September 19, 2012

Do Not Feed The Trolls. I Repeat....

In the modern world of interactive social media, everyday citizens now have the opportunity to interact with their favourite celebrities in a way that is personal and exciting. 

Famous people who once appeared to exist only inside the television set or on the radio or movie screen, have now become thoroughly accessible through sites like Twitter and Facebook. 

For genuine fans and admirers, the shift in accessibility has meant a way in which to peak inside the lives and the heads of those celebrities they adore. It has also meant a way to connect and interact with celebrities in an intimate and personal, if not strangely creepy manner.

Having access to the everyday movements, thoughts and feelings of a celebrity completely changes the old school fame dynamic. 

Where as once upon a time celebrities were untouchable, existing outside in some glossy magazine spread, photoshopped from a far away island, they are now only a tweet away, living inside our Iphones, computers and tablets. 

If fame works by glorifying and glamorising ordinary (albeit talented) people, then social media works by peeling away the mask of celebrity and exposing the human face that has previously remained hidden. 

Social media tears down the walls that separate the ordinary from the extraordinary and as a result, the social construction of idolisation, which placed celebrities on a godlike pedestal, has now been upended.

Justin Bieber attributes his rise to fame with the product of social media. 

Bieber was discovered on YouTube and he has since solidified a prosperous career out of staying connected to his original supporters and the millions of fans he has acquired along the way. 

18-year old Bieber interacts with his followers via Twitter on a daily and often an hourly basis.  

However, like all the celebrities who have allowed themselves to become accessible in the public domain, Justin Bieber has paid a hefty price in the form of online harassment and cyber trolling, with haters tweeting insults on a daily and often hourly basis. 

Bieber has developed a thick skin when it comes to his online detractors, but it can't be easy, especially for someone so young to have to deal with so much hate.

It has always been the case that haters are going to hate. In Australia it's always been referred to as 'tall poppy syndrome' meaning that the moment someone gains fame and notoriety, the moment people want to chop them down to size. 

However, in the past those haters had no other way to express their hate other than calling talkback radio or through traditional snail hate mail.

Though most celebrities have always been aware that there are people who dislike them, all hate mail was usually intercepted by a manager or staff member.  

Unfortunately, in the world of social media, no such buffer is afforded and that is a significant part of the problem. 

Charlotte Dawson was recently driven toward what appears to be a nervous breakdown after some troll hijacked her Twitter account and posted hateful, vile comments about her looks, her personality and her marital status. 

Rugby player, Robbie Farah resorted to calling the police after he was sent a disgusting and hurtful tweet about the recent death of his mother. 

Olympic Trolls have been blamed for the poor performance of our Aussie swim team in the London Olympics after the athletes struggled to shut out the hateful comments directed at them via Twitter.

Charlotte Dawson has since been criticised for retweeting the hateful messages and describing the particular troll in question as an 'attention whore'. 

Evidently Dawson was attempting to defend herself and bring the issue out into the light. However, in doing so, all Dawson achieved was to attract the attention of more abusive lowlifes in the online community and finally the torrent of abuse landed her in hospital.

So how should celebrities deal with the issue of trolling?

According to online community manager, Laurel Papworth, the first rule of the Internet is 'you never give bullies oxygen and you never feed the trolls'.

In the real world, if someone insults you or harasses you, there are steps you can take to defend yourself, such as fighting back or calling the police, and in worst case scenarios, seeking a restraining order or pursuing a defamation lawsuit. 

However, the most problematic part of online harassment is that the trolls remain anonymous, often setting up fake IP addresses and accounts so that they can never be caught.

The second problem is that the types of people who get their kicks from trolling are not the same type of people who might hurl abuse at you on the street or even write and post hateful letters. 

Trolls gain impetus from their anonymity but they also get pleasure from the power they yield over celebrities, famous people that they would otherwise not have the opportunity to reach. 

The social construction of trolling is entirely different to the social construction of interpersonal bullying and that is why when it comes to trolls, fighting back is not an option. 

Any attempt to interact or to defend oneself against the harassment will only give the trolls exactly what they are after, and that is to impact the lives of the people they see on TV.

If the costs of Twitter and other forms of social media are so high that they have the potential to cause insult and injury, let alone a nervous breakdown, then surely it is up to that person to decide that having a Twitter account is not worth it. 

I mean since when did having a Twitter account become so important that people are willing to be abused and offended just so that they can tweet about what they had for dinner or what they are reading on their Kindle?

And when did becoming taunted and victimised, abused and degraded become something one is willing to put up with when one has the option to end that kind of behaviour? 

Granted things are different if you moderate a blog or column but when the issue of trolling is isolated to Twitter then I cannot see why it is such a dilemma. 

I am not a celebrity and I have not encountered any trolls, but if I ever woke up to so much as even one hurtful message from some sad sack I have never met, then I would shut my Twitter account down faster than you can say retweet. 

It simply isn't true that in taking these measures to protect one's mental health, the trolls get what they are after. What they are after is your attention and to get up under your skin. They seek pleasure in upsetting you.

Don't let them.


Anonymous said...

Surely a perfect piece of writing! We've book marked it and sent it out to all of my friends since I know they'll be intrigued, thank you very much!

Misha Sim said...

Oh wow. Thanks so much for the compliment!

Regards, Misha