Invisible Cowards: How Trolling Became America’s Newest, Ugliest Past Time

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By Jennefer Witter, CEO/Founder, The Boreland Group Inc.

A two-time Olympic gold medalist is “heart-broken” and in tears after being cyber bullied.

A well-known columnist, known for her feminist writings, closes her social media accounts down after rape and death threats are made against her five year old daughter.

An actress is forced off Twitter after a barrage of racist and misogynist tweets.

Leslie Jones

Leslie Jones

Social media trolls are the scourge of the online community. In spite of widespread denunciation, they’re like some hydra-headed serpent in a B movie thriller – they keep coming back, no matter how many times they are slain.

Trolling is a relatively new phenomenon. The advent and growth of social media have given nameless, faceless individuals the license to bully, name call and worse, without any sort of significant ramification. Trolls get a sadist thrill in demolishing others.

A friend of mine calls trolls “invisible cowards.” Their strength is in their anonymity. They can say what they want, when they want, with little fear of backlash, hurt or pain to their lives, reputations, families or careers – unlike those whom they attack. I liken them to the Ku Klux Klan, members of which wore hoods when they went out at night to prey upon the innocent. If what they were doing was so right, why didn’t they take off those hoods and let everyone know who they were?

Like the mythical Count Dracula who could only survive and thrive under the cloak of darkness, daylight can sear those exposed. Leslie Jones, one of the stars of Ghostbusters, is the actress who was forced off Twitter. Milo Yiannopoulos, a blogger with a reputation for trolling, led the stream of abuse directed at Jones under the handle @Nero. The response was almost immediate once Yiannapolous was publicly identified– he was banned for life by Twitter. Dani Matthews, the 2015 Playboy Playmate of the Year, took a photo of an overweight, naked woman showering at LA Fitness and shared the picture of the unsuspecting woman via Snapchat along with the caption “If I can’t unseen this then you can’t either.” Matthews was roundly scorned, was suspended from her job, banned from LA Fitness gyms nationwide for life and may face criminal charges.

Gabby Jones

Gabby Douglas

So far, no such outcome for the trolls who are targeting Gabby Douglas, the Olympic athlete, or Jessica Valenti, the journalist and best-selling author.

Free speech, while protected by the First Amendment, does have its limits: you can’t yell “Fire!” in a movie theater without some serious consequences.

Yet, abusive speech is permitted. Wrong, yes. Disgusting, yes. Illegal, no. So what to do? Twitter issued the following statement after the Leslie Jones debacle:

“This type of abusive behavior is not permitted on Twitter, and we’ve taken action on many of the accounts reported to us by both Leslie and others. We rely on people to report this type of behavior to us but we are continuing to invest heavily in improving our tools and enforcement systems to prevent this kind of abuse. We realize we still have a lot of work in front of us before Twitter is where it should be on how we handle these issues.”

Jessica Valenti

Jessica Valenti

Trolls, like cockroaches, are proliferating. What strikes me is that the majority of those who bear the brunt of troll attacks typically are women and people of color. Olympic gold medalist Ryan Lochte wasn’t mocked on social media for his silver hair, unlike Douglas, whose hair has been slammed since the 2012 London Games. Steve Buscemi, while a great actor, is no Adonis – yet no mass hate against him.

The current environment is a factor in troll behavior: the presidential election is exposing deep social, racial and economic divisions; the shocking assassination of police officers in Dallas; the awful shootings of unarmed men throughout the county…this notorious stew is a breeding ground for hate. And the Internet is a reflection of these times, the festering of ignorance and anger that is directed at those who symbolize, to the haters, what they do not have and do not have the hope of ever achieving.

What can be done is for all social media platforms is to step up their efforts to review and delete troll postings, and permanently ban trolls from their sites. Existing laws can be used to punish trolls as soon as they step out of legal bounds. And the public can pitch in as well. Leslie Jones supporters created the hashtag #LoveforLeslieJ. Jones now has created the hashtag #Love4GabbyUSA to support Douglas. It’s a beginning, but it shows trolls that at the very least, their hate will be mitigated by love. And, perhaps, a stiff prison sentence.

 

About the Author: Jennefer Witter is the CEO/Founder of The Boreland Group Inc., a public relations firm. 

 

 

 

6 Comments

  1. Dennis on at 9:29 AM

    Interesting read. Also, the caption under Gabby Douglas’s picture should read “Gabby Douglas” and not “Gabby Jones”.

    Just looking out!

    • fays on at 10:16 AM

      Thanks very much. We’ve updated the caption.

  2. Sonia Osinloye on at 3:42 PM

    Great article Jennefer!! Trolls are indeed “invisible cowards,” and while repercussions may be far and few between, I applaud those instances where not-so-invisible trolls had to face the music for hateful, derogatory or racist posts!!

  3. Lynne on at 4:10 PM

    It’s amazing how Social Media has become the face of cowardice. Makes you wonder what did people do before the internet. Great read!

  4. Earlene on at 12:23 PM

    Great article Jennefer. You are so right to liken social media trolls to the KKK, who are indeed “invisible cowards” who clearly understand that what they are doing is wrong, but too weak to reveal the truth of who they really are and too simple-minded to conduct themselves with decency.

  5. Joy Hamilton on at 1:48 PM

    Thanks for writing this piece. We need to raise awareness and call out this shameful behavior! Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

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