An Australasian TV personality has become one of the latest victims of flame trolling on Twitter.
Charlotte Dawson was targeted by anonymous flame trollers, known as cyber trolls in Australia and New Zealand and also Masked Snerts in academia.
The flame trollers set up on Dawson, with vile comments that she felt she could do nothing about. “It just triggered that feeling of helplessness when the trolls got to me,” she said, “They got the better of me and they won.”
Jonathan Bishop, who is an Internet trolling expert and former politician said when one is in the public eye you quickly need to develop coping skills, “I had no end of things said about me when in public life,” he said. “You have to learn to enjoy the attention from trollers as much as they do, and then develop strategies.”
Bishop used to use an online community called Pontypridd Town, and statements like “is this man fit to be town councillor,” were even posted by other public figures, in this case Karen Roberts, who was the Chair of the Pontypridd Liberal Democrats.
Dawson agrees, but still has reservations, “You do have to have a thick skin and you do understand that no matter what you do,” she said. “Even if you’re Mother Teresa, people are still going to hate you just because they think you’re ugly or they don’t like the sound of your voice,” she said.
Bishop says that while blocking can be effective at stopping abuse, one should consider “feeding the trolls” by playing them at their own game. “You are not going to catch out a troll calling you an idiot by flaming them back,” he said. “They only feel they have won by getting a rise out of you.”
Dawson and Bishop as public figures have regular bouts of helplessness and suicidal ideation, “If people are wanting you to kill yourself and you are somebody who has previously tried to end your life it’s very, very easy to feel like that’s exactly what you want to do,” Dawson said. Some hardened trolls like junior biology lecturer Paul Myers (also known as PZ Myers) actually encourage their website users to target those at risk of suicide, and often the victims of these sick miscreants are powerless to do anything. Bishop was once of Myers’s targets simply for calling himself a polymath.
Bishop currently runs a course on ‘Becoming a Better Troll’ and ‘Internet Safety Awareness’ at the Crocels Trolling Academy. The courses provide opportunities for people to develop strategies and tactics for both not “feeding the troll” to avoid conflict and also “feeding the troll” in order to get the upper hand. He has found that Twitter can be the best place to get the upper hand against trollers because the trolls can be replied to individually with different tactics in a way that forums or chatrooms don’t allow.