Along with tweeting, liking, posting and producing, trolling has been a very prevalent feature of the Internet in recent years. As it constantly grows more widespread, it brings with it its controversies and legal ramifications. Trolling can be variously defined, but looking at it broadly, it basically consists of posting in an online community something emotionally provocative, offensive, or off-topic to elicit some sort of reaction from other users. While it is usually used to frustrate or poke fun at an overly aggressive or sensitive user, it too often crosses the line into libel, cyber-bullying, or other forms of destructive and illegal speech. Trolling is very much a result of the anonymity of the Internet that leads people to believe they can be truly anonymous on the Internet, and therefore have power to say whatever they want without being accountable for their words. However, this way of thinking is wrong, not only morally, but also legally, and some trolls are starting to face the consequences of their actions in courts.
Before completely dismissing trolling as a malicious, illegal action that should be condemned and outlawed, we should first appreciate its merits. When done correctly, trolling can be used to make a criticism, or serve an educational purpose—such as an educator trolling his students to teach them what trolling is. These kinds of trolling are protected forms of speech, and can be both entertaining and innocuous.
After recent court decisions, it appears that true anonymity on the Internet is coming to an end, and people will be responsible for what they say, unable to hide behind the anonymous cloak of the Internet. The legal system will use its resources to find the identities of lawbreakers, and the law will be applied to speech online the same way it is offline. Still, this does not mean trolling must come to an end. Following a few easy guidelines, trolls can bring trolling back to its old glory without getting sued! A few tips:
- Don’t engage in unprotected forms of speech. A fairly simple rule: just use caution when engaging in defamation, copyright infringement, obscene, actionable, or otherwise unprotected speech. Piece of cake!
- Don’t target an individual. If you’re really set on singling someone out, it’s best to go after a public figure, as criticisms against them are more likely to fall in a legal gray area.
For a full guide, watch this quick, comprehensive video!
While many Internet users will be displeased with the disappearance of anonymity on the Internet, it is worth sacrificing a few laughs to enforce the law and prevent tragedies resulting from trolls going too far. Cyber-bullying is an undeniable issue plaguing the nation during this digital age, and preventing bullies who break the law from hiding behind anonymity will help discourage these acts that many of them would not engage in if people knew they were the ones doing them. Although some may argue this kind of transparency goes against the spirit of the Internet, the Internet was not meant to be a breeding ground for hate and illegal activity. Protecting victims of cyber-bullying, especially vulnerable teens and children whose lives are potentially at risk, should be the main priority. Trolling can still exist, but the distinction between trolling and defamation and cyber-bullying must be explored with great care. Eventually, lack of anonymity will become an accepted facet of the Internet, and this transparency will not hinder the distribution of information that the Internet provides, but rather make it a safer and more harmonious place.