A new online phenomena is taking over the 21st Century and finding itself dabbling in the criminal justice system – we’ve all seen it, heard of it, or maybe even been a perpetrator or victim of it; internet trolling. According to Urban Dictionary, an internet troll is someone who ‘posts controversial, inflammatory, irrelevant or off-topic messages in an online community… with the primary intent of provoking other users into an emotional response or to generally disrupt normal on-topic discussion.’ Is this the latest form of cyber-bullying? Or are we, as a society, becoming far too sensitive to something which we should consider as separate to our personal lives? The lives and personas we lead within our online social networks are slowly bleeding into our ‘real’ world and it is having devastating consequences, something which the more malicious and increasingly socially demonised trolls are taking advantage of.
Research carried out by SkyNews shows that a third of young people aged between 14 and 18 years of age have been the victims of online abuse within the last 6 months. Something even more concerning is that nearly a quarter of those involved within the study admitted finding ‘trolling’ funny and a shocking 1 in 10 confessed to carrying out the said trolling attacks. With such staggering statistics and the knowledge that the average teenager spends around 31hours online a week, would it be fair to suggest that ‘trolling’ is merely a part of life for young people today? Of course, we live in a society where, as is rightly so, child protection is of the upmost importance, but it could it be said that this ‘bubble-wrapping’ of younger generations is causing too much sensitivity to the likes of ‘playground humour’, when they are so openly exposed online. As an avid user of websites such as Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and the likes, I see on a daily basis fellow users displaying aggression or taunting one another – do I expect any of those users let it detrimentally affect their lives for more than a few hours? No. The positives of online taunting and tit-for-tale arguments is that, although it may cause frustration and upset whilst those involved are participating, but as soon as you log off and go food-shopping or sit down to watch TV, you are separate from those feelings because, in your mind, it is not ‘real life’.
However, internet trolling has evolved at a worrying rate; from ignorant, response-evoking comments on YouTube videos to serious issues such as stalking and the taunting of grieving families through ‘RIP’ tribute pages on social-media sites, most commonly, Facebook. After a brief search on the internet of ‘trolls and RIP pages’, a staggering 2,980, 000 results appeared, with article after article telling of what can only be described as horror-stories – parents being plagued with messages from shameless trolls such as ‘help me mummy, it’s hot in hell’. Just last year the very televised case of teen Amanda Todd was blown-up in the media – a girl whom was followed by a pack of internet trolls with explicit pictures of her to different schools and on social media networks, which sorrowfully ended in her committing suicide. With such horror inducing stories hitting media headlines monthly, it is, without doubt, time for not only criminal law’s involvement in the ‘art of internet trolling’, but for Government officials to take action.
Yet, with this being said, where do we make a distinction between harmless bickering and pointless negativity online, to emotionally distressing and life-impacting attacks from these ‘trolls’? Has societies dependency on social networking resulted in us becoming much more emotionally involved with our online lives, or is it simply a natural progression as our everyday lives are progressively becoming entwined with technology?
My job as a Sociology student is to investigate and question these phenomenons, but what is equally underlying within the case of internet trolling is that of the ‘trolls’ theirselves – maybe I’ll have to hand this question onto some Psychology students and get back to you.
On a much brighter note! Myself and some pals on my degree course have decided to get involved within the charity ‘Right To Play’ in and around the University in hopes of raising money for children in underdeveloped countries to have access to play facilities, something which many children worldwide take for granted. We are holding a bake sale on Tuesday 30th April in the Student Union, (suggested donation 40p). So come along, buy a cupcake and have a chat! If you’ve any enquiries, please email Laura who is the main events co-ordinator on firstname.lastname@example.org.