A recent interesting question was posed by Hootsuite on Twitter:
Do you wish you had social media when you were at school?
As you can see, my immediate response was negative. As much as social media is part of our lives today, there is a harsh reality that we also have to deal with possibly receiving negative and unwanted attention. I, for one, would probably not have enjoyed social media during my high school years. My experience was not a good one, thanks to the offline version of trolls.
According to Wikipedia:
In Internet slang, a troll (/ˈtroʊl/, /ˈtrɒl/) is a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a newsgroup, forum, chat room, or blog) with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.
This sense of the word troll and its associated verb trolling are associated with Internet discourse, but have been used more widely. Media attention in recent years has equated trolling with online harassment. For example, mass media has used troll to describe "a person who defaces Internet tribute sites with the aim of causing grief to families."
Teens today are still eager for attention, using social media to broadcasting everything they do, think and feel to friends, family and sometimes even strangers. These actions may lead to others posting or commenting - publicly and negatively - to hurt, upset and entice a reaction from you or your teen.
Every parents' nightmare - their child being harassed in the public domain. So how do you deal with it when you suspect you or your child is being harassed online? Where do you draw the line? When is a troll, just a troll; and when are they sharing a valid alternative view? When the responses use vulgar language or imagery? When does trolling becoming harassment?
And more importantly, when and how does one respond to a troll?
Avoidance is the best policy
When I was still at school I remember one piece of advice my parents had on bullying: "Ignore them and they will go away." Trolls are essentially bullies and thrive on attention. So yes, your first reaction should be to totally ignore remarks left by trolls. If their comments are ignored, it's likely that they will eventually stop harassing you.
If ignoring them doesn't deter them and you see a trend developing, inform your friends and family about the troll and what happening. Ask them to support you by not responding to the troll's comments or posts.
Unmask your troll
Trolls can only act if they are anonymous. However, they're usually not too careful about hiding their identity and with a little investigating one can quickly unmask them. As soon as you identify them, they will go hide under their bridge again.
If the troll however continues to post hurtful or upsetting comments on your Facebook wall, or Instagram page, turn to the site administrator. All social media platforms has the ability to block or mute users and report them as abusive. Posts and comments can usually also be deleted.
When trolling becomes harassment
I read a recently published by eNCA which says that the Protection of Harassment Act, which came into operation on 27 April 2014, may be the answer to protecting teens and youth from bullying and sexual harassment on social media platforms.
The following would qualify as harassment on social media:
For this act to be effective parents must educate their teens on their rights which are protected by the act. In theory, if a person is a victim of harassment, they must apply for a protection order from the clerk of a court, which will then be issued to the accused harasser. If the person contravenes the order they will be deemed guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to a fine or imprisonment for a period not exceeding five years.
So, be careful who you share personal information with, be responsible in what you share online and know you rights - and those of your teens.