The rise of Internet Trolls

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The rise of social media in the last few years has led to some bizarre behaviour. We post druel-worthy photos of our tea on Instagram as apparently this is the only thing Instagram is for(!?). We hashtag our way through Twitter, connecting ourselves to all the other MIC lovers out there (wait, just me?). We let everyone know our relationship status on Facebook; no relationship can ever be considered real if it isn’t made “Facebook official” for everyone to nosey at. Right? As we upload more and more snippets of our lives to the internet, we are given an outlet to have our own say on any topic. Yet some people have taken this liberty to the extreme and thereby leading to online harassment; trolling.

“Trolling” as a verb has been around longer than we might think. A non-internet definition of “trolling” was attributed to an action which provoked a reaction in somebody, and was used by US pilots during the Vietnam War. The word wasn’t used on the internet until the 1980s and by the 1990s was used in many contexts in reference to the action of trolling, rather than the author themselves. Nowadays, we refer to the people who post extreme and opinionated comments on the internet as “trolls” and their crimes are not going unnoticed.

A new law has been issued in the UK that could potentially result in internet trolls facing up to two years in prison. This has previously not been unheard of, as in the past people have been given custodial sentences for their internet crimes. Sean Duffy, for example, was sentenced to eighteen months in prison as well as being banned from using online social media for five years because he posted mocking comments on a tribute page for a teenager who had died. The internet gives people the view that anything said on a computer does not have the same impact as saying it in person, but these internet tormentors do not understand the effect that they have on their victims.

Offensive comments can find someone at any time, in any place, as long as they have access to the internet. Mobile phones, which should be useful since they allow you to access the internet anywhere, have become a source of torment for someone under attack from trolls. It isn’t just the access that trolls have that is daunting; the more sinister side to trolling is that people that you have never offered a cup of tea, never casually said hello to as you crossed paths, never even met in real life, can now post horrible comments that can affect you. Without trying to ignite fear into everyone, the truth is that no one is completely safe from trolling. Even pages that Lancaster University students use could be victims of trolling. We all like to scroll through ‘Overheard at Lancaster’ and read the hilarious stories and embarrassing situations that people have gotten themselves into, but as a public page, users are potentially getting themselves into a trolling situation.

Trolls hide behind their computers, classic keyboard warriors who would likely never say these things in person. But if you do become a victim of trolling please don’t let it get to you and retaliate. As the advice states: “Please do not feed the troll”.

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