Three ways to deal with trolls and harassment online
From keeping lines of communication open to standing up for others, journalist Ginger Gorman and Wesley College student and cyber safety advocate Anna Duan share their advice for handling trolls and other forms of online harassment.
Cyber safety can be confusing and stressful, particularly as our children know more about the Internet than we do. Journalist Ginger Gorman, speaking at Wesley College’s Monday series of parenting seminars, shared her research on trolls and cyber safety tips.
‘If you’ve ever been trolled, you’ll know it,’ Gorman says, recalling the hateful tweets, personal attacks and even a death threat she received in 2013 from trolls. She was terrified, but once the attacks subsided, she was curious. Who were these trolls?
What are trolls?
Trolling is a spectrum of behaviours with mild pranks at one end and hate crimes – like the Christchurch massacre – at the other. Trolls get a thrill out of causing distress and harm to other people, often strangers, by making vitriolic, negative attacks on their targets online. Contrary to popular belief, trolls are generally highly intelligent adults rather than children and not all hide behind their anonymity. Many were thrilled to be interviewed and later featured in Gorman’s book, Troll Hunting.
Beyond the psychological damage, fear and loss of confidence victims feel, the monetary cost of trolling is a staggering $3.7 billion in medical costs and time off work alone.
Three things you can do as a parent to protect your child, and yourself
Let your child know they can tell you anything
Keep lines of communication open so that your child can seek your support no matter what happens. Older siblings or friends, who your child may approach first, also need to know that they should not to try solve these issues by themselves.
Be involved in your child’s online life – don’t leave them alone online
With so many people using the Internet for work and school, Gorman says that simply taking away devices and banning technology does not work. Instead, she suggests several strategies for being involved in your child’s online life.
- Insist your child use their devices in a common area such as the living room.
- Set age-appropriate rules around online time.
- Activate parental controls on sites such as Facebook.
- Set rules around use of social media, such as setting up accounts for your children and knowing their passwords.
- Join them in online games so you can understand how the games they play work, who is talking to your child and what is being said
Bring kindness back to the Internet
Gorman encourages parents to help children develop online resilience, similar to how you would teach them offline life skills. ‘Kids who are empathetic and kind do not become trolls,’ Gorman notes.
Gorman suggests that you and your child can help others combat trolling behaviour by showing support to anyone who is being attacked. You can send positive emojis or write a comment like ‘ignore them.’ Trolls like to attack people they see as being alone, passive or weak – they will frequently give up if they don’t get the fearful reaction they wanted.
Cyber-safety advice from students
Year 11 Wesley student and cyber-safety advocate Anna Duan provides advice to other children on how to respond to cyber-bullying and other online threats, as well as how to ensure their safety and privacy online. ‘I hope what I’ve been doing [in giving advice] has been of help to peers around me, and I trust that alongside the school emphasis on e-safety, the impacts of cyber-bullying can be attenuated,’ Anna said.
Anna's advice for adolescents
Cyber-safety advice from a student for students
If it is a public forum, never feel afraid to stand up against injustice, but never turn yourself into the aggressor.
If you are the one being bullied, let someone know, and ignore/block the bully. It is easier said than done, but if you try to remain composed, it will both help you cope better and force the bully to withdraw. Being ignored and passive indifference repulse trolls and cyber-bullies.
If you are a witness to cyber-bullying, you must report it. Cyber-bullying isn't any less serious than face-to-face bullying, so people should treat it with the same degree of solemnity. Report it to the school and at eSafety.gov.au
There are many organisations which deal with cyber-bullying or provide support, Anna notes. ‘The most important one that Australian kids should know is www.esafety.gov.au. Not only does it have educational resources, but it can be used to file cases and reports of cyberbullying,’ she says.
It is no longer enough to say ‘stay offline’ to avoid being harassed or trolled, Gorman says. The Internet has become a town square, and just like at Fed Square, it’s a place to meet and have fun, but also a place where we need to stand up for one another.
eSafety’s guide to online bullying for parents and carers includes further practical tips and recommendations for different age groups.
Wesley College's parenting seminars, the Monday Series, are free to attend. Follow Wesley’s social media channels for updates on the next events or see our latest events here.