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Please do not feed the trolls
OK some of you might be thinking "Do not feed WHAT????" Traditionally, trolls are ficticious monsters from childrens stories, but in modern "lingo", a troll refers to a very real and pesky menace, one that does not live under the local bridge, but on the internet.
Definition of a troll: In Internet slang, a troll is someone who posts inflammatory, extraneous, or OFF-TOPIC messages in an online community, such as an online discussion forum, chat room, or in comments sections on a blog, with the primary intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.
Tom Postmes, a professor of social and organisational psychology at the universities of Exeter and Groningen, Netherlands says: "Trolls aspire to violence, to the level of trouble they can cause in an environment. They want it to kick off. They want to promote antipathetic emotions of disgust and outrage, which morbidly gives them a sense of pleasure."
Trolls are also masters of identity deception. Judith Donath provides a concise overview of identity deception games which trade on the confusion between physical and epistemic community: "Trolling is a game about identity deception, albeit one that is played without the consent of most of the players. The troll attempts to pass as a legitimate participant, sharing the group's common interests and concerns; the newsgroups members, if they are cognizant of trolls and other identity deceptions, attempt to both distinguish real from trolling postings, and upon judging a poster a troll, make the offending poster leave the group. Their success at the former depends on how well they — and the troll — understand identity cues; their success at the latter depends on whether the troll's enjoyment is sufficiently diminished or outweighed by the costs imposed by the group. Trolls can be costly in several ways. A troll can disrupt the discussion on a newsgroup, disseminate bad advice, and damage the feeling of trust in the newsgroup community. Furthermore, in a group that has become sensitized to trolling — where the rate of deception is high — many honestly naïve questions may be quickly rejected as trollings. This can be quite off-putting to the new user who upon venturing a first posting is immediately bombarded with angry accusations. Even if the accusation is unfounded, being branded a troll is quite damaging to one's online reputation."
Some case studies:
To provide you with a real example for illustrative purposes, in response to my article My Story (Family Court, Shared Parenting Laws, The Parental Alienation Paradigm & Child Protection in Australia), I received this comment from someone called Josh: "women lie to make dads sound bad when all i see on tv is the women killing the kids i won shared custody and i am a good daddy who was put through hell lied on and now i am very close to getting full custody and when you women lie we can sue for slander so think about that".
Josh's comment was an example of trolling. Of course, I had 2 choices - I could respond or not (in other words, I could feed the troll, or let him starve). In this instance, I responded. In my defence, this occurred quite a while back when I first became involved in online activism and social networking. I had no concept of what a troll was and I was full of self-rightious dignity. This is the response I posted:
"You don't know me and you don't know my ex so how do you supposedly know I'm lying? I am not. Have I included my name or anybody elses name? So go ahead and sue me for slander JOSH. Or contact my ex and tell HIM to sue me for slander JOSH! The only way he would know that I wrote this would be by admitting that he said and did the things that I have written about. So think about that! And for your informaton, the childrens father has lied in court about me now, and THIS time they did not believe him. Would my children ask me to promise to keep them safe if I was lying? He told my children that he wished I was dead. He told them they were stupid for loving me. After he left, my children told me they wished he was dead. I told them we don't think like that even about people who behave in a way that is nasty or mean. I also told them it is ok to still love their dad but hate his behavior. Do you tell that to your kids Josh? Or do you tell them how to think and how to feel and criticize them if they don't conform? Sounds to me like you are another dad who thinks denial is a river in Egypt!"
I have to say that I am neither proud nor ashamed of the reply I posted to Josh's comment, although I did misrepresent myself in my impulsive, emotional response, because I said that I told my kids to "hate his behavior" when in actual fact, the word "hate" is discouraged in my household; when my kids told me they wished their father was dead, I told them we shouldn't think like that even about people who behave in a way that is nasty or mean, and that deep inside, I was sure they didn't mean it. They realized they didn't but said that they felt bad for loving him and sometimes felt that they hated him. I told them it is ok to still love their dad, even though he had been violent, but that we should try not to hate anyone, because "hate" is something we associate with his bad, violent behaviour (because he always told us he hated us, and told us to hate each other).
I explained that hate is a powerful thing that can eat a person up inside, and that while it is ok to feel hate sometimes, we should always try not to dwell on it. I told them to rather think of the fact that they didn't have to put up with behavior that was not OK. When they asked me if I hated their dad, I said, I certainly didn't love him anymore, and would not accept his behavior anymore, but that I didn't have time to hate people who hate me, because I'm too busy loving the people that love me. They liked that.
So you can see why I feel I misrepresented myself, even if I didn't really make a fool of myself or breach my legal obligations. I did however leave myself open to other trolls who could have exploited my "emotional response".
I get a lot of trolls on my facebook page STOP the Violence Against Women & Children. They are easy to recognise because they are the ones posting off-topic comments, usually things like "what about violence against men". While I accept that violence against men soes occur, my page is about violence against women and children. Trolls like to try to quote "statistics" and the results of "studies" that show that violence against men is more prolific than violence against women, and that women are more abusive than men. They try to insinuate that any facts/ figures or statistics that show otherwise are "not scientific" or are "biased" . Basically, it does not matter what you say to these people, and/or how reasonably you say it, they will come out appearing to be "conscientious activists" and caring members of the community.
Responding to their "trolling" in any way, even by pointing out that your own statistics are quoted from reputable publications/ organizations such as the Metropolitain Police Service, the U.S. Department of Justice or the Australian Institute of Criminology, unfortunately only gives them a platform to spout their propoganda. Further more, the more responses they get, the more they will "troll" wherever it is they are getting those responses. The quickest way to make them go away is to ignore them.
Intentional Trolling vs Ignorance
I should also point out that while most instances of trolling are intentional, there will always be the exceptions to the rule. Generally when this happens, it is due to ignorance. For example, I received this comment to my article Surviving Domestic Abuse: The Complexities of Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD & CPTSD):
"Ever stopped to think that maybe you're the abuser? You seem like an attention-seeking bully. I think you have narcissistic personality disorder. Please take down this blog. It's unfair to people researching PTSD to have to read this blog run by an abusive bully. It's misleading and you really play the victim. I think you've engaged in abusive or bullying behavior, maybe even on this website, cyberbullying and God will punish you for it. It's also unfair to bullyonline for you to quote their information on one hand then engage in bullying behavior on the other. It's misleading and hypocrisy. I hope God punishes you for all your crimes. The only thing that can help you is God, but it seems like you're still far away from it. I'm never visiting this site again. Please take it down. "
This comment upset me immensley. In the end I concluded that it was either a case of mistaken identity, or the person was very damaged by their experiences and having trouble distinguishing between reality and nightmare on elm street. In instances such as these, it can be hard not to get emotional, and/or not to respond emotionally. One must also consider that any response, no matter how reasonable or "nice", may do further damage to the other person, because they are already delusional. I chose to respond, and am still uncertain if it was the right thing to do, but I guess I was hoping to (a) defend my honor to other readers and (b) hopefully help the person see that perhaps they needed help. I do not know if I succeeded in either of these goals with my response:
"Anonymous, I am sorry that you feel this way. I find myself wondering if you have perhaps had some traumatic experiences yourself and have been experiencing cyberbullying recently, which has led to you seeking information on PTSD. I think the way you are feeling is rather poignant to the whole topic of trauma related PTSD & CPTSD and can empathize with how you are feeling at this stage in your recovery. I have observed similar responses to positive and enlightening information in other victims who are in the early stages of their journey. I hope that you are able to find the answers you seek and/or are able to access information that empowers and helps you, and perhaps a therapist who is knowledgeable on the topic with whom you can feel safe and understood. I wish you all the best in your journey toward healing and self awareness."
Another isntance occurred on my facebook page STOP the Violence Against Women & Children. A "fan" who was obviously in the process of separating from a violent partner, became convinced that the owner of my page (me) was actually a woman known to her, from her own hometown in the USA (I live in Australia lol). She seemed to be unable to understand that when she "liked" my page, the comments and links I posted on my page would then show on her "home page" whenever she accessed the facebook site. She convinced herself that I was posting directly onto her profile page (which is not possible even if her settings were all set to public, as I was a "page" and not a "friend") and that I was posting stuff directly aimed at her.She started leaving abusive comments on my page and in the end even "challenged" me to show my face and "step up to her" (in other words to fight her).
Of course, in instances like this, it does not benefit ANYONE to keep trying to explain that you are not who they think you are, or continue to suggest that they "unlike" your page. I was left with no choice but to delete her from my fan list and also to ban her from my page (in hindsight I probably should have done that weeks before I did). I was later informed by another "anonymous" that she had been the victim of severe violence and years of abuse, however, she had also become a victim to illicit drugs and had at that stage become more than delusional; she had become psychotic. I would say this instance would be an example of ignorance rather than trolling. Some people you can't help, and it's important to protect your own sanity too.
Anyway, the whole point I'm trying to make in this article is that my experience has taught me the wisdom of ignoring trolls. Every online activist needs to be aware of the fact that there are trolls lurking around ALL OVER the internet. We can't "screen them out" or detect them with a virus scan, and posting warnings such as "trolls will not be tolerated" only seems to attract them ALL as quickly as possible. If you think about it logically, trolls are hungry for attention - it is they food they thrive on. Therefore, I ask you all: Lets not feed the trolls, but rather just ignore them....
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Organize to Resist! Together we can take on the Predators! Let's Break the Silence to End the Violence by working together to make our voices a Resounding SHOUT!!! Perpetrators BEWARE - you don't stand a chance!
All names in this article have been changed for legal purposes and to protect the privacy of the Author. Except where otherwise credited, or where text forms part of an external link, this article is under the following copyright:
Copyright © 2010 Mel Stewart, "safe-at-last", of Perth, Western Australia. All rights reserved.
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Copyright © 2010 Mel Stewart, "safe-at-last" and Licensors Nodtronics Pty Ltd. All rights reserved.