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Trolling is abuse, it’s as simple as that


trolling is abuseWe must stop using the term ‘trolling’ to dismiss and excuse online abuse. 

A couple of weeks ago, I had my first experience of what some would call ‘trolling’.

After footballer Adam Johnson was sentenced to six years in prison for sexual activity with a child, I posted a tweet saying that the amount of victim blaming being expressed on Twitter in response to his sentencing was making me want to throw my iPad out of the window.

One man replied ‘Emily, as a man, these teenagers are hard to resist. Meanwhile, don’t throw that iPad, send it to me, baby’.

I chose not to respond, but instead retweeted his comment and posted a photo of the exchange on Facebook, to publicly shame him if you like.

While his tweet was not necessarily abusive, it was an inappropriate and disrespectful thing to say, and made me feel extremely uncomfortable and angry – in particular his calling me ‘baby’.

Most people responding to his remarks expressed a similar level of shock and disgust, but one male friend asked ‘surely this is a troll?’, something which I had, I suppose, expected to be said at some point.

The nature of the internet nowadays, along with the rise of social media, has resulted in an automatic response to offensive comments of labelling the perpetrator ‘a mindless troll’ – something I’m sure most of us can say we have said on at least one occasion.

However, I would argue that the term ‘trolling’ has become problematic and is contributing to the normalisation and downplaying of online abuse, also known as cyber bullying.

A female friend excellently articulated this in response to the above dismissal of the man as a troll by pointing out, ‘there are men who follow tags like ‘Everyday Sexism’ simply to harass the women posting to it over the internet’, and that ‘calling it ‘trolling’ masks what is in fact widespread misogny’.

The internet and social media have unfortunately given a platform to people who enjoy provoking others and get a kick out of arguing and being nasty to people they don’t know from behind the safety and anonymity of a screen, making it more than likely that we will all be subjected to this kind of behaviour at some point.

But those who form a part of oppressed, disadvantaged, and minority groups are far more likely to fall victim to online abuse, and on a much more frequent and severe scale.

This abuse goes far beyond the generic list of name callings, swear words and insults that people throw at each other, and often comes in the form of abhorrent personal attacks as well as violent and twisted threats.

Women, the LGBT+ community, people of colour, and religious groups, are repeatedly targeted online and face extensive levels of misogyny, sexism, and homophobia, racism, and xenophobia and are often they are subjected to this abuse simply because of their identity, or because they dared to engage in social media and use it to express their thoughts and feelings, like everyone else does.

It is easy to dismiss online abuse as trolling when you are not the target and have never experienced the sort of degradation, intimidation and humiliation that victims are subjected to, but to do so is dangerous and unhelpful.

Because it is naïve to think that there is no meaning behind this abuse, that the perpetrators are ‘just’ out to anger and upset people.

Many of us couldn’t even imagine saying such appalling things to someone, so it must take a certain level of conviction for a person to come out with the kind of abuse that we see online, often on more than one occasion and to more than one victim.

I struggle to believe that these people don’t actually hold the horrendous opinions that they express online – such offensive views do not come from nowhere.

And, even if they were nothing more than vacant comments with the sole intent of provoking people, it does not detract from their content or the effect that they have on the people they are directed at.

Sadly, for many faced with online abuse, the harassment, insults and threats that they are subjected to on the internet are nothing new; they face this kind of behaviour in person on a daily basis, so it is all the more frustrating and patronising when they are told to ignore these ‘trolls’ instead of getting worked up about it.

I for one am tired of people belittling and dismissing experiences like the one I recently had on Twitter.

As women, we are frequently made to feel like we are over reacting and getting unnecessarily agitated about minor things.

In reality, it’s not just that one incident that has riled us – it’s everything that we have to put up with day in day out, and that one incident, no matter how insignificant it may seem to an outsider, is just another example of the difficulties we face because of our gender.

I’m sure the same applies for the people who are targeted because of their race, sexuality or religion.

Abuse is abuse, no matter who the perpetrator is or what their motives are.

We will never fully eradicate it, but to have any chance of combatting it we must take a stand together in recognising it for what it is, calling the perpetrators out, and standing up for each other.

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