Can we ever really #stopthetrolls?

Will “stopping the trolls” ever be a reality?

This week The Daily Telegraph launched its #stopthetrolls campaign – A public effort from a major Australian newspaper to make internet trolls accountable for their actions. The campaign states:

Our goal is to push for Twitter to be obligated to work with authorities when these cowards break the law, bully or abuse others simply because they can, hiding behind the anonymity of their keyboard.

The campaign comes following a raft of high profile cases of online bullying and harassment including British Olympic swimmer Tom Daley being told he’d let down his deceased father for his Olympic performance and Australian television personality and former model Charlotte Dawson being hospitalised following a directed campaign encouraging her to self harm to name just a couple of cases.

Incidents like these have raised the profile internet trolling and harassment to a point where almost every major media outlet in Australia has covered the issue in some way. The campaign by The Daily Telegraph has garnered a lot of attention with #StopTheTrolls trending on Twitter almost instantly, but not all of the attention has been positive.

Many social media users have viewed The Daily Telegraph’s campaign with an element of skepticism (myself included) especially considering that the paper is part of Rupert Murdoch’s News Ltd whose online platforms have a reputation for letting bad behaviour fall through the cracks whilst many are advocating a philosophy of ignore the trolls.

What concerns me about many of these arguments is the oversimplification of a very complex issue. There are a few concerning attitudes that lean towards blaming victims and a simplistic dismissal of the bullying experience. There are a few things that really need to be clarified:

Bullying and harassment comes in many forms and people react in a diversity of ways.

Much of the reaction to #stopthetrolls has centred around the fact that the abuse is online:

So why not just switch off?

True –  we can turn our computers and our phones off, but why should the victim be excluded? Online platforms have become an important part of our lives. The exclusion of the victim only serves to exclude them from being part of that community. Isn’t that a win for the trolls? Isn’t the intimidation of the victim to the point that they leave exactly what they want?

Would you tell a child being bullied in the playground to just stop going to the playground? Is that the fair response?

Just use the block function then!

The block function is fine, but is only ever a reactionary tool. Once a person has received abuse the block button can’t just magically undo the impact of harassment – especially if that harassment is consistent, directed and personal. On a technological level, circumventing a block is pretty simple and is only a temporary solution against the determined troll anyway.

Another wave of criticism has focused on the people who receive abuse:

Toughen up and just ignore it.

No one knows how they will react to bullying and harassment until it happens to them. Harassment (no matter how big or small you might perceive it to be) has a different effect on different people. “Toughen up” isn’t an option for everyone.

In her piece about Charlotte Dawson’s and her own experience of harassment Helen Razer explained in an amusing, but effective way:

…there is no correct way to respond to ugly, unsolicited threats. In fact,  if this had happened to you, you could very well find yourself in a corner throwing your own poo at passersby while singing the hits of Nicki Minaj.

So, what can we realistically do?

One of the most surprising aspects of the criticism for me has been the amount of people who have reduced the debate down to:

Why bother?  The trolls will always be there. They will always find a way to troll.

You could say that about any number of issues in our community. There are social, cultural and community issues that we will likely face for the future of humanity, but that doesn’t mean we should just flippantly dismiss them and do nothing. Would we ever give up on fighting racism on the basis that “it will always be there in some form”? Or sexism? Poverty?

What is wrong with our culture that we’re willing to accept bullying and harassment because it’s just too hard?

The #stopthetrolls campaign is by no means perfect, but at least it’s something. It’s people standing up and saying that this is not okay.

Criticise the campaign all you like for its proposed solutions, but don’t tell victims of bullying and harassment that their experience doesn’t matter. Don’t tell victims that the solution to their experience is as simple as “switching off”. We all have a role to play in taking the mental health of our community seriously.

Whether you like the style, tone or proposed actions of the #stopthetrolls campaign or not – you shouldn’t have to be silent. Let’s not create a generation of silent victims. Let’s show them that their experience does matter and that we are committed to doing something about it.

[Update] This week #swarmconf in Melbourne brought together some of the world’s most influential Community Managers – the people who online (and in many cases offline too) manage how communities interact. Community Managers play an important role in managing trolling behaviour. I spoke to Stephen Collins – founder of acidlabs about some of the issues involved:

Courtesy of 3CR Melbourne.

– Jonathan Brown

Jonathan is the Creative Director of We Matter Media. You can follow him @JB_AU

If you’re not a fan of #stopthetrolls – why not try an alternative campaign?

If you’re experiencing bullying or harassment you can speak to someone:

Lifeline 13 11 14

Kids Help Line 1800 55 1800

Beyond Blue

Reach Out

Headspace

Feature image from http://www.flickr.com/photos/hades2k/5871762782/

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