The Online Ogre: Dealing with Trolling and Defamation on Social Media

Widespread adoption of social media has created blurred boundaries around online privacy. Nowadays, as a great deal of interpersonal communication takes place on the web, personal exposure in the form of social media interaction cannot easily be taken back if you have been less than careful with your words.

The internet is indeed full of trolls: those who purposely bully and offend other users online Despite this, we do not have an efficient range of easily accessible tools to tackle the challenge.

Under the principle of fairness, anyone who has been defamed has the right to reply to that claim in the same location and by the same means as the offender. However, everything happens all too quickly online and, as Warren Buffett said, “it takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it”.

Users who have been trolled or bullied on social media may experience it so negatively that they do not feel like resuming activity on social networks. This is the story of April, a young girl from England whose experience with social media platforms during her teenage years was not so pleasant, leading to her relationship with social media has been permanently damaged.

Cassiopeia: Can you share your experience with social media trolling?

April: Essentially, when I was younger, I had a Tumblr account where I posted about YouTubers etc. It was all fun, but I did have a fair following of about 20k.

When I was doing this, I had a large group of friends who all had about the same following — we’d meet up as much as we could at events and stuff, it was nice.

But essentially at some point it began going downhill. With Tumblr you can get anonymous messages, so all the time I’d receive messages about my size and my personality, being called fat and annoying etc. When I reflect now, I know those people were probably 14 themselves and just looking for something to do, but when I was 14 it did really affect me. I’d turn my anonymous section off, but then the hate would go to my partner at the time who I had met on the website (she also got hate in this same way).

I think the worst of it was, from what I remember, an entire account was created, to hate on me and my friends, with people sending anonymous messages about how much they hate us etc. Eventually we managed to get the blog deleted but more comments were made.

Also, I remember once I created a help blog where people who were receiving hate or horrible messages could talk and get advice — but this got hacked and the blog got plastered with messages from the hacker saying I was apparently ‘homophobic’ and used the ’n’ word. You can imagine how this went down — the messages I got were awful.

At the time, it felt horrible. I was left wondering — why? But in hindsight, I think maybe it was jealousy — young girls my age bitter about me having loads of followers or talking to their beloved YouTubers on a regular basis. I guess, now, I feel sorry for them and I hope they’ve grown up in the same way I have. I mean, at the time, the internet was still young.

C: When this happened to you, were the routes for resolution available to you clear?

A: When all this was going on, the internet was still young really, I guess some people would consider my generation the first to use the internet like this. The options weren’t really clear, I wasn’t sure what to do except turn off my anonymous settings. After I had done that, some of the hate did die down, but some of it just went straight to my friends’ blogs.

C: What options do you wish were available to you when this happened to you?

A: I wish I had known more about online hate in the first place — what it is and what it can do. It was a shock to me — bullying on my laptop? How does this happen? But essentially, if I could go back, I think a system, maybe as simple as a button on all social media to report hateful comments would be simple and I think anonymous chat sites especially should have something like this, as it’s easier to be horrible when you think there are no consequences. Maybe even a support network, where younger children feel safe to talk about their experiences, as sometimes it can be hard for children to talk to their parents.

C: What effect, if any, did this have on your day-to-day life?

A: I really wouldn’t say it had an explicit effect on my day to day life. I mean, it did make me think about my weight etc, but I consider myself lucky that I’m not a sensitive person and can take things such as this on the chin. I can’t imagine how those who are easily affected by what people say to them would feel.

C: Do you think that information presented online about someone can have an impact in the real world (for better or worse)?

A: Oh 100%!I honestly believe that what you put on social media can make or break you, in some extreme cases, things you ‘innocently’ say online can literally have you fired or a nice thing you post online can low-key make you famous (kids on Ellen being found through videos on Facebook etc).

C: Did this experience change your relationship with social media? How?

A: Yes. I’m a lot more careful about things I say on posts, if I wouldn’t say something in person, I won’t say it online and I think that is a good motto to have. Additionally, I don’t use Tumblr anymore and have strong privacy settings on everything, I only want my friends and approved people to see what I’m doing — I wouldn’t want to risk having trolls commenting ‘fat’ or ‘ugly’ on nice pictures of me at the beach etc.

Cassiopeia is running a series of case studies on the impacts of online interactions, trolling and defamation. We are keen to hear about personal stories as well as businesses cases. If you’d like to share your story with us and help us raise awareness of the issue, email us on info@cassiopeia-ltd.com

Online Reputation: Looking after your image online

The internet never forgets: a lesson all too quickly learnt when sharing opinions online. Nowadays, as a great deal of interpersonal communication takes place on the web, personal exposure in the form of social media interaction cannot easily be taken back if you have been less than careful with your words.

South African presenter Trevor Noah knows this far too well. Five years ago, he told a joke perceived by many as racist. The clip resurfaced on the web only a while ago, prompting an outpouring of hate towards him on social media. Angry users hit back at Trevor over his comments, launching a campaign in Australia to boycott his upcoming tour.

Privacy boundaries are blurred in the online world. It is not uncommon to hear about cases of job applicants who miss out on employment opportunities because pictures and posts of a personal nature — which could be considered inappropriate for their professional image — are in the public domain.

Protecting our online reputation is indeed a tall order even for those who are not in the spotlight or have not supposedly compromised their image with polemical comments. The internet is full of trolls: those who purposely bully and offend other users online, sometimes in exchange for cash.

Just as individuals need to be mindful about their exposure online, companies’ reputations can also take a hit when they open themselves up to reviews. Over two million negative comments about businesses are made daily on social media platforms in the United States.

These days, when consumers can search and review businesses all too easily with their phones, online brand reputation is one of the most important assets a company can have. A study from Invesp pointed out that nearly 90 percent of customers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.

As web-based interaction becomes ever more intrinsic to our lives, authorities have recognised the importance of preserving online reputation, and as such are working towards protecting users from trolls and malicious activity online.

Right of Reply, a leading innovative online reputation platform, believes that empowering individuals to regain control and ‘tell their truth’ is the key. “The right of reply is a legitimate right granted by law. yet exercising this right is difficult, time consuming and expensive. even when exercised, the reply tends to come too late to have sufficient impact in balancing out the damaging content. it is important that every individual is in a position to reply to any kind of online content in easy, timely and cost-effective manner proportionate to the wrong or misleading content. this applies to every medium by which reputation can be damaged: press and media statements, blog articles, credit reports and social media” Right of Reply commented.

The EU has put some regulation in place to protect individuals in their battle to preserve their online image: since 2014, after a case in Spain, the European Court of Justice established the ‘right to be forgotten’, meaning that a person has the legal right to have sensitive, personal online content removed.

If a European citizen asks Google to remove certain pieces of personal information from the web, Google has the obligation to comply. Since this right was established, there have been more than 700,000 requests to Google to remove sensitive content from its search engines.

“I often think of the right to be forgotten as an obligation that falls on companies like Google,” said Michael Douglas, senior law lecturer at the University of Western Australia, as he highlights that data braches and scandals such as that of Cambridge Analytica are attracting the attention of regulators and authorities all across the world.