Belfast Telegraph

Steps can be taken to curb toxic behaviour online... but you're never going to end it

By Adrian Weckler

The internet and social media has given everyone a voice. Predictably and depressingly, many use that power to try and hurt people.

Trying to draw a definitive line between what constitutes bullying or trolling and legitimate criticism, however robust, is sometimes not easy.

There are times, though, when we can all agree on what is abhorrent.

This includes posting 'revenge porn' images of former partners or blackmailing minors for naked pictures of themselves.

It also includes cases such as the harassment of people by online trolls who make sinister threats.

There are increasingly new and disturbing ways to misuse the web, too.

Over Christmas a man in Kansas lost his life when a spat between two online video gamers went wrong.

The man was shot dead by police when one of the online gamers tried to 'swat' the other, a term used when hoax calls are made to police implicating a target in a supposed crime.

'Doxxing', where a person's home address, private email or phone number are published online by an adversary, is another technique used to intimidate and harass people.

Sometimes it feels like we're in a scary new world where even social media giants do not know what is going to happen, while it remains open season for trolls and bullies.

The big internet and social media companies, understandably, are coming under increasing pressure to improve their systems against trolls. Twitter, which has come in for some of the worst criticism for its difficulties in dealing with trolls, recently beefed up its anti-troll systems.

Its new policies include a rule that users can be banned from the platform even if their non-Twitter activity is deemed to be offensive or dangerous. The company says it will do this through a combination of human monitoring and artificial intelligence.

Facebook, meanwhile, has promised to massively increase the number of human staff it has monitoring dangerous content and offensive behaviour.

But no matter how much the biggest internet services do to constrain the worst of our behaviour online, it seems difficult to see an end to toxic interactions.

Recently, this newspaper's website took the decision to disable all user comments for good.

They were simply getting out of hand, presenting too big a legal difficulty. Other media companies adopt various approaches to this, with some reluctant to do away with user comments for fear it would disrupt part of their business model.

This calculated decision by such companies - put up with ugly remarks that border on defamation, bullying or bigotry to keep a business model going - is a microcosm of the internet.

With great freedom of expression comes 'great' trolling.

Belfast Telegraph

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