Recently, I read an article about the abuse musician Pink faced after posting a photo of her children’s encounter with a pelican. It was a cute family moment she wanted to share with her followers, however, the trolls came for her because the photo captured her two-year-old son without a diaper.
Though I did not see the original post or the hateful comments – the singer deleted the post within hours of uploading it and replaced it with an updated version in which her son’s lower half was covered up by black scribble – she did address the issues in the updated post. Taking aim at commenters, she said, “Going off about my baby’s penis? About circumcision??? Are you for real?”
“And now I’m turning off the comments and shaking my head at the state of social media and keyboard warriors, and the negativity that you bring to other people’s live,” she wrote.
While it is certainly not the worst thing to happen on social media, it struck a nerve with me. I limit my social media usage and keep my accounts private in large part due to the negativity that comes with the platform – I see no benefit to inviting outrage and hate into my life through my apps.
According to a 2018 article in The New York Times, trolls – defined by Merriam-Webster as someone who antagonizes others online by deliberately posting inflammatory, irrelevant or offensive content – have garnered much of their power, in part, because of the unmoderated comment section. For “resource-strained news publications” comment sections become free-for-all “cesspools of toxic behaviour.” And companies such as Facebook and Twitter, “struggle because they have long portrayed themselves as neutral platforms that do not wish to take on the editorial roles of traditional publishers.”
The effects of trolls and social media are cause for concern. A 2016 study from UK Safer Internet Centre suggested one in four teenagers suffered hate incidents online in 2015. The study called the results a “wake-up call” about the impact of Internet trolling. In the United States, a 2018 study indicated 64 per cent of teenage respondents had encountered some form of hate speech online.
There are many articles outlining just how you should deal with trolls, but a common theme among them is to just ignore the keyboard abuser. Forbes describes the reasoning behind this as such: “Trolls want attention. They want to get you angry, frustrated or uncomfortable. No matter how difficult it might be, simply ignoring a troll could be your best tactic because when they don’t get a response, they’ll most likely go away.”
Ideally, everyone would play nice online, but I fear the trend of negativity has become so ingrained in our culture, we cannot escape it. All we can do it try to be kind ourselves and not let the trolls overwhelm us.