Internet Trolls – Should We All Become Online Police?

Last night I watched the Tonight programme on Fear and Loathing Online. 

I was left dumbstruck by the cold and callous attitude of the Internet troll who insisted it was his God-given right in free speech to make the lives of others a misery online. Never have I experienced anyone so calculating and animalistic since I last prosecuted a paedophile for breach of prison licence almost 20 years ago - and got him sent back inside for being a danger to the public.

This Internet troll was no different. Like a paedophile, his mind was conditioned to believe that the acts he carried out were just normal behaviour. There was even detached pride that his wife and children had received numerous death threats. Nothing would deter him from his malevolent mission. He even differentiated between 'cyber bulling' and 'trolling' - the first being illegal the second not. He was a sad, pathetic inhuman being who championed the ideals of free speech so much that he wouldn't even show his face on television.

According to several victims interviewed on the programme (all of whom, incidentally, were brave enough to show their faces) the Police and Facebook didn't want to know about trolling attacks. The simple problem is that the Police are under resourced to deal with the massive tide of abuse taking place online. And Internet companies like Facebook do appear to be arrogant and complacent about what's taking place in their own back yards. How the mighty might fall if public opinion turns against them. No-one is indispensable, including the great Facebook.

Dealing with the Internet troll


The programme got me thinking about how to deal with these idoits. The authorities tell us that vigilantism is wrong and they push out information comparing it to mob rule. Yet the real scandal is that regulators are finding it increasingly difficult to bring offenders to justice. How does a British court deal with an Internet troll based in the United States, for example? Sure, we have extradition treaties to bring perpetrators to justice. But such cases can often taken years of legal wrangling and delaying tactics before they are brought before a local court. What untold damage is done to the victim in the meantime?

Policing role of ISPs

The authorities are quite prepared to order Internet Service Providers to police the Internet on their behalf, as we've seen with UK legislation such as the Digital Economy Act and the 'Data Retention' Regulations. But if we all police the Internet and take matters into our own hands we are then accused of being vigilantes - even if laws have not been broken.

The rule of law is one thing, democratic right another. We know from bitter experience that governments can interpret both concepts however they want. Yet, the Internet and social media has completely changed the traditional idea of government control. Suddenly, governments cannot do and get away with things they once did. Cue the recent Arab Springs. We also have strange situations where using an old establishment tactic to shut someone up by accusing them of serious offences has resulted in PR disaster with the perpetrators staying holed up in foreign embassies in London.

Give them a lovely time!

I say bombard the Internet troll's account with lovely sounds and pictures: flowers, fairies, and harmonious music. Just like the Harmony Hut in Addams Family Values no self-respecting Internet troll would want a deluge of anything nice in their activity streams. They'd lose their street cred straight away and it would show that we're really not interested in their pathetic little stunts.