A misunderstood form of cyberbullying on the loose

Trolling is a growing epidemic, stemming from the desire of Internet users, mainly teens, to feed off their victim’s perceived lack of intelligence and embarrassment. Unlike bullying or cyberstalking, its potential danger to teens’ emotional and psychological development has been largely understated. However, the attitude towards trolling has begun to change in recent times. Renowned psychologist and TV personality Dr. Phil, as well as Parry Aftab, a leading expert in cyber-law, and founder and Executive of WiredSafety.org, have identified trolling as a form of cyberbullying on social networking sites, forums, games, and other online platforms. There has been a divided reaction to their take on the threat, with some people, mostly teenagers, calling trolling a harmless activity.

The case for trolling as form of cyberbullying

The recognition of trolling as a form of social media bullying is heavily based on its theme, which is very similar to that of cyberbullying. Merriam-Webster defines cyberbullying as “the electronic posting of mean-spirited messages about a person (as a student) often done anonymously." Unfortunately, that is precisely what trolling comprises of. It typically involves the perpetrator ridiculing the victim, or victims, on social media, abusing them, and making them look dim. Parry has described the behavior as “Revenge of the Nerds” bullying, which typically involves anonymous attacks made by young or weak teens that are good with technology. Dr. Phil, on the other hand, described the act of trolling as sick in one of his shows, which was around a girl who had died in an accident. Pictures of her dead body were leaked to the Internet, where trolls made sick and inhumane comments about her, adding to the family of the deceased girl’s torment.

Why trolling is treated differently than cyberbullying by some

Trolling is treated differently than cyberbullying and not thought to be that big a deal by some people, majority of whom are still passing through their adolescent years, for various reasons. They argue that the intent and motives behind trolling and cyberbullying differs. According to them, trolls are simply looking to make people laugh and are quite harmless, whereas the aim of cyberbullies is to inflict hurt to their victims. Some even justify trolling by considering it a way to teach kids to become smarter and start thinking for themselves so that they can stand up for themselves in the real world.

How teens can deal with trolls on social media

It’s important for parents to realize trolling as a significant threat to their teens’ online safety. Once they recognize the threat, they need to teach their kids ways to deal with trolls. Emotional and impulsive as they are, teens should be encouraged to ignore trolls and their posting irrespective of how provocative they are. Reaction of the victim is exactly what the perpetrators feed off. Depriving them of the pleasure will leave them bored and low on motivation to continue with their attacks. Kids may also be advised to report the trolls to the site owner or moderating them. Furthermore, they should be discouraged from visiting sites, blogs, and forums where the probability of getting trolled is high. Social media platforms offering anonymity are one example of such red zones.

Recognizing cyberbullying as a multi-dimensional threat is important for effectively confronting it. By underrating one or more of its aspects such as trolling, efforts to curb it are highly likely to miss the mark and contribute very little to the online safety of teens.

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