The Herald Sun’s decision to close comments is a win for the trolls.

Last week I read The Herald Sun had switched off comments on articles about AFLW stating the measure was taken “because of the constant trolling, harassment and disgraceful commentary by some members of our community.”

I can’t help but think this is a huge mistake and more importantly, hope it doesn’t set a precedent other media follow.

Let me begin by saying an internet troll is a lowlife and basically a person that is offensive as possible while cowering behind a curtain of anonymity. And I absolutely, 100% agree with the sentiments expressed by a number of commentators, including action is needed given women experience harrassment online in numbers far greater than men.

We all think social media should be a good place, but that also assumes everyone using social media will be good people. Given the sheer number of users it ought not to be such a surprise most of us will be trolled sooner or later. And, where significant social change is in play, such as the cosmic shifts in the profile of women’s sport, the trolls are likely to be wrong footed more than ever before.

By shutting down the comments on their posts, The Herald Sun are sending a message the AFLW athletes are snowflakes, less able than their male counterparts to simply shrug off the trolls. Those fans wanting to discuss or provide comment on the game or the athletes are denied the opportunity within what is a legitimate and important forum.

Last month the Bristol Post (UK) responded in a very different way on the very same issue, taking a stance against those trolls who “called for, encouraged or incited people to take physical action” against teenage environmental activist Greta Thunberg. Rather than deleting the posts the Bristol Post published the names and photographs of the trolls and added “those making the suggestions of physical violence were often parents or grandparents themselves.”

In his article “How to Identify and Defeat and Internet Troll” the author, Steve Streight, offers some good pointers including:

1.   Ignore the troll;
2.   Post “don’t feed the trolls”;
3.   Maintain your resolve;
4.   Deliberately misinterpret their statements; and
5.   Praise the troll in a facetious way.

Participation in a forum is a privilege that typically requires registration. Owners of online forums need to step up and accept they are ultimately accountable as the authority granting online access. It’s not rocket science to moderate users.

We have to have faith in the basic premise the mob is better than the trolls. Closing down these forums has let the trolls win

Robert McMurtrie
People Recruitment Group

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