Note: This is Part One of a three-part series discussing how to keep kids safe on the Internet.
As parents, we are always concerned about keeping our children safe. We are constantly thinking about where they go and who they spend time with. The Internet is no exception. As children get older and begin to use technology, the web can be a dangerous place if they don’t know how to tread safely. And just like in real life, there are those out there that want nothing more than to hurt others. In order to arm ourselves and our kids against them in this virtual wild west, we need to recognize the major potential threats online. There are three main types of “baddies” on the net: trolls, bullies, and predators. I will be discussing each in detail separately. Let’s start with Internet trolls.
Trolls are considered the more innocuous of the Internet baddies, however, they can also be the most annoying. They can show up just about anywhere- website forums, message boards, Facebook, Twitter- anywhere. Their attacks are not personal, though things might get personal if they succeed in starting a flame war. The troll’s main purpose is simply to scour the net and find ways to get a rise out of people. All they really do is complain and exhibit negative behavior, as publicly as possible. In short, they’re people who are just looking for trouble. It’s always easy to be brave when behind a computer screen alone in your room. The following quote from the movie The Social Network sums it up:
“You write your snide bullshit from a dark room because that’s what the angry do nowadays. I was nice to you, don’t torture me for it.”
Trolls are relatively easy to deal with, depending on your tolerance level for BS. It’s best to simply ignore them. As the saying goes, “Don’t feed the trolls.” Engaging them in any conversation, including refuting their arguments, will only incite them further. If you must respond to a troll, don’t get involved in the argument; limit your comment to pointing out that their posting may be considered as trollish. In short, call them out as a troll. Most social networks have a way of blocking particular users. Facebook and Twitter both have this feature. Also, some users have created their own tools for dealing with trolls. For instance, users on the Ain’t It Cool News talkback forums have created a script that can automatically hide certain people’s postings and comments. If someone is consistently bothering you or your children, I suggest you alert whoever runs the website or moderates that particular forum. Chances are that this troll has had complaints before, and this would increase the likelihood of getting them banned from the site or forum completely.
The Social Network did a good job of showing what it’s like to be a victim of trollish behavior:
“It didn’t stop you from writing it. As if every thought that tumbles through your head was so clever it would be a crime for it not to be shared. The Internet’s not written in pencil, Mark, it’s written in ink. And you published that Erica Albright was a bitch, right before you made some ignorant crack about my family’s name, my bra size, and then rated women based on their hotness.”
Although this is all mainly common sense, it is important to remember that kids just learning to navigate technology will not be as web-savvy as we are. Being an extension of society, the Internet contains basically the same behaviors and tendencies that we see everyday in the real world. Unfortunately, this includes bad behavior as well. We don’t want to admit it, but it’s a fact of our new digital age– there will always be trolls. Knowing how to deal with them is the trick to having a safe and stress-free time on the web.
Are trolls bringing you or your kids down? What do you feel is the best way to deal with trolls?