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We have all seen shocking and insulting comments on social media: either threatening, humiliating or insulting celebrities, politicians and ordinary people alike. I’m not talking about a meme comparing Theresa May to the Wicked Witch of the West (love that one), or somebody calling Donald Trump a twat. I’m talking big scale.

Families setting up memorial pages for lost children being goaded, young people committing suicide after online bullying, activists receiving rape and death threats.

Last night I wrote a comment on a national geographic post, very calmly and lightly suggesting that attacking the Chinese as ‘barbarians’ for eating dog meat might be hypocritical if you eat meat of other animals. Check it out here:

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As you can see, nearly 2 thousand people liked the comment, but it generated a really vicious and uncalled for response. Hundreds of people supported me, but many also called me ‘an uneducated loser’ a ‘piece of shit’ and, incredibly, somebody managed to access my Facebook and leave comments on my page telling me I am ‘a pampered little girl who looks down on the world’ and suggested I should drink his semen to cure myself of this superiority.

What the hell is going on?

I’m calm about it, I know that trolls thrive on distress so I deleted, blocked and moved on. But it got me thinking about the amount of hate and abuse that takes root on Facebook; WHY?

Celebrities often being called terrible things, sure they choose to live in the limelight but even activists, politicians and completely ordinary people are abused with threats of rape and murder.

This kind of online abuse is considered a criminal offence, but according to a BBC article only 2 people have ever been jailed in the UK for online comments. Considering the huge number of threats and hate speech online, that’s pretty extraordinary.

It’s hard to arrest people for the things that they say, because freedom of speech is a fundamental human right, and it can also be difficult to identify trollers who have various online identities. Pschology today describes how trollers feel anonymous online, and are disinhibited by this sense of security,, causing a vicious cycle of verbal abuse.

The independent suggested that trollers live double lives, not viewing the online comments as part of reality, and that when they turn off their computers they leave that hate and abuse behind. After all,  this kind of behaviour would never be tolerated in the real world.

Kind of scary right? How many of our friends and family members might have written a rape threat this week to someone standing up for their political believes? Hard to imagine, but its happening.

I’m not sure I’m having that. It’s more than anonymity, its more than thoughtless words. If someone could say something so hateful and hurtful, it’s come from a messed up and dark place that doesn’t go away if the wifi cuts out.

Live Science did a study recently which proved that internet trolling is less about disinhinitions and disassociation, but is actually a highly attractive game to sadists and psychopaths. A spokesperson said ‘Sadists just want to have fun… and the internet is their playground.’ The online abuse is targeted at vulnerable people to hurt and distress, and has led to suicides of young people in some circumstances.

With the younger generations increasingly finding their reality in social media, it’s not just pressures of beauty and body size we should be worried about. It seems to me we have young people finding the worlds of social media and ‘real life’ increasingly overlapping, whilst some internet trolls continue viewing social media as a safe stage in which to carry out abusive behaviour without consequences. It’s true, they probably won’t feel the consequences, that’s because they are displaced onto young and vulnerable people. I think that trolling does matter, and it is a real form of abuse that needs to be tackled. If not for us, think of the children and young people that you love and how they’d react to taunting and bullying.

NB: I didn’t want to leave you guys on too dark a note. So, listen. An openly gay US senator recently got abusive tweets calling him a fag from a fake profile. He managed to work out which phone number was joined to the account and ended up having a conversation with the grandmother of the young boy who had sent the message. He was totally busted, the little jerk. Check it out here. In fact, the name for people that expose the identity of trollers to their friends and family are called ‘Troll Busters’ and by working out who the accounts belong to have led to firings, arrests and a whole lot of shame! Troll Busters, it’s like buffy the vampire slayer for the 21st century and it’s awesome.

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