Thursday, 1 November 2012

The Troll Under the Internet Bridge - Lucy Coats

Trolls.  They only exist in fairytales, don't they?  Trip trap trip trap go the three Billy Goats Gruff over the Troll's bridge.  The youngest goat is allowed to pass by saying that his middle brother is bigger and more tasty.  The middle brother is allowed to pass by saying that his older brother is biggest and yummiest.  And what does the older brother do? Why he tosses the Troll over the side of the bridge with his great big horns and watches him smash on the rocks below, making the bridge safe forever.

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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Nicola Morgan said...

Great post, Lucy. It's really important to stand up to hate behaviour. And to do it with dignity. That's what you and I and others have been trying to do. I think we've done a good job. You will have noticed the patient moderating I exercised on my blog! Not easy. I wanted no further anger from anyone to anyone, though it's been really hard to disguise how upset I still do feel about any nasty behaviour by person or persons unknown towards someone who had done nothing wrong.

Leslie Wilson said...

Well said! Excellent blog

adele said...

I second what Leslie and Nicola say.

Lucy Coats said...

Thank you all. And you're right, Nicola , dignity and politeness are essential in these cases.

Celia Rees said...

Well said, Lucy. I was shocked at the recent cases of authors coming under this kind of attack. From reading the troll posts, it seems to me that there is an obsessive, irrational quality to this kind of behaviour, driven by jealousy, resentment, feelings of all kinds of inadequacy. I agree that it is probably a mistake to 'feed the trolls' but, on the other hand, if we do and say nothing, it's a bit like tolerating racist comments, for example, in everyday life. I guess the weapon we have as bloggers is removal, that's why presumably they set up their own sites. I had no idea that there were 'hate blogs' - what a waste of time and energy and what sad, sad lives!

Jane Housham said...

Very well said.

JO said...

Great post. We don't have to respond to them - but we can stand together to support anyone on the receiving end of this.

Katherine Langrish said...

Hear hear.

Nicola Morgan said...

I think people use the phrase "feeding the trolls" loosely. Standing up and saying, "This is happening and this is wrong - look how wrong and nasty it is" is not feeding trolls. It is drowning them in decency.

Tam said...

Let's be honest, the underlying motive in Debi's case is money. The troll has bluntly asked, "What's in it for me?" and encouraged his friends, neighbours and anyone else gullible enough to get involved with his crusade to overstep the boundaries. Many people (including the fabulous Nicola) have explained why he has no basis for any kind of claim but still he persists. In some cases, he will wilfully subverts what others say in support of Debi to further his own argument.

I took part in a BBC local radio debate last night which touched on the subject of trolls and we couldn't agree on a solution. But I think each and every one of us making a reasoned stand to cyber bullying is an excellent start.

Nicky said...

I agree its right to make a stand. I also think there comes a point when you have to withdraw from debate not just for personal sanity but because most trolls want to be noticed more than anything else - that's kind of why they troll.
I'm not sure if that was how Tobermory Cat started; he may have actually felt he had been treated unfairly but it is how he has continued.
I think the most important thing is to support the bullied victims of such abuse.

John Dougherty said...

@Nicky: "I agree its right to make a stand. I also think there comes a point when you have to withdraw from debate not just for personal sanity but because most trolls want to be noticed more than anything else"
I think this kind of sensible balance is probably quite difficult to consistently get right, but I absolutely agree that it's what we should aim for.

And, Nicola, I am in awe of your hostly skills.

Nicky said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joan Lennon said...

Thank you for posting.

Jackie Marchant said...

Well, said Lucy. I would just add that, when dealing with trolls, we must keep our dignity and not descend to their level of abuse, no matter how mad they make us. And also remember that the pen is mightier than the troll, so we can write them to death! (Politely of course)

Linda Strachan said...

Excellent post, Lucy.

This kind of bullying is just not acceptable and needs to be exposed - but how to do it without contributing to the exposure that it seems the trolls are looking for?

I soppose that bringing it into the public arena for debate, so that those who are being targetted feel they are supported and less alone, is a good start.

catdownunder said...

Thanks Lucy - and Nicola. I hate seeing people being bullied or unfairly criticised.

Nicola Morgan said...

This thing about trolls looking for exposure - I don't buy it. Trolls are just trolls. They get their kicks from thinking they are great. They aren't great. They are cowardly and pathetic.

Liz Kessler said...

Brilliant post Lucy.

I've had a bit of experience of trolls too (in fact, I think it was the same ABBA post that you referred to) and it was horrific.

I think it's extremely hard to figure out the right way to deal with any kind of bullying or 'trolling'. But one thing I do know is that support from others makes everything feel much better. So hurrah for you - and others - for these blogs that are openly standing up for what's right.


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Pauline Fisk said...

I know what you mean about how upsetting this sort of thing can be. Interestingly, when it happened to me, my confronting my bullies publicly by writing a post about the things they said, and sending them the link to read it, drew a line under it. Nothing heard since.

Anonymous said...

The troll guy seems to be objecting to having his Tobermory Cat pinched ( not unreasonable if true ) and the publisher seems to have agreed to pay the town hall as the “troll” has requested. Perhaps more is going on than meets the eye? If this troll wants to support his town Hall he cannot defend himself for fear damaging the book launch and reducing the income due to the town hall. What I see is a publisher and his friends casting some guy as a troll while the troll is on his own. He does not seem to have a mob of bloggers on the rampage as the publisher has and for me this starts to look like a cynical attempt to launch a book by presenting Debi Gliori as a victim. Its clear the troll is getting all the abuse yet I still cannot find anything but the most moderate comments and cat pictures on his facebook page.