Last year, the Foundation launched a campaign for a #TrollFreeFuture. Fittingly, a year later we are celebrating Cyber Security Awareness month. This past year I have had the pleasure of working with the Foundation to think about how we can tackle some of the biggest challenges in the online harms arena, including online trolling and harrassment. We have realised, combatting these harms involves the action of several institutions. Governments, social media companies, the police force, and others have a duty to protect online users. Victims should not feel as though they have the sole responsibility for protecting themselves from trolls.
So what can society and its various sectors do to increase cyber security and help create a #TrollFreeFuture?
Laws were created before the digital era and thus need to be updated and expanded to provide protections against those who use the internet in harmful ways. Various countries around the world are drafting legislation to improve online safety, including the UK and their Online Safety Bill. Laws need to be updated to cover the current state of the digital world, as well as prepare for future advances (e.g., the metaverse). We know from past research that harmful individuals harness new technologies to take advantage of such systems and spread harmful narratives. We should be prepared for this and create technology that is safe by design. As technology and social media evolve, we need to make sure the new and emerging technologies put safety at the heart of their design
Social media companies have a responsibility to keep their users safe online. They can increase their ability to do so by improving their safety measures. Companies should be held accountable for what happens on their websites and the types of content they promote and allow to be distributed. When harassment and trolling does occur on their websites, victims should be able to report the incident and be kept in the loop on what happens with the report, why the outcome was decided, and to be involved in the decision of what type of action should be taken. As social media and technology companies expand their products, these sectors should be creating products with safety in mind.
While the main response should not be telling victims to simply safeguard themselves online, there are nevertheless steps individuals can take to try to limit the power trolls have to target and harass them. One step is limiting who can interact with you online. This can be done by monitoring who follows your social media accounts and who you “friend” on social media. If individuals you would not like to have access to your content follow or friend you, you can block them. Moreover, you can change your settings on some social media websites to control who can comment on your content and who can send you messages.
If you receive unwanted comments and messages, you can block the person(s). Additionally, if the messages or comments include illegal content such as harrassment, then you can report the individual to the social media company and in some cases to law enforcement. When doing this, it can be handy to take a screenshot of the messages for your records, in case the individual later deletes their post. After you have this record, block the individual so that you take away their power to continue to reach you.
Becoming a victim of harassment or a target for trolls can be an alarming experience. Talk with trusted individuals about your experience and seek out their advice on what steps might be appropriate to respond to the abuse. You don’t have to face it alone!
As a society, we all have a responsibility to make sure that the online world is safe for all.