Lizzie Marvelly: Forget fairy tales, trolls are bullies

A crisis of cruelty is afoot on social media and that it has been allowed to flourish is a reflection on us.
Cyber-bullying behaviour doesn't start and stop on the screen. Photo / Getty Images
Cyber-bullying behaviour doesn't start and stop on the screen. Photo / Getty Images

Dear Trolls,

Thank you so much for your comments detailing all of the ways in which I am wrong, worthless, stupid, racist, misandrist, promiscuous, undeserving, unqualified, too much this, and not enough that. It really makes my day when notifications pop up on my screen telling me of your generous unsolicited contributions to my online life.

I particularly enjoy it when I'm alone, perhaps feeling tired or stressed, or having a bad day. During those times, your comments have been tiger balm to an open wound. How lucky I have been that you've taken valuable time out of your days to send me such plentiful messages of nastiness.

You'll likely have noticed over the past months that I have become rather trigger-happy with the block, ban and report functions. As much as I appreciate the time and effort you put into targeting your online victims, I find that I have many better things to do with my time than engage in circuitous debates, mud-slinging, sub-tweeting and the general unpleasantness of interacting with you.

Like rearranging my sock drawer. Or stabbing myself in the eye with a fork.

I do have questions for you: what exactly is it that you hope to achieve by abusing people online? Does it make you feel better, somehow? Does inflicting misery upon others counteract your own feelings of sadness and inadequacy? Do you ever stop to think about your victims? Do you ever consider the way that they feel when you torment them?

The fact that you hide behind a screen does not absolve you from the consequences of your actions. "Troll" is a quaint word, reminiscent of fairy tales. It does not appropriately describe you. You are bullies, plain and simple. And you should be ashamed of yourselves.

Until we meet again, as much as I hope we never will.

Love,

Lizzie

Depending on who you talk to, social media is either an entertaining part of daily life or an apocalyptic force that will eventually bring about the destruction of humankind. It is the domain of trolls, hackers, and cyberbullies. It is also the home of social justice petitions, emojis and cat videos.

You could say that it is everything that is great and terrible about our time, which makes rather a lot of sense when you strip back the lines of code. Social media, the big bad wolf of the 21st century, is simply a reflection of us.

The perceived evils attached to social media are in fact the very same as those we see in the schoolyard. Motivated by the same feelings, biases and insecurities as childhood bullies. The technology may have changed, but the root problem is the same.

In our haste to condemn social media, we're shooting the messenger. Cyberbullying isn't some entirely new affliction, it's merely the latest version of human cruelty, but with added bells and whistles.

Cyberbullying is the drive-by shooting of emotional abuse. We don't have to stick around to see the damage that we've inflicted.

That's not to minimise the serious and potentially fatal impact of cyberbullying. Being harassed, bullied, dragged or trolled online is no joke. As a reasonably thick-skinned adult, I've learnt to deal with the persistent low hum of online abuse, but the idea of teens having to struggle with online vitriol makes my blood boil.

When we have kids committing suicide over the abuse that they've sustained online, we have a serious problem - one that the Harmful Digital Communications Act is trying to address. It'll take time for the Act to become a meaningful deterrent, but while we're waiting, we need to take a long, hard look at the culture that has allowed digital abuse to flourish.

It's easy to compartmentalise online bullying. The majority of us don't spend our days targeting online victims in protracted hate-campaigns, so we feel removed from the problem. Cyberbullying is something that trolls do, we tell ourselves. Sad, angry people living lonely lives.

Only it's not that simple. Cyberbullying behaviour doesn't start and stop on the screen, it is a part of a culture in which we laugh maliciously, gossip and judge. It is symptomatic of a climate in which snide, mocking remarks are considered cool and edgy. It begins when we decide to mistreat another human being, whether our transgression is small or significant, online or in real life.

The difference is that online the consequences of our actions aren't immediately apparent. When we attack someone online we don't have to see the pained expression on their face as they read our nasty comments. We don't have to hear them cry, or think about them sitting alone in the dark feeling miserable. Cyberbullying is the drive-by shooting of emotional abuse. We don't have to stick around to see the damage that we've inflicted.

Sadly, sometimes it's the wounds we can't see that cause the most devastating outcomes.

So how do we fix it? The major social networks are thankfully responding to this crisis of human cruelty by implementing easier reporting mechanisms and introducing greater moderation capabilities, but they can't solve online abuse alone. We need to take responsibility for our own actions. To go back to basics, and remember to treat others as we'd like to be treated.

We need to remember how to be nice.

Where to get help:

• In an emergency: call 111
• Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
• Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
• Youthline: 0800 376 633, or text 234 (available 24/7) or talk@youthline.co.nz or live chat (between 7pm and 11pm) http://livechat.youthline.co.nz/mibew/chat?locale=en&style=youthline
• Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
• Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155 (weekdays 11am to 5pm)
• NetSafe: 0508 NETSAFE (0508 638 723), www.theorb.org.nz

- NZ Herald

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