Blogging and Online Harassment

Miglo was considering that it might be timely to repost this topic from June 2010.

This week’s blogging topic had intended to be Citizen Journalism, but I stumbled upon another aspect of blogging that bloggers generally need to be aware of: Harassment.

The internet offers unprecedented ways for people to interact.  Social networking sites, in particular blogs, have made it as easy for us to interact with someone the other side of the planet, or simply even someone down the street.

However, as wonderful a technology as blogging is, some of the blogs posted on the information highway are often harmful.

Some people, including myself, have come under attack by bloggers who freely say hateful and false things and encourage other people to follow suit, even though we are complete strangers in every sense of the word.

The blogging word for these types of bloggers is trolls.

Anyone who blogs needs to be aware that trolls – especially those that enjoy online harassment – are out there.  In my years of blogging, thankfully, I have only encountered trolls on rare occasions and despite their behaviour, they have not deterred me from the blogging experience.  But they can still pose quite a threat, as is being reported in the United States, where profiles of a troll have been developed and distributed throughout the blogging community.

It is important for bloggers to understand the psychological makeup of trolls so that if they encounter online abuse, they’ll have some idea of what they’re facing and how they should respond to it.

According to the Computer World article by Mary Brandel, linked here, they are characterised by having an excess of free time and are probably lonely and attention seekers who often see their own self-worth in relation to how much reaction they can provoke.  There are three types of blog trolls which Brandel says are:

  1. The Flamer: Does not contribute to the group except by making inflammatory comments.
  2. The Hit-and-runner: Stops in, make one or two posts and move on.
  3. Psycho trolls: Has a psychological need to feel good by making others feel bad.

OK, so what can we do about them?  If you are unfortunate enough to be in the sights of a troll, Brandel suggests

  1. Know the trolls’ tactics. The first rule for dealing with trolls is to avoid being deceived by them in the first place.
  2. DFTT.  Don’t feed the trolls.  Under no circumstances should you acknowledge the behaviour or repay it with anger or defensiveness. If you don’t react, they’ll get bored and go away.
  3. Maintain your privacy. Don’t publish any personal information, such as your address or phone number.
  4. Block and ban. If you’re experiencing abuse on a moderated blog, you can appeal to the administrator, who can try banning the troll.
  5. Keep a log. Be sure to keep a copy of anything you receive from the harasser.

Brandel’s informative and highly recommended article concludes with:

Above all, when you have an online presence, you need to prepare yourself for the possibility of becoming a target.  Just like in the real world, you need to realise which dark alleys you shouldn’t enter at night, and if you do, have protection and know what you should do when.  You’re very vulnerable as a blogger.  You’re out there hanging on the line, and anyone can take a shot at you.

Very sobering indeed!  But let’s still enjoy ourselves.

Postscript from Min:

The law pertaining to Online Harassment can include:

Defamation

5. Any imputation concerning any person, or any member of his family, whether living or dead, by which the reputation of that person is likely to be injured, or by which he is likely to be injured in his profession or trade, or by which other persons are likely to be induced to shun or avoid or ridicule or despise him, is called defamatory, and the matter of the imputation is called defamatory matter.

Equally unlawful are the acts of Stalking and Intimidation:

Section 562AB of the Crimes Act provides that it is an offence to stalk or intimidate another person:

A person who stalks or intimidates another person with the intention of causing the person to fear physical or mental harm is liable to imprisonment for 5 years, or to a fine of 50 penalty units, or both.*1 .

9 comments on “Blogging and Online Harassment

  1. Much as I would like to comment freely on this, there is some bridge building going on I’d rather not disturb. Suffice to say that this is a subject I am familiar with 🙂

  2. If i didnt read your comment Ben i probably would of put my foot in it. Its equally disturbing when watching it happening to people you respect. Its not weakness to to turn your back on trolls but a strength to resist.

    Well things may just go smooth for a while between the two sites and lets hope it stays that way.

  3. I’ve often seen the word ‘troll’ used in blogs but I never exactly knew what they were. I haven’t seen anything too bad but as you say, they must be out there.

  4. Sorry, Ben, but as I’m sure you know, I prefer to confront issues 😉 …

    … gets ’em out of the way and we can move on … don’t want nasty outcomes being repeated if we can openly discuss and avoid them …

    My understanding of a “troll” is someone who sits off and occasionally snipes at one or two people …

    … they don’t post on a regular basis coming back to different blogs at irregular times with no contribution to a thread topic, other than to stir up the (usually) regular posters with outrageous statements and looking for a retort to play with … a common cry to protect those being targeted is … “don’t feed the trolls”

    There are “harrassers” of course, those posters who are/have been regular contributing posters who suddenly take offence at someone over a comment … and make outrageous, vilifying or cruel statements and then often don’t know how to smooth the waters …

    Rather than trying to sort out the disagreement/misunderstanding they chosse to continually escalate the situation with disparaging comments …

    … this creates a dilemma for regular posters who can either be polarised by the conflict (often continued by just one person) and choose sides or the regulars simply stop posting for a number of reasons … eg:

    … they may have some respect for both posters…

    … they don’t want to become a target themselves …

    … they expect the “owner” of the blog to supervise contributors …

    … personal conflict is something they avoid …

    Its amazing how many people have trouble with a simple word like, “sorry” …

  5. Sorry, Ben, but as I’m sure you know, I prefer to confront issues

    No need to apologise to me, mate 🙂

    I’m simply not going to speak freely myself and be the target of someone’s ire on the subject. I get myself into enough trouble with my opinions on politics, no need to add my opinion of particular posters as fuel to the fire!

  6. Miglo,

    Having read TB Qld’s and B’s comments I’m getting brave and posting this. (Hope it’s not disturbing some inter-blog war/peace interaction).

    Sorry this is long but it’s an important subject. Thanks for raising it.

    IMHO, the most important piece of info you impart here (something I’ve said elsewhere) is IGNORE the trolls. Never reward bad behaviour. Never encourage ‘hate and lies’ by feeding it.

    You need a reasonably thick skin to be a political blogger, no doubt about that. But it’s also ‘sticks and stones’ stuff. If you choose to stick your neck out and take a clear and unequivocal political stance on something, in a public online forum, you have to expect nutters and those with opposing views to appear. If the site is moderated prior to comments being posted you run the risk of accusations of censorship. If you don’t you have to live with what comes in and simply delete libellous and defamatory comments for sound legal reasons. That’s if you control the site. If you don’t, if you are purely a commentator on another site, you must live with it, ignore it or don’t post.

    There is no ethical standard for blogs; no Code of Conduct. It’s a free for all. Looking at what’s tolerated on MSM and ABC at present – even in moderated sites – is like looking into the abyss. That so much gutter-level/sewer-level invective is published (read encouraged) for the sake of sensationalism and nothing else – certainly not ‘balance’ or ‘representative opinion’ – is profoundly depressing.

    It comes back to an editorial policy at the top of the blog site. Whether they have one or not, the nature of it and how it is applied.

    If I fantasised about having a blog site (Never!) it would be moderated. Not to screen out those with opposing ideologies but to screen out the nutters, the trolls, the foul-mouthed, those with hate agendas and so forth.

    Intelligent debate is a wonderful thing. So thanks for the opportunity to participate.

  7. Hi Sally,

    What a great comment from you.

    This site is not moderated because we consider that the regular posters are intelligent and mature enough to know what should and should not be divulged in a public forum.

    We have our measures to block known trolls, who I imagine are probably reading this post.

    Everybody is entitled to form and express an opinion and argue a case in support of their opinions. There will always be someone who doesn’t agree with that opinion and respond accordingly.

    Nothing can be worse than to have your opinions challenged in the public domain. But neither do we encourage head-nodding as a response to every post.

    Personally, I like to see opinions challenged, but not for the sake of an argument, which is a tactic favoured by the trolls.

    If the challenge is legitimate and evidence to counter the original post is discussed, then IMO a blog site is the best arena to lay down the challenge.

    BTW, you’ll know a troll if you ever come across one.

    Cheers,

    Migs.

  8. It’s an unfortunate part of blogging but glad you’ve reminded us all about it again Miglo, even more so when you’re talking politics in my humble opinion.

    Since having the Internet, battling trolls has been a relative sport for me. I enjoy pressing their buttons and watch them fly off the handle, while incorporating their latest conspiracy theory. Although it can be a drag after a while and then I employ some of the tactics you suggested. The one tactic that works best for me is to just ignore them – don’t feed the trolls!!

    Thanks for highlighting the issue for us bloggers and some of the things we can do to beat back the trolls.

  9. Hi Alex, nice to see your here.

    I don’t mind a good stoush either as long as it doesn’t get too personal, which is something that the serial trolls find too hard to avoid.

    All the blogmasters I know are doing their best to stamp out trolls and it makes the blogosphere a much more pleasant and productive place to be.

    On a different subject, perhaps you would do us the pleasure of linking your Blogging blog under this thread for the Café folk to read. We have one regular visitor who needs to learn some manners. 😉

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