Reflections: Think Before You Tweet!
“The Internet is the first thing that humanity has built that humanity doesn’t understand, the largest experiment in anarchy that we have ever had.” Eric Schmidt
Internet Trolls: Think Before You Tweet
Our Mothers used to say: ‘Think before you Speak’ … add ‘Think before you Tweet’ to the list; better yet, think before you tweet or blog. The cloak of anonymity no longer protects you on the internet. Before August 6 1991, when the World Wide Web/Internet became publicly available, people found other ways to communicate their frustrations or to display inflammatory content. Once we gained access, armed ourselves with smartphones and iPads, and found ourselves spending much of our lives in transit, anarchy set in.
For years, people hid behind twitter handles, fake blog names, and even borrowed pictures. Some used that false sense of safety to fling salvos at each other and to terrorize, bully, and intimidate others. Before 1991, we didn’t have words like Cyber-stalking (adult to adult), Cyber-bullying (youth and adults), electronic aggression, Spamming, and internet trolls as part of our daily speech. Now we do. When we think of horrifying news stories like the death by suicide of Tyler Clementi and other similar cases, we realize that those terms have become ubiquitous; terms like cyber-bullying and cyber-stalking are now a given.
“October is National Bullying Prevention Month: The End of Bullying Begins with Me.” Pacers.org Campaign
Recently, a British woman who had spent the last 4 years sending thousands of angry, even hateful, tweets to Kate and Gerry McCann ( Madeleine McCann’s parents) was exposed by a staff reporter for Sky News. On Saturday, she was found dead at a Marriott hotel in Leicester, UK. The woman, Brenda Leyland, who went by the Twitter name @sweepyface, started tweeting about the McCann’s in December 2010 because she felt others were offering ‘unhelpful and uninspired trolling.’ Over the course of 3+ years, she sent 4,625 messages, most of them about the McCann’s. According to news sources, she sent 2,136 tweets this year and on some days sent out about 50 tweets attacking the McCann’s.
While some people might be outraged that Ms. Leyland was outed and that the media glare might have contributed to her death, others are wondering why the McCann’s didn’t sue or the authorities didn’t put a stop to the extreme level of tweet attacks. What could have triggered such a prolonged attack? How could she have gotten away, for so long, with what is essentially a form of online harassment? Sadly, we might never know as Ms. Leyland has passed away. One thing is clear, this was a classic case of electronic aggression gone wrong.
The problem with hiding behind assumed names on the internet is that it can turn ordinary people into raging aggressors. If the behavior is not halted, it can escalate and become life threatening for both the victim and the oppressor. Ms. Leyland’s story is a cautionary tale, and there are important lessons we can all learn from what happened. For starters, think before you tweet! Perhaps, as has been suggested by some of her defenders, she might have started her tweets as a way to up the ante on the McCann’s and bring more attention to a case that had already gone global. But, with no one to hold her accountable for her actions, it quickly got out of control. Have you or your child been a victim of internet aggression? Have you, at one time, been an internet troll or bully? Why?
“Arguing with anonymous strangers on the Internet is a sucker’s game because they almost always turn out to be—or to be indistinguishable from—self-righteous sixteen-year-olds possessing infinite amounts of free time.” Neal Stephenson
Playtime Trolls: an individual plays a simple, short game. Such trolls are relatively easy to spot because their attack or provocation is fairly blatant, and the persona is fairly two-dimensional.
Tactical Trolls: This is where the troller takes the game more seriously, creates a credible persona to gain confidence of others, and provokes strife in a subtle and invidious way.
Strategic Trolls: A very serious form of game, involving the production of an overall strategy that can take months or years to develop. It can also involve a number of people acting together in order to invade a list.
Domination Trolls: This is where the trollers’ strategy extends to the creation and running of apparently bona-fide mailing lists. NetLingo.com
There was a time when Internet trolls held us hostage by hiding behind the facade of the world wide web; this was before Anonymous started teaching some of them a harsh lesson. It seemed like an impenetrable wall and some took advantage of that wall to commit terrible, vicious, mean acts against others. The veil of anonymity is no longer guaranteed on the internet, and so, we must all be careful about what we say and do; especially when it is abusive to others. The Internet dictionary NetLingo suggests there are four grades of Trolling: playtime trolling, tactical trolling, strategic trolling, and domination trolling. Perhaps you, your child, or someone you know have been exposed to some form of trolling. How did you handle it?
Regardless of the type of trolling you’ve experienced or used against others, it is abusive. In a report, the Centers For Disease Control, CDC , pointed out that incidents of electronic aggression are growing and need to be curtailed. The statistics they shared, (see in collage above), shows that 67% of electronic aggression comes through instant messaging. Because we use that tool quickly, often without thinking, there is the danger of saying the wrong thing. Below are some suggested ways to address it at school and in your home. What can You do? If you are ever a victim of such attacks, don’t remain silent. Report it. Block the perpetrator and make sure that you document the abuse. If you are an abuser, please seek the help of a professional and find other ways to use your time. The days of complete anonymity are over.
What Can We Do? A PDF briefing from the CDC suggests ways schools and parents can work to get a handle on such incidents and reduce the occurrence or negative impact of electronic aggression. Below are some highlights/headings of the suggested ideas on what to do. You can read the PDF above for more details. Have you or your child been a victim of internet aggression? Have you, at one time, been an internet troll or bully? Why? Do share.
Considerations for Educators/Administrators
Explore current bullying prevention policies | Work collaboratively to develop policies | Explore current programs to prevent bullying and youth violence.|
Offer training on electronic aggression for educators and administrators |
Talk to teens | Work with IT and support staff.| Create a positive school atmosphere.| Have a plan in place for what should happen if an incident is brought to the attention of school officials.|
Considerations for Parents/Caregivers.
Talk to your child.| Develop rules | Explore their internet Usage. | Talk with other parents/caregivers | Encourage your school/district to conduct a caregivers classes about electronic aggression | Keep current on Technology
Positive Motivation Tip: Internet aggression can escalate if not kept in check. Be vigilant. Watch your words and your tweets. Stay safe.