About a month ago, a friend of mine asked me if I knew what an Internet Troll was. I thought he was referring to the adorable little dolls with spiky neon pink and green hair I used to collect as a kid. He told me that an Internet Troll is someone who anonymously attacks and harasses people or groups of people online for pleasure. When did Trolls get such a bad rep? My Trolls always had such nice things to say to me, even after I gave them the world’s most ridiculous hairdos. These Internet Trolls must be stopped!
So when IBM Canada’s Teaching Respect and Preventing Bullying Program asked me to write a blog for Bullying Awareness Week, I decided to take our discussion into the virtual realm and focus on cyber-bullying. With that in mind, I am re-christening Bullying Awareness Week as Trolling Awareness Week.
Fact: We young people have become the great rulers of the online world. In short, we are fluent in Internet. With Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, LiveJournals, and the list goes on, we spend less time on the actual playground, and more time on the virtual playground. And with no teachers or parents telling us what to do, the virtual playground is a land where anything goes. No rules. No curfews. No punishment. In this lawless society, no one is safe. Not even celebrity pop singer Cody Simpson!
Cyber-bullying is something that I experience online everyday. People feel so much more comfortable bullying behind a screen than in person. It gives them a mystique and makes them say things that they would never be strong enough to say in person. But it still hurts the same way. – Cody Simpson, Free the Children’s “We Day” – Vancouver, October 2012.
I’m an actor and host on television, and Trolls take to the Internet to write terrible things about me all the time. As the years have passed, I’ve realized that their hateful words have nothing to do with me. These Trolls just need a .jpeg to throw their anger at. It is their damage, not mine. And I refuse to let a stranger give me a social disease. I know who I am, I love who I am, and I like what I do. Luckily, Cody and I both have survived a virtual life Troll attack. But sadly, not all of us do.
This year Vancouver teen Amanda Todd was Trolled to death. A friend-turned-Troll spread a nude photo of Amanda throughout the virtual world. Hundreds of people viewed the photo and Amanda was ruthlessly bullied to the point of suicide. In the case of Amanda Todd, Trolls are not toys after all – but rather dangerous weapons. Despite this tragedy, free speech advocates continue to argue that Trolls critically contribute to online discourse. But I think it is time we grab the Trolls by the horns and call them what they really are: cyber-bullies. These Internet Trolls really must be stopped!
So listen up Internet Trolls! We mortals at the Teaching Respect Program believe in two things: acceptance of diversity, and respect for each others differences. We will lead our virtual lives in the same way we lead our real lives – with compassion, respect, and love for others and ourselves. I urge my fellow mortals to remember two things:
- First, treat yourselves with respect. Remember, when you post a photo of yourself online, it is widely public and therefore permanent.
- Second, treat others with respect. Remember, when you post a hateful comment online, it is widely public and therefore permanent.
In short, it is important that we think before we post.
The Internet has the potential to transform us into a strong and diverse community by connecting us to a multitude of people with different beliefs, ideas and talents. I believe that together – as cyber-allies – we can finally stop those evil Internet Trolls!
I recently dug up my old Troll doll collection, and realized my collection was made up of Trolls with a bunch of different hair colours. No matter yellow, red, green, blue, orange, pink or purple, they still had those big, goofy smiles on all their faces. I couldn’t help but think that my childhood Trolls had already taught me an important lesson about diversity. That more colours are better than one.
Adamo Ruggiero is an openly gay actor and activist who played gay teen Marco Del Rossi for seven years on Degrassi: The Next Generation. Adamo has worked with The Trevor Project/GLAAD/Academy of Television Arts and Sciences and earned a spot in Out Magazine’s 100 Out Honorees of 2009. In Canada, Adamo has worked with PFLAG/Jer’s Vision/Youth Line and he produced a PSA for the Report Homophobic Violence, Period (RHVP) campaign for the Toronto Police Department. Adamo currently hosts YTV’s The Next Star, for which he was nominated for two Gemini Awards.