2014. She was 47 years old.
Steps you can take if you are being attacked, intimidated or harassed online.
People write things online they would never dare say to you in person. The anonymity of the internet and lack of accountability and negative consequences encourages abusive behaviour. Could you imagine if these individuals harassed and intimidated people in real life as they do on the net? They would be reported to the police, perhaps served restraining orders and face other forms of punishment.
If you find yourself the target of internet trolls and online bullies (note: not to be confused with people who engage in civilised disagreement with your viewpoint) here’s what you can do:
- disengage from any further online communication so as not to add ‘fuel to the fire’ so to speak
- flag the comment as ‘abusive’ and report the account/individual to the social media platform (if you’re unsure how to do this, this article will help you through it)
- adjust your privacy settings so as to limit who can comment on your posts and send you direct messages
- block the account/person
- take screen shots of threatening or intimidating messages and report to the police
- share your feelings and concerns with people you trust to get the emotional support you need
- contact a support line or seek therapy if you need to
For further reading on this subject matter, these resources may help:
Have you ever been the target of cyber bullying and constant harassment and trolling? Have any tips that may help others deal with this trauma? Feel free to share your stories. Let’s not pretend this doesn’t exist or sweep it under the carpet because when one troll or bully exists, we can be sure there’s many more where they came from.