Flaming trolls, mobbing and online abuse

Anyone who has ventured into the world of the internet on any seriously contentious issue knows about flamers, trolls and bullies. They act badly and project an image of self-justification and…well…sometimes just a little dash of heroism. Fundamentalist zeal on particular issues seems to make it ok (at least in the mind of the bully) to behave in ways that are not acceptable on or off-line. They rage against anything or anyone who challenge dearly held beliefs. Sure everyone has a right to express themselves but nobody has a right to perpetrate violence on anyone in any form – and let’s face it bullying is violence. Good intentions do not excuse bad behaviour and do not lessen the impact on the sometimes vulnerable people they target. What bullies don’t seem to get is it actually says more about them than their target.  Bullying behaviours are not mature or clever.

There is a lot written about bullying behaviour and its impact in academic publications and research into online abuse is becoming more common particularly in relation to children. Urban75 describes the nature of on-line bulling in a clear, easily understood way. According to their blog, bullying is like throwing a tantrum – you know, your average three year going for it in the supermarket. Bullies vent their aggression by using projection, false criticism [and often false information], patronising sarcasm and add nothing of value to any discussion. Rather than fact checking they simply make things up or naively believe what they hear on the rumour mill. The goal is to inflame, create conflict, make themselves feel better and, in some cases, discredit or shut down their target. This is very different to having rational and polite exchanges over issues. Mobbing is essentially group bullying that can be intentional and systematic particularly when associated with particular campaigns. People can spend a lot of time reading everything a targeted person has written simply to find opportunities to abuse, discredit or silence them rather than understand what is being said. Astro turfing is an interesting and controversial practice that takes a systematic approach to a new level. People are paid to astro turf. They pretend to be grassroots commentators to promote particular positions online.

 One milder example of abusive behaviour from my own growing collection clearly shows the vitriol, anger, misinformation and childish behaviours that are common when serious issues are broached online. Judge for yourself…

I have just read some of your comments on international adoption and words fail to express my disgust and loathing for you.what a dishonest and evil person you are.If you succeed in denying one overseas child in bad circumstances a home here with loving parents in Australia, may you come back in the next life as a child in such conditions.If you had been begging on the streets of addis ababa  at age three how smart would you be now. You are not worth the time of writng this and no doubt need to get on with crawling up the greasy pole of academic advancement.so carry on with my sincere worst wishes ,you,re a vicious poor apology for a human being. [exactly as written in the original]

My focus in this blog post is on bullying not adoption. It just so happens this is the area that seems to attract flamers, trolls and bullies. So I will stress here that most people involved in adoption DO NOT engage in such behaviour even if they do hold strong personal views.  When individuals do behave badly in the adoption field, I often hear – ‘well you can understand how they feel’ or ‘you can’t blame them’. I strongly disagree. Think about people in other circumstances and what would happen if they expressed themselves in this way – a perpetrator of domestic violence, a welfare recipient addressing a government employee, or a parent involved with child protection services. Their behaviour would not be excused. It would be taken very seriously in judgement of the person and there would be a very, very different response. I do expect better than this from individuals who are educated in adoption, assessed as mature individuals capable of dealing with the realities and complexities of adoption and charged with adoptive parenting, People may not be online bullies but because we are all human, we can be much too ready to believe and engage in gossip and the spreading of misinformation. By doing so, we unwittingly become part of a mobbing process.  Let’s face it, even kids are taught that spreading rumours is bullying and it’s no different for adults.

So here is my how-to and how not-to guide:

 How to be an online bully

  1. Do use verbal abuse, personal insults, sarcasm and denigrating insults
  2. Do spread rumours and inaccurate information
  3. Do try to point score and inflame the target
  4. Under no circumstances read source information to understand what you are criticising. Don’t care if it is obvious to any informed reader that you haven’t bothered
  5. Do jump to wild unsubstantiated conclusions or rely on faulty logic
  6. Do make things up
  7. Do assume
  8. Do mind-read and believe you have special insight into the motivation of others
  9. Under no circumstances identify the issue you don’t like or its source. Straying off topic is also helpful
  10. Always, always be emotional

 How not to be an online bully

  1. Be polite in all interactions, stick to the issue and don’t be personal
  2. If you feel uncontrollable rage count to 10 or better still sleep on it before typing
  3. Focus on issues not people
  4. Be a critical thinker
  5. Don’t limit your conversations to people who agree with you. Seek out a critical friend with whom you can discuss your ideas. A critical friend is someone you trust who will offer a counter view and ask critical questions that make you think. If you don’t know anyone who can look at an issue another way think about what this says
  6. Be open to new ideas. Separate the personal and the general. Complex issues are not black and white
  7. Make sure what you think has been said, or claimed by others to have been said, has indeed been said
  8. Read source material yourself 
  9. Ask yourself what’s really making you so angry

 Stopping abusive behaviour is everyone’s responsibility. It is not acceptable under any circumstances no matter who it is aimed at, who says it or how justified they might feel.