The Cheat Sheet

The year of trolling dangerously

JINOY JOSE P | Updated on January 16, 2018


You mean 2016? I know the web saw some very nasty moments of trolling this year.

Yes, this year has seen internet trolling hit new highs (or lows?), damaging people, public issues and even share values of companies. In all likelihood, 2017 will continue to see trolls having a ball. And this is a concern for many economies and businesses, given the growing importance of the internet economy.


The most famous victim of online trolling is the very company that helped create a world of profuse, uncontrolled online abuse — Twitter. As it turns out, trolls grew beyond Twitter in recent years, especially in 2016, inflicting suitable damage to the reputation of the company in such a way that it reportedly lost potential buyers.

You mean Disney?

Yes. Even though all social media platforms give room for unlimited trolling, Twitter infamously enjoys the credit for making online abuse a religion of sorts.

Last year, a study of 134,000 abusive social media comments found nearly 90 per cent of them grazed on Twitter. Sometime ago this year, Bloomberg reported that Walt Disney dropped its plan to buy Twitter partly because of the fact that it enabled bullying and other “uncivil forms of communication on the social media”. Interestingly, reports had earlier said another potential buyer,, was also upset by Twitter’s troll troubles. In October, Twitter’s stock fell 28 per cent as buyers walked out.

That’s a classic case of creation turning against the creator!

Yeah, but this phenomenon may not end there. Trolling is a Frankenstein that can destroy businesses. The Black Web — which contains (mostly) paid, abusive and maligning comments on personalities, products and companies — is already costing economies billions of dollars.

But how are we going to bell the cat?

That’s a billion dollar question and we can only hope 2017 will see some answers to that. In fact, internet mavens warn that attempts to curb trolling should not lead to muzzling free speech. It’s a tricky situation; that’s why experts call trolling a “tragedy of the commons”.

What’s that?

In this scenario, some individuals capture and exploit a common resource (social media, here) and several others have to absorb the costs of such operations. If such actions are not checked effectively, it leads to the depletion of the online community.


But as things stand now, few alternatives are available. What’s happening is what’s feared by many — avenues of healthy engagements are getting shut down because of such ‘substance abuse’. For one, if you recall, the world’s most popular YouTuber — PewDiePie (Felix Kjellberg) — recently banned comments on his channel stating he could not silence trolls.

Oh, that’s not healthy!

Yes. That’s why handling trolls needs a socio-political approach because trolls tend be more Machiavellian (cunning, scheming and impulsive), psychopathic and enjoy hurting sentiments. In most cases, these cyberbullies are educated anonymous individuals. So tracking and taming them is a tall order. And that’s why controversial approaches such as that of Researchgruppen in Sweden came up in response to trolling. This group of volunteer researchers introduced a kind of activist journalism where they tracked data leftovers from anonymous internet trolls and unmasked them.

Oh, but that’s very radical.

Yes, that’s why we need more debates on tracking trolling in 2017 as well. A meaningful sustainable solution is a must for a healthy, democratic internet in the years ahead. It means business, too.

A wekly column that helps you ask the right questions

Published on December 28, 2016

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