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Trolling: A Grimm Online Reality

Guest post by: Deborah Preston

Most of us leave the terror of trolls behind in early childhood, however for many young people ‘trolling’ has become a Grimm reality. The term ‘Troll’ has been resurrected in recent years from the back pages of Grimm’s fairy tales and reinvented as the new name for a particularly virulent and aggressive form of cyber bullying. Trolling is defined as the attempt to humiliate or harm someone online.

As technology has transformed our online lives, the number of ways in which a troll can target their victim has rapidly multiplied, and bullies often use multiple channels and methods to reach their intended audience. Rates of trolling have dramatically increased recently, claiming high profile victims such as swimmer Tom Daley, singer Cher Lloyd. Trolls have made the leap from fairy-tale to reality, and these attacks are often particularly malicious and victims commonly report abuse via email, instant messenger, social networking sites, mobile phones, interactive gaming, and the misuse of their personal details. The anonymity offered by the internet also means the perpetrators often feel uninhibited by normal social restrictions and the digital distance between the bully and the victim makes it far easier for their targets to be dehumanised.

Cyber slander can quickly spiral out of control as it is often difficult to take down negative or offensive material. For instance on social networking sites any photos or videos can often be duplicated and distributed multiple times and thus made available to a potentially unlimited audience, whilst in gaming, trolls can spread false rumours about someone or hack into their account. In these situations trolling can quickly mutate into mobbing as the victim comes prey to group ridicule. The 2011 Norton Online Family Report revealed that 52% 8-17 year olds in the UK have at some point experienced a negative online situation, whilst a further 30% claim to have experienced a serious and negative online situation. An additional 16% of children in the UK think their parents have no idea about their online activities. The signs of cyberbullying are varied and often incredibly difficult to interpret, and it’s not easy for parents to protect their children.

Marian Merritt, Internet Safety Advocate at Norton offers the following advice on how best to ensure your child is protected online: “The most important thing is to ensure bullying is discussed openly in the family. It is essential to make sure your child knows cyberbullying is incredibly common and if they haven’t seen any yet, it’s just a matter of time until they do. Talk about stories you’ve read or seen in the news about nasty emails, embarrassing photos, or personal information that was shared or sent around to other children. Ask about fake social networking profiles. Make sure they know how to react when it does occur. Explain to your child that they should not respond to any email or IM that contains the cyberbullying; they should try to save or print it so they can show someone; they should block it if they know how; and most important always report it to Mum/Dad or another trusted adult.” You can find out more on how to protect your children online in Norton’s Family Resource Pages.