If only it were as easy to get rid of trolls on the internet. In case you don't know what an internet troll is, here's a basic definition:
"In Internet slang, a troll is someone who posts inflammatory or off-topic messages in an online community, such as an online discussion forum, chat room, or blog, with the primary intent of provoking other users into a desired emotional response."
Internet trolls are clever. Sometimes they use what seem like reasonable arguments to draw people in. Often they act 'hurt and wounded'. Always they have an agenda, whether it be garnering publicity, provoking other people into online fights, or just plain old nastiness. What they love best is to be fed more material (ie comments) for them to get their sharp, cruel teeth into. They are vindictive, destructive, and a part of internet life I absolutely abhor.
I have been 'trolled' on this very blog. I won't say where or when, but it was one of the most upsetting experiences I've ever had - and the worst bit was feeling so totally helpless when it all kicked off. Luckily we managed to shut it down quite quickly, but not before some damage had been done and feelings badly hurt. My mistake was to 'feed the troll' by trying to be reasonable, polite and patient with his comments for far too long. This was a mistake. I've learned from it.
So why am I writing this post now? Because in the last month two authors have spoken out about their own experiences of being trolled and cyberbullied. One is Cassandra Clare, and you can read her account of what happened to her HERE. If you don't know what cyberbullying is, here's another basic definition:
Cyberbullying is "the use of the Internet and related technologies to harm other people, in a deliberate, repeated, and hostile manner." Cyberbullying methods include "communications that seek to intimidate, control, manipulate, put down, falsely discredit, or humiliate the recipient. The actions are deliberate, repeated, and hostile behavior intended to harm another." I would include "passive-aggressive behaviour" along with "hostile".
The other person who has been trolled and cyberbullied very recently is Debi Gliori. Her piece about the campaign against her and her newest picture-book, The Tobermory Cat is HERE.
To be honest, both these stories make me angry, mostly because I hate any sort of bullying with a passion. I'm glad Cassandra and Debi were brave enough to come out and expose their tormentors, though, because too many people are scared to come forward and say something.
This is what bullying does. It isolates, makes you feel alone and frightened, is a small, insidious whisper in the brain, telling you that no one is on your side, that everyone hates you, and if you tell, everyone will hate you more. Cyberbullying is trolling whipped up into a campaign. It's much easier to hide behind a keyboard than to physically bully someone. You can even do it across borders, across continents.
No author should have to suffer it. No child should have to suffer it (though too many do, and die because of it, as in the recent case of Amanda Todd's suicide). Not one single human being deserves to be bullied or cyberbullied. Ever. Full stop.
Although I maintain that 'feeding the trolls' is not a good idea (and by 'feeding' I mean engaging with them on a longterm basis), I also believe that we should stand up in public and support, reasonably, politely and firmly, those who have been trolled or cyberbullied. Many of us have done so in Debi's case. Nicola Morgan has written an excellent piece on the ins and outs of intellectual property law HERE, and now the Guardian has also picked the story up.
If all of us stand together and keep saying no to each cyberbully and troll as we come across them, then maybe we, like the eldest Billy Goat Gruff, can use our horns to throw them down onto the rocks under the internet bridge and defeat them one by one. Unfortunately trolls and their cyberbully cousins are very resilient. I fear it'll be a long job, but I, for one, will keep on trying. I couldn't live with myself otherwise.
Lucy's latest series Greek Beasts and Heroes is out now from Orion Children's Books and her new picture books, Bear's Best Friend, will be published by Bloomsbury in March 2013
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