London, UK

May 2018

Trolling – the targeting of social media users with defamatory and antagonistic messages – has grown alongside the popularity of social media platforms. It takes multiple forms: cyberbullying, cyberhate, cyberstalking, cyberharassment, revenge porn, sextortion, flaming and naming and shaming to name a few. The trolls’ motivations are just as varied. ‘Subcultural trolls’ tend to be motivated by a desire to get kicks, or ‘lulz’ (lots of laughs) and to be indiscriminating in their choice of targets. Then there are those motivated by a cause –often to highlight and oppose what they see as immoral behaviour by public actors such as politicians, corporations, and academics. Others are driven by extreme and intolerant views such as misogyny, Islamophobia, or white supremacist ideologies. And some of these are sponsored, organised groups representing political agents (sometimes even national governments) who use aggressive and defamatory language to counter and harass those who criticise the positions of those agents. Some trolls follow up their online abuse with offline aggression.

The harms suffered by victims of trolls are significant. Studies show that the psychological effects for victims are life damaging. For example, in 2012 in the Netherlands, a 13 year-old girl committed suicide after her name was published on a ‘banga list’, a list of girls identified maliciously by local boys as being sexually promiscuous.

The big question remains how can trolling be stopped and prevented?

  • Where does the responsibility – both legal and moral – for intervention lies.
  • Should social media providers react to online abuse, because it happens on their platforms and because they have the discretion to remove material?
  • Do organic, community-driven counter-trolling actions (such as counter-speech and education and awareness-raising) offer a cheaper, faster, more effective and more responsive approach to trolling than the actions of public authorities?
  • How can LEAs improve their human and technological resources intervene in trolling effectively? And what legal and policy frameworks should be developed to assist and facilitate all actors in playing an effective role in countering trolling?

This workshop is an opportunity to meet with other stakeholders in this area and to discuss these questions further.