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Internet trolls take great pleasure in finding, teasing and bullying people online just for laughs
A few decades ago (long before the internet) a close friend of mine committed suicide because they were being bullied. I had no idea this was going on.
More often than not, victims of bullying and violence are quiet and reserved. People you'd never guess were secretly battling something nasty, and often silently and alone.
Television news and popular media keep us up to date with stories of traditional bullying starting to spill onto Facebook and social media sites. Social media can be used to quickly assemble hate squads to descend on people or places. And this is a worrying trend. But there are many other more subtle types of online bullying that targets both kids and parents.
In Norse mythology, a troll was a mythical beast that lived under bridges and harassed passers-by. Internet trolls take great pleasure in finding, teasing and bullying people online just for laughs – people who may have different views from their own.
I am normally a tech geek who sticks to my part of the internet and I very rarely participate in areas where bullying and or internet trolls are known to hang out. Random online trolls are usually politically motivated, aligned to one particular sporting team or tech brand, or just take pleasure in knocking others down a peg or two.
I recently blogged about a new free game from Google called Ingress where you battle in your neighbourhoods over known landmarks. Even CNet described it as "the friendliest turf war on earth". But I've realised this is far from the truth. I noticed a higher ranked player on my team constantly harass the opposition, dominate them and use his higher rank to outplay the new players. I created a new account and swapped sides only to find that it was impossible to get a foothold as a new lower ranked player.
My point? There are many online games that encourage teams to form and battle opponents. But sometimes these games are full of bullies and trolls. These are the games I stay away from.
I used to be a reader of a great tech site called fudzilla.com. But I've now left the site because of the editorial bias and comments from readers harassing fans of a technology brand. At first it was fun to read the comments from the two tech fanboy groups at the bottom of each article. But I quickly realized it's best not to feed the trolls by participating. The same applies to most of the world news sites. Even a brief check of the open comments section at the bottom of these news pages reveal a shockingly high number of haters, racists and trolls. Sometimes it's best not to even go "below the line".
Facebook is a huge area of concern where kids and people go to validate their worth by joining groups, posting images and selfies. Being shunned from groups or having comment made about your status update or photos can be taken out of context and snowball into a bigger, more serious problem.
So what's the solution? I can't imagine what it must be like to be a kid these days - trying to fit in and deal with the regular stresses at school, then to get home only to face more of it on social media. What I do know is this; we actually don't need social media as much as we're lead to believe. We don't need to measure up to other people's expectations or ‘cool' status updates.
Tomorrow is the fifth National Day of Action Against Bullying and Violence. If you're on the receiving end of bullying or violence, know that you have rights. If you feel unsafe, call the police. If you're on sites popular with trolls, maybe look for alternative sites. And most importantly, don't feed the trolls with comments of your own. This only ends up dragging you in deeper.
Check out the links below. Who knows? Maybe one day you'll be able to prevent a desperate, bullied friend from committing suicide.