The Dark Side Of The Web



WORDS | Lily Davis

There is little doubt that the internet has a dark side. In recent months, one of its more awful parts has begun to have increasing prominence in Australian society. Trolling.

“Trolls” are people who use the internet to spread hurtful comments and content. Although their actions vary, from harassing targeted individuals, to posting inflammatory remarks about a race, gender or appearance, trolling is enough to make any regular internet user sick to their stomach. Unfortunately, it’s also a much more common occurrence than we might hope.

A Canadian report, conducted by Erin Buckels, Paul Trapnell and Delroy Paulhus, investigated the psychology behind the trolling trend. The report found that trolls were, at a base level, “everyday sadists,” people who found enjoyment in cruelty. More specifically, Buckels described them as those who, “gain some emotional benefit from causing or simply observing others’ suffering.”

Trolling was thrust into the media spotlight last year, when Australian celebrity Charlotte Dawson, took her own life after being subjected to a torrent of abuse via Twitter. Dawson had long been an outspoken campaigner against cyber-bullying, frequently re-tweeting online abuse to expose the behaviour, but the attacks became too much.

It’s not only celebrities who receive this abuse, anyone can be a target. Bradley, a current student at Macquarie University recalled the death of a student from his high school, “Not long after, some random troll started posting on their Facebook wall … pretty gruesome pictures of dead bodies. It was shocking and so many people were upset.”

The anonymity offered by online interactions often allows trolls to be left unaccountable for their actions. It is this anonymity, some argue, that makes trolling so attractive. Erin Buckels agrees. Her research found that “trolls also want to be mean to people in real life,” but that, “direct action is far more risky, unless the situation is relatively anonymous.”

As the grave effects of trolling have become more prominent in Australian mass media, support services available to victims has also grown. These networks offer advice for victims on how best to respond to online bullying.

Firstly, ensure that you have the highest privacy settings possible. This way, only people you know have access to and can comment on your shared information.

Secondly, ignore and report. For the most part, these people do what they do to provoke and hurt others. If you don’t respond in the way they desire, they won’t gain any satisfaction. Reporting this behaviour will also help prevent others from experiencing the same attacks.

Most importantly, if you have been the victim of cyber-bullying or “trolling,” seek help. Often, many of the online and over the phone anti-bullying networks offer free and anonymous counselling and support.

If you need help, contact lifeline on 13 11 14 or make an appointment with Macquarie University’s free, on-campus counselling and psychological services.