Confessions Of An Internet Troll (Part 1)

8/21/2012 9:17:49 AM

The disturbing trend of posting abusive messages online – trolling – is the dark side of social media. But why do people do it? Here, a troll tries to explain, while her victim gets to bite back.

They have reduced pop star Chier Lloyd to tears; comic Matt Lucas was so upset by a joke mocking his deceased ex-husband that he closed his Twitter account; and, in April, 12 people (at the time of going to press) were arrested in connection with the naming and abuse on social media sites of the woman raped by footballer Ched Evans. Internet trolls are the scourge of the web. Every other day brings a new headline about victims of the menacing trend – targeted by anonymous people who post malicious messages online for the sole purpose of creating a stir and causing pain.

Description: Confessions of an internet troll

Confessions of an internet troll

“The worst thing was a death threat against my mum,” said Cher, after revealing she has been trolled on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. “I think it’s worse to be bullied online than in person. You can’t see them, and you think: ‘They’re getting a lick out of this and I’m sat here crying.’”

Trolls thrive on anonymity, but those who have been unmasked have suffered the consequences either of being ostracized or, in some cases, convicted and sent to prison.

In 2008, US graduate student Jane set off a firestorm when she posted a series of pictures on a forum at She’d attended an annual feminist science-fiction convention. Disappointed with the issues discussed, she uploaded pictures she’d secretly taken of fellow attendees, covering their faces with Tipp-Ex and scribbling a smile on each one. Using an alias, she vented about everything from obese “fat-acceptance” feminists (women who celebrate their size) to a transgender female-to-male.

In our exclusive interviews, Jane explains why she regrets her actions, while one of her victims reveals how the hurtful comments affected her life.

The troll’s story

Jane, 29

Four years on, I still get panicky whenever I think of the backlash following my post. It was never supposed to blow up like it did. It was never supposed to blow up like it did. It was meant to be a snarky thread on a political comedy message board that a few people read. I didn’t expect more than a dozen people to see it.

In hindsight, I wasn’t thinking ahead when I posted the photos online. I was frustrated with the convention and was trying to illustrate a point. I thought I was protecting the identities of the people pictured by hiding their faces and not revealing their surnames, but I was wrong.

As a feminist who loves science fiction, I’ve always looked forward to the conference. Usually, there are panels about a variety of things, like education and the developing world. But that year, I was frustrated with the debates and the people, especially the fat activists. I think fat activism is a health issue, not a feminist issue. I was angry that the women present were saying the doctors weren’t on their side. I’m against the idea that medical science is anti-women and that’s why I vented. At the time, I was also annoyed that there was a transgender person who hadn’t done anything to transition, and wanted to use the women’s toilet. At some point, I decided to secretly take photos with my mobile phone. That night, I posted them online, with sarcastic comments. I guess I was trying to be funny to impress the readers on the board. I never expected to be identified.

Description: Website:


Somehow my comments got a lot of attention after being posted on the social media news site The day after the conference, my email account was full of abusive messages from anonymous people threatening me. They told me they knew where I worked, said they were going to contact my supervisor, get me fired from my job and kicked out of university. Unfortunately, I didn’t cover my tracks very well when I posted the photos. I used a handle I’d been using on various websites for ten years. It didn’t take long for people to figure out my identity.

I was terrified. There were threats of violence and I feared for my safety. I took a few days off work, but when I returned, it was clear that someone had tampered with my desk. They had gone through my things and left a note saying I should watch what I was doing. Scared, I went home and didn’t return to the campus lab where I work for a few more days.

As the frenzy worsened, I contacted the police, but was told they couldn’t do anything unless the threats were specific. But for me, the threats were real, even if not always violent. One blogger led a campaign to ‘Google bomb’ me – to do lots of searches linking my name to the negative stories, so they’d be the top results if people searched for me.

The whole incident spiraled. Some members of the message board identified the people in my original post, went into their Flickr accounts and tool their photos, defacing them and posting them online with even more insulting comments.

I wanted it to stop. I begged to take the thread down, which they did. I wrote an online apology, but soon deleted it because I wanted the whole thing to go away. It did blow over in about ten days, but I was still sacred. I had panic attacks, stopped eating, couldn’t sleep.

I’ve managed to keep this from my family but, although they worried about my safety, my friends who knew were disappointed by what I wrote.

Four years later, I’m afraid the controversy will always follow me. I’ve nearly finished my PhD and I’m applying for jobs. I’m worried about what potential employers might read about me online.

I don’t know Eileen [one of her targets, interviewed opposite], and I don’t want anything bad to happen to her. She’s a victim too, not just me. What I said was limited to the post, which was: ‘Ha-ha, [you’re] fat’. Other people said rotten things about her afterwards, too, and wouldn’t drop it.

I’m not hateful. I’m a good person who wants to move on. It’s scary what something I wrote in frustration one night has the potential to ruin my career. My advice to trolls is to be careful what you put online, because it will always be out there.

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