The way in which the internet is designed – no gatekeepers and the notion of participatory culture fuelling the internet, inevitably leaves space for harsh comments and threats. This could be bullying about anything: racism, homophobia, misogyny etc. This is referred to as trolling.
But should we disable comment sections and forums, discouraging the online participatory culture that is the internet, in order to stop these hateful comments?
Trollers provoke people as they find it amusing to get a reaction. They may even deliberately disagree in order to cause havoc. So instead of disabling comment sections to stop this hate, why don’t we just ignore it? If no one comments back and ‘feeds the trolls’, then won’t they stop if they get no reaction?
Pretty much any site with a comment option is home to many a troll. That again doubles when people have a choice of being anonymous – for e.g. Tumblr, Formspring, and ask.fm. “Being anonymous makes us meaner as we can we state whatever we want before thinking about it and without the fear of repercussions.” (Sarah Downey, 2011).
And this abuse from strangers who hide behind their computers can have serious repercussions, and can even result in suicide. An example of this which was highly publicised in the media was Charlotte Dawson and the twitter trolls. And in this case, their abuse caused her to attempt suicide.
Charlotte is now recovering from this hate, and is now campaigning to shame the trolls and support other victims who suffer abuse. When she met the people who sent her this abuse, their comments all had a similar theme about how “They’re things that I say on twitter and twitter isn’t real life – you have more confidence on the internet.”
But the reality is that what you say online is real life, and the trolls abusive comments do have serious consequences.