(Note from Erin: Given what a troll did to me yesterday and what I deal with on a regular basis, I thought it might be helpful for everyone to hear that I’m not alone and this is a real issue.)
Back in 2017, Ginger Gorman did an investigative piece into trolls and it went viral. So, when she was offered the chance to write a book she was trepidatious; the trolls had threatened her family after her first piece and she was justifiably concerned. However, according to her, trolls are much worse than we even imagine.
- Trolls threaten murder on my FB page, use C word, and far worse (warning graphic posts!) FB does nothing
In her article for ABC News Australia, she outlines a couple of the myths about trolls that she’s learned. Here’s just one: Trolls are alone in their mothers’ basements.
“With one exception, the trolls I investigated did not troll alone.
Many of them operated in well-organised international syndicates. Trolling has its own culture, language, “lore” and history — most of which is incredibly hard to grasp from the outside.
Some of the syndicates even have presidents and vice presidents, much like the way bikie gangs operate.
They all know each other and occasionally swap syndicates and allegiances. Sometimes the syndicates work together to achieve a certain aim — like targeting a specific victim.
As the predator troll “Mark” explained to me when I interviewed him for Fairfax, he profiles victims and then incites members of his gang to pile on.
He might target rape victims, people who are LGBTI or people who are mentally ill, trying to incite vulnerable people to harm themselves.
He and other trolls also target the Facebook memorial pages of people who have died by suicide. This is known as “RIP trolling”.
For Mark and others like him, it’s business. They don’t care who or what you are — they are just trying to find your weakest point and get an emotional reaction from you. As a rule, they attack anyone who they view as outside the paradigm of being a white male.
Although I did come across one transgender woman who was a predator troll, they are mostly a cohort of angry, white men aged 18-35 and they police discourse on the internet with themselves at the centre.
I asked Mark for an analogy to the trolling syndicate he belongs to. “Yakuza”, he replied, referring to the Japanese organized crime syndicates. ‘More like a mafia set-up than a bikie gang.’
Some gang members are trusted and respected and are given administrate roles doing things like wikis about the gang’s exploits or managing the syndicate’s Internet Chat Relay (IRC) channel. Others aren’t respected — even trolling syndicates have socially irritating individuals — and they are cast out.
Meepsheep, president of a notorious trolling syndicate, said presidents are elected ‘maybe once every two years’ and this happens live on air via the ICR call-in podcast, L0de Radio Hour (LRH).”
Check out her TEDx talk on the topic and click here to read her entire article.
What can be done about it?
It’s become clear in the last few years that trolling and “cyberhate” is “a complex issue that needs a multifaceted community response” and one that both law enforcement and social media companies need to address. Currently, we are not safe and that needs to change.
Also, Gorman says that the most striking thing she discovered in her research was that trolls weren’t born this way; their behavior is learned and is a product of our society. And that is something that we can fix. If we all work together and we start sooner rather than later.