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Anyone who watched the latest series of the Great British Bake Off will be aware of contestant Ruby Tandoh and most likely have an opinion on her, be it positive or negative. However, many online have been far more vocal in their opinions of Ruby, some in particular being incredibly insulting and personal. Many accused her of flirting with judge Paul Hollywood, whilst others claimed she only cried on the program in order to gain sympathy. The criticism only got worse as the series progressed, giving the rather tame Bake Off program a much darker aspect. Ruby herself wrote recently in the Guardian about the hatred she seemed to generate online, angrily replying that she would “rather eat her own foot” than seduce her way to victory and was furious at the people criticising her for crying, as her main focus was to try to not appear smug throughout the process. She also said that there was an air of misogyny with the criticism; having three woman in the final only fuelled this misogyny in her opinion. This incident surrounding Ruby has brought the problem of ‘Internet Trolls’ back into the limelight and begs the question as to whether the huge potential for free speech that the internet gives to people, is actually a good thing.
Internet Trolls have been a presence in the UK for years now, even making their way into law. The Communications Act of 2003 states that sending messages which are “grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character” is an offense whether they are received by the intended recipient or not. This law has been used on multiple occasions, notably with the case of Sean Duffy who was sentenced to eighteen weeks in prison and banned from social networking sites for five years after he was found guilty of mocking the testimonial page of a dead teenager. In addition Jamie Counsel was sentenced to four years for trying to incite riots online during the summer riots in 2011. These cases are worth mentioning because they show the UK legal system actively fighting against these ‘Trolls’.
However there are issues with this, namely how do you define an internet troll? What changes a post online from being someone’s opinion into something offensive or obscene? Forums on the internet are full of anonymous people posting obscenities, insults and even threats and yet to find and prosecute every single one of them is practically impossible. The safety of sitting behind a laptop screen gives people the confidence, or perhaps arrogance, to type whatever they want, regardless of consequences. You only need to take a brief look at comments on websites such as Youtube or Twitter to see a wide variety of offensive comments being made, so why was an effort made to charge Sean Duffy whilst thousands of other trolls are still able to post these offensive remarks? The website ‘The Register’ addressed this point when they argued that the police appear to target ‘Internet Trolls’ at random, usually as a response to public pressure. If the phenomenon of internet trolling is to be stopped, surely something more drastic has to be done.
That is far easier said than done of course, as it has been argued before that the only way to stop internet trolling is to limit the free speech. The internet is a great device for allowing people from all over the world to share and debate their views, however greater action must be taken. Websites such as Youtube have moderators employed to actively search for offensive posts from trolls and then delete them and even ban the user if necessary. Many websites now have a function for their users to flag certain posts for moderation as well, encouraging people to stop these sort of posts from appearing online.
Greater action from the Government could surely be taken however. Since more and more people are using the internet on a regular basis, it is necessary to have even stronger deterrents against trolling, a combination of more enforced bans from the internet but also stricter definitions of what constitutes trolling, so there can be no confusion of what makes someone an Internet Troll.