Thousands of Australians are being targeted by faceless and anonymous online trolls every day.
- Online bullying victims say laws need to change so social media companies can be held liable
- Anti-cyberbullying campaigner Ginger Gorman says current laws are “not specific enough” to target trolling
- Victim Pascal Grosvernor says trolls have threatened to silence him
And they are just not children. They include adults who are bullied for trying to express what most people might think are moderate views on anything from refugee policy to the rollout of the NBN.
“I will say we can stop this. It’s just about whether there’s a political will to do it,” journalist and anti-cyberbullying campaigner Ginger Gorman said.
She has personally felt the sting of cyberbullying.
“My family and I became the victims of an orchestrated online hate campaign that was international,” she said.
“We had death threats against us — our photos were found on a Nazi website — and it was terrifying.”
Ms Gorman recently gave evidence to a Senate committee investigating cyberbullying and changes to the crimes act.
Ginger Gorman says victims should have a way to sue social media companies. (Facebook: Ginger Gorman (By: Richard Tuffin))
She argued laws needed to change so social media companies were liable for cyber hate.
“First of all, individuals need a clear way to sue [the perpetrators and the social media companies],” Ms Gorman said.
“Second of all, the social media companies must be liable for cyber hate, and if they were, we would see a radical change in their behaviour.
“And thirdly, we need an amendment to the criminal code act.
“There is some stuff in there about using a carriage service to menace and harass another person but it’s not specific enough to trolling.”
The ABC reached out to Twitter to find out what it is doing to protect its users from bullying, but did not receive a response.
Advice for avoiding cyberbullies and trolls online
Cyber security expert Nigel Phair said there were several avenues social media users could take to shield themselves from online bullies.
“It’s really important not to reply to them and get caught up in the conversation,” Mr Phair said.
“While you’re being victimised, the last thing you want to do is exacerbate their activity.
“Secondly, if it continues, it’s important to block the users from the social media application you’re using.
“And thirdly, if it all gets too much, reduce your screen time.”
Chilling out offline though seems easier for some than others, especially for journalists like Ms Gorman.
“For most of us the internet is not optional, and in fact it’s a type of victim blaming asking people who are being bullied online ‘why they are online’?” Ms Gorman said.
“It’s like saying someone who’s sexually assaulted walking down the street ‘why were you walking down that street?’
“I have to be online for my work, as do many other Australians who get attached online.”
Victims call for new laws as fight turns nasty
Victims of cyber hate, including Pascal Grosvenor, are now calling for new laws to protect them from online predators.
Pascal Grosvenor has become the target of vicious online threats. (Supplied: Pascal Grosvenor)
Mr Grosvenor regularly shares his political views online, but it has come at a cost — with tweets fired off by some of his ideological opponents.
“[One troll] tweeted ‘Pascal your wife might actually enjoy some real male company from one of our secret society members who lives in the Blue Mountains’,” Mr Grosvenor said.
“It’s just nasty. I don’t understand the need to say that to someone. I haven’t actually told my wife about it — I didn’t want to worry her about it.”
Mr Grosvenor said he did not believe his views were extreme.
Mr Grosvenor says he is being targeted by a particular group of trolls online.
He is known in social media circles for supporting refugees and criticising the rollout of the National Broadband Network.
“It’s a good chance to sort of discuss politics and things as well because I am a bit of a politics junkie,” Mr Grosvenor said.
But it has made him the target of trolls.
He showed the ABC one tweet which read “Pascal is trying to call my bluff … I have all his details including his photos and bank details”.
Mr Grosvenor said he just wanted to feel safe to speak his mind.
“I guess it sort of comes back to I feel like these people are attempting to bully me or silence me from speaking on particular issues, and that really gets to me and annoys me,” he said.
“I don’t think they should be able to get away with that sort of bullying.”