Akubra has posted a moving tribute to
Akubra has posted a moving tribute to "Dolly" Amy Jayne Everette, who was once the face of the iconic brand. Picture: Akubra Facebook

Cyber trolls aren’t fringe dwellers. WE are the problem

THINK you'd never stoop to viciously trolling someone online when you disagree with their opinion or actions?

Don't kid yourself.

We are all increasingly at risk of this cowardly and despicable behaviour.

Looking at the comments on a Courier-Mail report this week, when gay men were legally and elatedly tying the knot, there was a familiar refrain of disrespect and disdain.

"Congratulations persons. I hope your union is blessed with many children and grandchildren," quipped one smug reader.

"Are these men? How pathetically sad," opined another.

"Once empowered it will never stop for these show ponies," chimed in someone else.

The most measured comment was this: "Some people will never agree with SSM (same sex marriage). It's a case of agree to disagree."

If only this would play out in an environment of mutual respect where there is an appreciation of that fact that people are entitled to their own opinion.

Sadly, what online forums have done with startling success is open up the floodgates for grubs and bigots.

In the past 12 months, there has been a 63 per cent rise in the number of complaints about cyber-bullying, according to a report this week.

These trolls are not, contrary to what most of us think, merely miserable keyboard warriors whose mission is to take others down.

They are not only people who, to quote the Urban Dictionary, are "being pricks on the internet because they can".

New research shows trolls are not fringe dwellers. Anyone can join this toxic club, and membership is growing.

Stanford University and Cornell University academics conclude that "ordinary people can, under the right circumstances, behave like trolls".

The social media campaign launched following Dolly's death.
The social media campaign launched following Dolly's death.

Through an online experiment and analysis of more than 16 million posts on news site CNN.com, they isolate two primary triggers for trolling - a person's negative mood, and seeing other troll posts.

Lead author Jure Leskovec, associate professor of computer science at Stanford, identifies "a spiral of negativity".

He says just one person waking up cranky can create a spark, and because of the discussion context and number of votes or likes, these sparks can spiral into cascades of poor behaviour.
 


Bad conversations lead to more bad conversations, with people who get voted down coming back with even more horrendous comments.

What a pathetic, anti-social and unevolved way to carry on.

The study suggests "trolling can be contagious", which is particularly worrisome. When something becomes accepted as the norm, it encourages more people to perpetuate it.

Cue the rise of the sociopath.

Amy Jane Everett aka
Amy Jane Everett aka "Dolly" was known as a face of Akubra hats as a younger child. (Pic: Supplied)

It doesn't have to be this way.

As the father of 14-year-old "Dolly" Amy Jayne Everett, who took her own life in Warwick "to escape the evil in this world", said this week, social media can be used for good.

We just need more competent and socially responsible users so that precious lives aren't compromised or destroyed.

Remember Tyrone Unsworth, the 13-year-old Queenslander who suicided in 2016 after relentless bullying over his sexuality?

Trolls persisted even after the boy's death, creating fake social media accounts in his name and mocking him and his grieving family.

Celebrities too are victims. In 2014, former Australia's Next Top Model judge Charlotte Dawson was reportedly "trolled to death".

This has to stop.

Charlotte Dawson was subject to vicious attacks from online trolls. (Pic: Supplied)
Charlotte Dawson was subject to vicious attacks from online trolls. (Pic: Supplied)

And the end begins with us.

Anyone who comments online has a responsibility to act with decency and consideration of the consequences.

It can be as simple as taking a moment and putting yourself on the receiving end and seeing how you'd feel.

Calling someone a "dumb c---" or suggesting they "f--- off and die" is hardly constructive or kind.

Now that we know "ordinary" users are capable of trolling given the right environment, then banning the worst offenders won't fix the problem.

We need to create an improved online culture for all, and discussion platforms should be redesigned to encourage this.

The Stanford and Cornell researchers suggest limiting the number of comments a person can make if he or she has just participated in a heated debate; allowing users to retract comments and minimise regret; and reducing other sources of user frustration such as poor interface design.

Altering the context of a discussion - by hiding troll comments and prioritising positive comments - may also promote the perception of civility and encourage more thoughtful behaviour.

Existing regulations governing Facebook give it 48 hours to delete content deemed to be offensive. Facebook reckons this is adequate. Politicians and police disagree, and I'm with them. Two days of offensive content is two days too long.

When it is painfully obvious that self-regulation isn't working, and that thinking before venting is considered old hat, then stronger action must be taken to stamp out trolling.

Kylie Lang is an associate editor of The Courier-Mail

 

If you are experiencing depression or are suicidal, or know someone who is, help is available.

Lifeline: 13 11 44

Beyond Blue: 1300 224 636

 

 


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