I’m taking back the “T” word: bullies are not trolls
It has been almost a year since I first published my investigation into cyber trolling and I’ve decided that the term “trolling” has become a wholly useless word. Or at least in the context of the discussion that has taken place over the past year.
During this time I have witnessed people who have used trolling and anonymity (although the two are not mutually exclusive) to deliberately undermine politics, culture and big issues in a really constructive, often amusing and witty way be lumped in with a group of people who have used the internet to threaten, harass, vilify and intimidate others.
These people – who have ruined families and destroyed lives - are not trolls, they’re cyber bullies.
I recognize that when I began investigating this online community of trouble makers, I too referred to people who took pleasure in other people’s pain as trolls.
But the direction this debate has taken has some worrying consequences if it continues in this vein. The difference between trolling and cyber bullying is vast.
Conflating trolls with cyber bullies is like comparing Charlie Chaplin who famously parodied Hitler in order to undermine the Third Reich and make Hitler and those who followed him look stupid – to an anti-semite.
I worry that by deliberately conflating trolls and bullies we’re coming to a point where people with a valid argument to make, who use the latest technologies to undermine the government, the media, and the institutions of society, are being silenced because their alleged offenses are considered as horrific as the awful, terrible people that put Charlotte Dawson in hospital.
Because of the potential for embarrassment these trolls pose for groups, individuals, companies and institutions, these same groups are using the debate to try and call for the need or right to anonymity be conflated entirely with trolling.
Why for example, is it necessary that we know the identity of the person who runs the @abcnewsintern Twitter account? Would the points that he or she make about the company and about the state of the Australian news media be any less credible were he not anonymous?
Let’s do away with the term “troll” and call the people who have made the front page of newspapers, led current affairs programs and dominated radio discussion, what they are – bullies.
They’re bullies who have knowingly or unknowingly have broken at least one federal law by using a carrier service to harass, intimidate and threaten people online. There are a more than a handful of state laws they could have violated as well.
Telling someone to kill themselves isn’t trolling.
Trolling is an art. It requires some finesse. (Though obviously some trolls are more accomplished than others).
Telling someone that their father died of shame, or to burn in a gas chamber or to kill themselves is as lazy as it is dangerous and the people who say these things shouldn’t be given the same title as people who are using insight, wit and parody to deliberately disrupt debate, conventions and institutions within society that in their eyes need a good shake up.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with challenging accepted norms. There is nothing wrong with demanding changes to law, or policy. There is nothing wrong with protest.
But so long as we continue to associate people who choose to get their message out via the internet instead of chaining themselves to trees or holding placards with bullies who intentionally set out to intimidate and threaten people, we’re telling them – and we’re telling society – that they’re not just a public menace but criminals.
I won’t see debate and protest silenced online. Whether it is anonymous or not, whether it is annoying or not, whether it is challenging or not is so very much not the point.
Bullies are not trolls. They’re thugs.
I’m taking back the word as it has no place in this debate.
Trolling is dead.
Long live the trolls.
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