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Growing access to internet resources has brought not only the advantages of getting the necessary information or services. Along with receiving benefits, people may fall victim to serious dangers presented by hackers, trolls, phreakers, and other deviant and antisocial groups. Internet trolling is one of the most frequently used jargon words of our century. This activity involves causing harm to internet users with the aim of bringing enjoyment for the person doing this harm (an internet troll) or entertaining the audience this person wants to impress (Bishop 2013). The problem of internet trolling is getting bigger every day as trolls acquire more possibilities to spread their unkind word through the world wide web.
The vast extent of internet trolling is partially explained by the diversity of the topics in which trolls are engaged. These may include political, sexual, racial, gender, and many other spheres where trolls exercise their provocative activity. Trolling fluctuates between dubiously distasteful and almost illegal. Trolls provoke their victims with illusively sexist or racist words, they post outrageous images with the aim of wrecking the discussion and fill the conversation threads with preposterous misinterpretations of other users’ opinions (Phillips 2015). The scope of trolling is unbelievably large as the trolls are apt to penetrate any subject one can possibly imagine. The trolls do not have any personal feelings towards what they are writing. Thus, they can write about anything. What gives them more freedom is that they are legally protected by the postulates of freedom of speech proclaimed in the First Amendment (Phillips 2015). Thus, the extent of trolling activity is rather wide, and it is getting bigger every day.
Perpetrators and Victims of Internet Trolling
Depending on what kind of activity brings the most fun, trolls are divided into a number of categories. There are trolls who love getting people enraged (“rabid flamers”), who luxuriate in correcting others’ mistakes (“priggish grammar trolls”), “crybabies” who threaten never to come back when someone hurts their feelings but always return the “never-give-up, never-surrender” type who always has to be right, and the “retroactive stalkers” who will not calm down until they have found something embarrassing in your history which they can bring up every time you post a thing.
There are also such types as “lame teenager,” “self-feeding troll,” “bored hater” and “Nellie McNeggerson” who enjoy complaining and contradicting others (Grande 2010). “Sharing troll” is the one who discloses your personal information if he/she is angry with you, “profane screamer” asserts his/her opinion by writing in capitals, “white knight” defends someone even if nobody asks him/her for that, “expert” behaves as if he/she knows everything about everything. Other popular varieties of trolls are “spoiler” who reveals the film endings and sports match results, “fraud” who steals money or personal secrets, and “flooder” who posts the same thing repeatedly. Finally, there are “liar” and “stalker” types who both try to seduce others. The difference is that the “stalker” can actually be harmful while the “liar” is usually inoffensive (Grande 2010).
Psychological premises for trolling are concerned with invisibility, anonymity, and the absence of real-time communication (Stein 2016). Trolls emphasize that unlike clearly abusive messages posed by flamers, their messages are merely provocative and meant to bring fun (Bishop 2014). However, revealing people’s personal data or causing conflicts is not considered funny by other internet users.
The popular victims of trolling activists are the women defending the feminist movement, celebrities, visitors of tourism and hospitality websites, and even people who passed away – RIP pages frequently become the objects of trolling (Lumsden & Morgan 2016). Anonymity allows the trolls to say whatever they want to reach their aim: provoke a fight among internet users. The societal aspect of such provocations interests trolls most of all.
Female victims claim that the majority of offensive messages on the internet are gender-related (Lumsden & Morgan 2016). The women say that they have to choose their language very cautiously not to initiate any incidents, but the trolls do their best to provoke fights in feeds to various female activist blogs and articles. Sexist trolling is almost as frequent as the racist one, but the methods of fighting sexism are much less powerful than the ways of dealing with racism (Lumsden & Morgan 2016).
Celebrities are among the most popular trolling victims because they have a lot of admirers and followers. Thus, trolls are happy to cause fights among the fans of popular culture idols about whom they may actually not care at all (Lumsden & Morgan 2016). However, unlike other people, celebrities may even gain an advantage from trolling. The more discussed their lives are the more fame and, consequently, the income they obtain.
Trolling of the tourism and hospitality industry is performed via social media sites (Mkono 2015). The aim of trolls, in this case, is to undermine the reputation of tourist companies by leaving negative fake reviews about the facilities and services. So far, this variety of trolling is difficult to fight because the messages at websites such as TripAdvisor are anonymous, and it is impossible to track a huge number of trolls leaving comments there (Mkono 2015). If the anonymity option is changed, the harm done to tourism companies will be eliminated.
The Effects of Trolling on Individual People and the Society
Basically, trolls do not take what they do seriously, so they never lose. They take a decision of whether or not to give any weight to their words. Thus, the problem of immortality is not in what the trolls utter but in the absence of implication of their utterances for themselves (Phillips 2015). However, that is so only from their own point of view. What concerns others, trolling is considered an activity having a disastrous impact on society in general and separate people in particular. Trolls are able to cause fights between individuals and between whole groups of people. The more conflict they manage to provoke, the happier they will be. It seems that trolls are not concerned with the future of mankind and do not feel responsible for provoking dangerous conflicts at all.
Although trolls can influence people of all ages and social statuses, the most dramatic effect is performed on teenagers who are vulnerable and susceptible to any kind of attack – real or virtual. There have been cases of teens committing suicide after they became victims of trolling. When trolls go too far and reveal people’s personal information, such as photos or personal history details, they do not realize how destructive their activity may be. Teenagers cannot stand being blackmailed and trolled, and there have been many sad stories connected with such activities (Millet 2014). Parents are concerned about trolling as it undermines the teenagers’ self-esteem and confidence. However, while teens may be the most vulnerable social group, trolls can impact anyone. People constantly suffer from negative comments and get frustrated because of unnecessary posts that take away their time. Psychologists recommend to develop such defensive reactions and ignoring trolls’ comments and getting distracted from negative information. Still, not everyone is able to restrict his/her vision to only positive things and not be touched by the antagonistic messages sent by trolls.
Not only individual people can be bullied by trolls and their methods. Society becomes injured as well. The greatest impact produced on society by the trolls is that they succeed in dividing the society into opposite sides (Rani 2016). Social media have always been a way of allowing individuals to share their viewpoints and find those with similar opinions. With the advent of trolling, various hostile activities were awakened. Instead of considering it bad to offend someone, people have got so used to insulting and disrespectful behavior that they actually consider it a part of normal life (Rani 2016). Moreover, some individuals begin to feel influential when they troll others and soon cannot stop performing their adverse actions. In such a way, trolling gradually builds up a polarised society. The threat of such societal changes is that people become less humane and friendly and tend to be cruel and hostile.
Trolling is a fast-growing risk for individual people and whole societies which has a tendency to develop and find new intricate ways of expression every day. To eliminate the negative impact of internet trolls, people should establish effective interventions at various levels.
Suggested Solutions to Trolling Activities
Since trolls have a lot of techniques at their disposal, the fight against their destructive effects requires a versatile approach. In order to solve the problem of trolling, it is necessary to approach it at an individual level, at the level of online media corporations, and at a legislative level. To deal with trolls at a personal degree, there is a golden rule for every internet user: “do not feed the trolls” (Grande 2010). This advice means that one should not get provoked by the trolls’ messages and insults. It may not be an easy thing to do, but the outcomes will be rather positive: no stress or spoilt mood and no wasted time. However, a rational decision to disregard trolls may not be sufficient. Frequently, more discreet interventions are needed (Sanfilippo, Yang & Fichman 2017). In the case of deviant trolls, such methods as cutting trolls off or exposing their identity may be employed. Additionally, internet users consider ignoring trolls not only a great reaction measure but also as a useful preventive effort.
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What concerns the steps taken by online media corporations, their fight against trolling requires much more time and resources. First of all, they need to check all posts to see whether any of them are written by trolls. Then, they need to create barriers for such posts and block unwanted kinds of messages. These activities require more people working on websites and more money to pay for their salaries. Insufficiency of such resources is basically the main reason why there is a big problem with trolling over the internet. Another serious issue is the anonymity granted to internet users which disables the online media corporations to control their visitors. This problem is what connects the media companies with the legislative system.
The government’s regulation of trolling is quite limited by the First Amendment which guarantees every citizen freedom of speech (Phillips 2015). However, with the increasing damaging impact of internet trolling, governments of many countries are developing strategies for confronting trolls and preventing their adverse impact on internet users. For instance, the UK adopted the Communications Act 2003 which regulates mobile phone calls, emails, text messages, and internet messages (Lumsden & Morgan 2016). Section 127 of this Act proclaims that sending messages which are offensive or indecent is an offense that occurs notwithstanding the fact of receiving or not receiving the message. With the growing number of offensive cases provoked by trolling, in 2012, the UK government initiated an amendment to the Defamation Act which would enable the government to track the identities of internet users.
At the same time, internet providers would not be punished for their users’ publications on the condition that they share information about their users (Lumsden & Morgan 2016). In a debate in a House of Commons initiated in 2012, some Members of Parliament emphasized that changing regulations regarding anonymity would intimidate the freedom of speech. Furthermore, law adjustments are not enough when it comes to dealing with internet deviations problems. Apart from legislative changes, alterations in people’s cultural lifestyles are also necessary (Lumsden & Morgan 2016). Cultural transformations are especially important in the view of the modern “sexualized” behavior of celebrities widely illustrated in different media modes such as newspapers, reality TV-shows, and magazines.
Therefore, while it is impossible to implement new laws instantly, there are things that any sober-minded person can do to avert the adverse outcomes of communications with trolls. The basic rule is not to provoke any reaction on their part and to stay away from their negative posts.
The problem of trolling as a fast-growing issue of modern society. With so many people going online, more and more individuals get involved in troll messages every minute and are psychologically damaged by their deviant conduct. Trolls penetrate every part of the internet activity. They leave their unnecessary comments, provoke fights, or simply depress others, which makes an adverse impact on internet users. Trolling occurs in various spheres and divergent types of media sources. Trolls may leave false negative comments of recommendation which deceive people, or they may foster the users and make their lives unbearable. With the advancement of technologies, there is an urgent need to develop people’s security from trolls.
Possible solutions to the problem of trolling are possible at several levels: personal, corporate, and governmental. The most beneficial resolution would be to eliminate online anonymity at a governmental level. However, due to the existence of many laws and regulations defending privacy and freedom of speech, it is quite complicated to gain any results in this sphere in a short time. What can and should be made by every internet user is being cautious of one’s behavior online. People should be careful not to provoke the trolls. However, it is often the case that they do not even need to be provoked. On such occasions, the best solution is to ignore trolls at a personal communication level. Online media corporations can contribute to solving the problem by implementing stricter rules on online chats and forums and by blocking the trolls. By taking small steps consistently, it is possible to develop a troll-free internet environment where every user can count on having a good time without the need to get distracted and frustrated. Finally, apart from thinking of the ways to change trolls we should come up with the ideas of how to change our society so that there are fewer provocations and more pleasant things to discuss.
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