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Fortune magazine recently ran an article titled “Bullies and Trolls” but they aren’t the first to write about how the web continues to be taken over by attention-mongers and hate groups. Time magazine also had an entire feature on the subject and it seems it isn’t enough that we have lost any hope of personal privacy due to the continued selling of our data by social media, insurance companies, schools, government entities, apps and phone carriers, now we have to put up with being mocked, threatened and sometimes terrorized by people and groups we don’t know, and don’t want to know.
Celebrities aren’t the only ones plagued by online bullies, many “ordinary” people have been victimized. It’s hard to believe, but even the memorialized Facebook pages of deceased users have been mocked by these repulsive individuals.
The notion that our data was going into a pool where we were tracked only by our likes and dislikes has rapidly disintegrated. WhatsApp, for example, is connecting your phone number with Facebook’s systems so Facebook can offer “better friend suggestions”. Not too surprisingly, this new “feature” has raised fears of more personal harassment.
Post something controversial on Twitter and be prepared to receive an onslaught of attacks, and if you are a woman they are likely to be sexist threats. Norton found that 76% of women under 30 had experienced abuse or harassment online, and in some cases posts have become so nasty that reporters and celebrities are discontinuing their use of Twitter.
There is also doxxing, where hackers publish personal data, such as financial information, your address, pictures, even your social security number. We have all read of movie stars and politicians being “doxed”, sometimes the information is accurate but many times it is questionable.
The University of Manitoba did a study and concluded that internet trolls — people who commonly lurk on message boards and post offensive material to get a rise out of people — exhibit anti-social behavior in their offline settings as well. Backing up this theory is a study that found that internet trolls scored high in narcissism, psychopathy and sadism.
Is this what we want our IoT to be? A place where we have to avoid spirited discussion because we are afraid of online harassment? Do we want to surrender the IoT to bullies that can hide behind the anonymous curtain of fictitious identities and post vicious threats? Expressing a point of view that doesn’t necessary coincide with others is part of our free speech protection in America. However, trolls single out individuals or groups and post their invective against them based on religion, politics, gender, books or articles they have written, their profession, or their culture–and do this to the point where victims often feel their lives are threatened.
So what to do? First of all DO NOT stop expressing your opinions but if one of these trolls tries to engage you in an online battle, ignore them (as difficult as this may be). Remember they are trying to get a rise out of you so they can continue with their online badgering and knowing they have struck a nerve is exactly the reaction they want. Secondly, no matter how much you disagree with someone, be civil if you feel you must personally post a rebuttal or a different opinion.
Some social media users are even trying to flood the victims of abuse with kindness as in what occurred to the body-shaming attacks on Gabby Douglas during the Olympics. Let’s remember that only we can bring back civility to the Internet of Everything and insure that it remains an open forum where people can express their views without fear of reprisals.