Protect Kids from Growing Hate on the Internet

troll

Troll. No longer the cute toy with the spikey hair, the fairy tale character who lived under bridges or the method of fishing. Troll is the new name for those who are poisoning the Internet and even creating an atmosphere of fear that is silencing free speech and driving young people to kill themselves. Trolls are unfortunately a very real, and very negative part of our online lives. And their numbers are growing as more and more social media products make it possible for people to have access to one another, often times anonymous and unfiltered.

Trolls are a problem for adults, especially ones who are female, or overweight, or have strong political beliefs, or live an alternative lifestyle or, *gasp* like a food, movie or song that someone else doesn’t. We saw one of our Olympic gymnastic stars, Gabby Douglas, experience this just a week ago! Other athletes, entertainers and journalists are enduring these attacks, and in fact, opting out of social media because it just isn’t worth it.

So then what about kids??? Experts have been warning about unchecked and unsupervised cell phone use among pre-teens and teens — the same kids who can’t legally drink, smoke, drive, take drugs or sign a contract because they lack the maturity and judgement to handle these responsibilities because their brains aren’t ready for that level of responsibility. Some states say you can’t leave a 13 year old at home alone! So why then are they running around with cell phones that can connect them to god knows what, and worse yet, god knows who.

There are trolls who seek damage self esteem and destroy lives. There are predators who seek to recruit for sex slavery and other activities no parents wants to think about. But as writer, Joel Stein, points out in this timely cover story for the August 29th Time Magazine, “Trolls are portrayed as aberrational and antithetical to how normal people converse with each other. And that could not be further from the truth,” says Whitney Phillips, a literature professor at Mercer University and the author of This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things: Mapping the Relationship Between Online Trolling and Mainstream Culture. “These are mostly normal people who do things that seem fun at the time that have huge implications. You want to say this is the bad guys, but it’s a problem of us.”

Or in simpler words, regular people are being trolls because it’s become an acceptable form of entertainment and amusement, and they don’t realize or care about the consequences. And who better to not know better than teenagers?

Stein goes on to write, “Troll culture might be affecting the way nontrolls treat one another. A yet-to-be-published study by University of California, Irvine, professor Zeev Kain showed that when people were exposed to reports of good deeds on Facebook, they were 10% more likely to report doing good deeds that day. But the opposite is likely occurring as well. “One can see discourse norms shifting online, and they’re probably linked to behavior norms,” says Susan Benesch, founder of the Dangerous Speech Project and faculty associate at Harvard’s Internet and Society center. “When people think it’s increasingly O.K. to describe a group of people as subhuman or vermin, those same people are likely to think that it’s O.K. to hurt those people.”

It’s hard for me to read this and not think about the bullying problem we have in schools today, where kids as young as three, four and five are bullying their peers, and even worse in middle and high schools where bullying is resulting in suicides and depression. Hate is a learned behavior. Children mimic what they see and hear. So are we as adults reflecting the hate we see on the Internet in our daily lives???  Are our norms shifting toward hate??? 

I’ve been asking these questions for years about the Internet, Reality TV, music, video games and the media in general. It’s why I started GoodLiving Magazine six years ago. To be the change I wanted to see in the world. Because as a communications professional I knew, and still know, that what we see, hear, read and do affects our lives. I could see the huge tsunami hate wave headed for our culture and I wanted to do something about it. So not only do I spend my days giving “good” a place to live for others to see, I partner with others who have a similar mind set and purpose, whether it’s about health and wellness, education, community service, positive parenting or spiritual enrichment. We work with organizations that value “good” like Achieva Credit Union, Florida Hospital, JWB, Sheriff Gualtieri and the PCSO, St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital and many more. Good needs to lock arms with good to fight the wave of hate. It matters. It really does matter!

Take a look at Joel Stein’s full article, Why We’re Losing the Internet to the Culture of Hate. It’s worth the time to stop and see what’s happening now on the Internet because it is so pervasive in our modern lives. We may know better than to put ourselves out there for trolls to attack, but our kids do not have that level of judgement or experience. We need to add Protection from the Internet to our list of parenting responsibilities. And as the book title mentioned above suggests, others have taken something really good like the Internet and made it dark, evil, predatory and the very least, annoying.

 

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Written by Pamela Settle, owner of Light Shine Media Group and publisher of GoodLiving® Magazine. All Rights Reserved. No part of this blog may be reproduced without permission.

GoodLiving Magazine® is printed six times a year for families in Pinellas County, Florida, home to municipalities including Clearwater, Tarpon Springs, Dunedin, Largo and St. Petersburg. The densest county in Florida, population is near 1 Million people. Past issues are available for viewing digitally on the website.

As an advocate for children and families, Pamela Settle serves as the local committee chairperson for The Children’s Movement of Florida, a non-partisan advocacy organization that works on behalf of the well being of children throughout the State of Florida.