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The idea of trolling on Twitter has been big for most of the year. It was big in the Olympics. Where a ‘troll’ took to Twitter to voice his disgust at an Olympic divers performance, the incident escalated and resulted in the ‘troll’ threatening to drown the swimmer and eventually being arrested. It was big in the AFL when a Carlton Footballer retaliated to a ‘troll’ and was fined for his ‘offensive tweet.’ Most recently (or currently) it has been a big issue in regards to Charlotte Dawson.

Two nights ago Charlotte (who is a judge on Australia’s Next Top Model) among other things, jumped to the defence of Big Brother host Sonia Kruger. It seems that the two don’t just share a love of Botox, but are also good friends. This, seemingly noble gesture to defend a friend sparked a series of events which have really got out of hand. For a full run down of how it unfolded see here and read this.

Alternatively I’ll give you this simple key notes summary. After jumping to the defence of Sonia Kruger a number of ‘trolls’ then turned on Charlotte herself. These ‘trolls’ accused Ms Dawson of being a bully herself, despite being an anti-bullying advocate. Ms Dawson used the popular (and I’m sure agent encouraged) technique of re-tweeting trolls.

Ms Dawson explained her use of this technique in an interview the next day and explained that she felt it made ‘trolls’ aware of the fact that they can be held accountable for their tweets.

Amongst her retaliation Ms Dawson also found the business card of a ‘troll’ who had her business information available on her Twitter account, the ‘troll’ had told Ms Dawson  to “go hang herself” online. In, what I’m assuming was an attempt to unmask the ‘troll’ Ms Dawson rang her and was allegedly met aggressively over the phone. Ms Dawson proceeded to phone the ‘trolls’ employer and inform them of her actions online, the ‘troll’ has since been suspended from their job.

Ms Dawson then also appeared on The Project to talk about cyber-bulling and ‘trolls’ online. This appearance saw her receive an even greater attack by online trolls.

Obviously I feel sorry for her, and don’t condone anyone who uses online communication to viciously vilify or attack someone. Particularly in such a cruel and personal manner. I think Charlotte’s defence of her friend online was noble and her handling of the trolls was done with good intentions. For the most part she was humorous in her replies and she certainly held herself in an admirable manner.

The problem is, as in other cases this year, is she engaged. The idea of holding ‘trolls’ responsible, whilst noble is misguided and one that is only going to lead to escalation. On the most superficial level, re-tweeting a ‘troll’ let’s them know you’ve read it. It gives them the exposure and attention they so obviously desire. On a more alarming level it encourages them and others to engage. Worse still is, inevitably, your fans are going to jump to your defence. This only causes the issue to escalate and that is never going to be good for anyone. When you retweet a troll you are, whether you are conscious of it or not, giving your fans incentive to retaliate on your behalf. Once you do that it’s out of your hands, you have no say in how your fans will respond, and how your troll will respond to that, the only thing that is certain is that the issue will keep on going.

I speak as someone who has been on both sides of the trolling issue, late last year, horrible Australian rapper 360 retweeted a joke I had written about him on twitter (I do say a joke, as I’m a comic and my interactions with celebrities on twitter are harmless fun and don’t involve death threats or personal attacks) . Many of his fans sprang to his defence. Most were attempts at humour or logic and harmless but one follower went to the lengths of searching and contacting me on Facebook to let me know he could find me. Another told me he wished that 360 would give him money to stab me, a confusing idea, but one that none the less showed the risk of the technique of retweeting your trolls.

Equally I have myself had an anonymous troll on twitter who tends to tweet me after any ‘significant’ event I do (comedy festival opening night, first radio interview, first t.v appearance) to tell me how unfunny I am and how I should quit. Obviously that’s very different to being told to hang yourself, but I’ve no idea how it would escalate if I encouraged people to attack the troll, or if I retaliated myself.

The simple way to avoid escalation is to block the trolls. Unfortunately on the internet, as in real life, there are people who are angry, mad, sad individuals, these people can not be reasoned with and so the simple answer is to use the block function. Gang cyber-bullying online is a worrying problem but given what was happening it probably would have been best to give Twitter a miss for a night. It seems harsh to criticize someone who is obviously suffering over this and for all intents and purposes was ‘in the right’ but it’s an important lesson for people going forward I feel.

I don’t think forcing users to use their real names, as is being advocated by some, is a solution. The use of real names has problems of it’s own as evidenced by the guy tracking me down on Facebook. What could have been worse was if the stalky mc stalker and stabey mc stab face had been one and the same.

Further more any legislation about cyber-bullying via twitter could fast get confusing, where is line between humour, criticism and bullying?

At the end of the day if you encourage strangers to commit suicide, either online or in-person, you are an idiot and you should go kill your… wait no that’s no right, but you are an idiot and you should stop. In the meantime if you’re having a hard time with trolls on twitter, perhaps use the block feature rather than encouraging more trolls.

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