13 Mar 2013

How do you beat the trolls without the boxing gloves?

Boxer Curtis Woodhouse has tackled his internet troll by turning up at his home and threatening to give him “a right pasting” – but what action can you take if you don’t want to don the boxing gloves?

Curtis Woodhouse battled his troll through direct confrontation, but other methods are perhaps safer (pictures: Getty)

Woodhouse, the former footballer turned light welterweight boxer, offered a £1,000 reward for the location of his online tormentor, after a Twitter user called him a “complete disgrace” and a “laughable joke” for losing a boxing title.

With the information provided to him, Woodhouse then drove to the street the “troll” lived on in order to confront him. Woodhouse eventually tweeted that the “troll” had failed to show up, and left.

These trolls can turn into real life trolls – Dr Arthur Cassidy

His efforts have received praise on line from a host of sports starts, including Joey Barton and Lennox Lewis.

Woodhouse is the latest high profile case of a famous person suffering at the hands of the “trolls”. Other high profile names have included Team GB Olympic diver Tom Daley, and former Conservative MP Louise Mensch.

Another example of confrontation was the case of Leo Traynor, who had received posts calling him a “dirty f****** Jewish scumbag” and threatening members of his family. Mr Traynor located the “troll” through his IP address, and discovered his tormentor was his friend’s son.

Mr Traynor described on his blog how he confronted the boy, who then broke down in tears and said “It was like a game thing”.

However, Dr Arthur Cassidy, media psychologist and trolling expert for Knowthenet.org.uk says finding and confronting a troll is inherently dangerous.

“You have no idea whether or not this guy is a dangerous criminal, he may very well be,” he said. “These trolls can turn into real life trolls and that is highly dangerous.

“These are people who display high levels of intense aggression on line. They have the potential to engage in high risk and dangerous activities.”

So how can you tackle a troll?

Don’t go one-on-one with a troll

Trolls pray on the vulnerable – people who are not internet savvy, and not confident on social forums. The aim, according to Dr Cassidy, is to extract an emotional response.

“The first thing is not to give in to the troll. Get up. Go away from your machine and calm down. Then think through what is happening here.

“It would also be a good idea to tell a confidante or someone who can support you.”

He described the activities of trolls as trying to engage in “psychological warfare” with other users.

Don’t feed the troll

“Trolls tend to have low self-esteem. They have this motivation to get a response from these online communities. They feed off the emotional pay off. Some get a sense of empowerment from creating a response,” says Dr Cassidy.

Trolling is a curse sweeping the country at the moment – Dr Arthur Cassidy

The best thing to do therefore? Ignore the advances of a troll and hope that, without the emotional food, the troll will give up.

Dr Cassidy also advises becoming more confident in your abilities on the internet, and making sure you understand the ways in which social networks work.

Block the troll

Social media networks such as Twitter, Facebook and Youtube all have methods by which you can block and report users for abusive content, which can be found here: Facebook, Twitter, Youtube.

However, users should be aware that trolls can be deceptive and strategic.

“They can switch identities, change their startegies, change their machinery. Trolls are often treating their trolling like a business.” He also warned that groups of trolls can come together to share strategies.

Dr Cassidy also said that, until the major social networks come up with a united method of “protecting the user”, trolls will be able to implement their strategies.

“This is something that needs to be tabled in the House (of Commons)” he said. “Trolling is a curse sweeping the country at the moment”.

Call in the troll-catchers

Rather than vigilantism, Dr Cassidy says it is far more advisable to call in the police if you are being targeted with malicious remarks. He added that three or four posts can be enough to cause clinical depression in a victim.

Director of public prosecutions Kier Starmer has recently updated his guidance on prosecutions for cyber crime. That advice states that “the approach we have taken is to distinguish between two broad categories of case.

“In the first category are messages or communications that amount to credible threats to the individual or to property, or amount to campaigns of harassment against an individual, or breach court orders. That category of case will be prosecuted robustly.”

The second category includes behaviour that could be abusive or controversial, but which nevertheless could attract freedom of speech protection. Those cases, Starmer says, there will be a “high threshold of prosecution”.