“The implication that a woman must be sexually appealing to be taken seriously as a thinker did not start with the internet… The net, however, makes it easier for boys in lonely bedrooms to become bullies.” —Laurie Penny
The most targeted group of internet trolling appear to be women. A study conducted in 2006 found that web users with “female” names were 25 times more likely to be harassed than users with “male” or ambiguous names. Women are subjected to crude insults and aggressive threats which are usually quite sexual in nature. This is usually done as a means to undermine those women who supposedly dare to voice their opinions publicly. Furthermore, through their anonymity, internet trollers feel empowered to harass and attack other individuals merely because they can. As this occurs over the internet, there is no filter or policing which could prevent such abuse.
The recent death of TV personality, Charlotte Dawson fuelled the discussion on internet trolling and cyberbullying. The hate campaign over Twitter got the better of Ms Dawson and pushed her to her death. Dawson was targeted by a stream of abuse and death threats, including “stick your head in a toaster” and “kill yourself” (ABC 2014). This tragic case demonstrates the dire consequences trolling can have on the victims. As Kate Carnell notes, the anonymity over social media makes cyberbullying more dangerous. As she claims “bullying via social media can be a major factor in triggering mental health issues” (ABC 2014).
I was personally very shocked after reading how vulgar these trolls were against women. As a young woman myself, I was disgusted but also frightened that people could think and say such things. However women are fighting back to such abuse. For example, Jessica Valenti launched the #mencallmethings campaign. Under this hashtag, women can retweet threats and abusive comments as a means to ‘name and shame’ the anonymous trolls and make such individuals accountable for their actions. However in my opinion, laws should also be implemented to criminalise these trolls. It may be extreme, but I believe, those individuals who abused Ms Dawson should be accountable and criminalised for her death.
ABC 2014, ‘Charlotte Dawson’s death puts cyberbullying back in the spotlight’, ABC News, 24 February, viewed 12 May 2014 < http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-02-23/charlotte-dawson-death-puts-focus-on-cyber-bullying/5277904>.
Doyle, S 2011, ‘The Girl’s Guide to Staying Safe Online’, In These Times, 17 November, viewed 12 May 2014 <http://inthesetimes.com/article/12311/the_girls_guide_to_staying_safe_online>.
Griffin, M 2011, ‘Troll-attack campaign goes viral’, Sydney Morning Herald, 8 November, viewed 12 May 2014 < http://www.smh.com.au/technology/technology-news/trollattack-campaign-goes-viral-20111108-1n4j4.html>.
Thorpe, V & Rogers, R 2011, ‘Women bloggers call for a stop to ‘hateful’ trolling by misogynist men’, The Guardian, 6 November, viewed 12 May 2014 < http://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/nov/05/women-bloggers-hateful-trolling>.
SunriseOn7 2012, Charlotte Dawson Speaks Out, video, YouTube, 2 September, viewed 9 May 2014 < https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nrwnBGsyX8o>.