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Inside the world of an internet troll: How web users can protect themselves online

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Ginger Gorman, author of 'Troll Hunting'
Ginger Gorman, author of 'Troll Hunting' spoke with MPR News' Euan Kerr about her investigation into the attitudes and behaviors of aggressive internet trolls.
Author photo courtesy Hilary Wardhaugh, cover art courtesy publisher

A few years ago, Australian journalist Ginger Gorman became an online target.  She received multiple hateful tweets and even a death threat. The experience left her frightened  but  curious. She wanted to know who the trolls were, why they had targeted her, and what she could do to protect herself.

Gorman is not the only victim of online trolling — 40 percent of Americans have experienced some form of online harassment. Sixty-two percent consider it a major problem in the United States. Nearly 80 percent believe that online services, such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, have a responsibility to protect users when harassment occurs on their platforms.

MPR fill-in host Euan Kerr spoke with Gorman and a University of Maryland professor, Jennifer Golbeck, about the rise of online trolls and how people can protect themselves from online harassment.

"Trolling is correlated to the dark tetrad of personality," Gorman explained. "It's psychopathy, narcissism, Machiavellianism and sadism, but sadism is the strongest link. What that means is that they want to hurt you and that they take pleasure from it."

Golbeck added, "You don't get people who troll who don't enjoy seeing the suffering of other people... . Among these more vicious trolls you see language of superiority, and that combines with wanting to hurt people."

Social media sites are struggling to crack down on online harassment. Gorman gave advice on what to do if you're targeted: "I don't want to victim-blame and say that it's up to the victim to fix it ... I would say that if you are being really psychologically harmed by it, do step back a bit and reach out to your real-life support network."

Guests:

Ginger Gorman is an award-winning social justice journalist, cyberhate expert, and author of "Troll Hunting: Inside the World of Online Hate and Its Human Fallout"

Jen Golbeck is a computer scientist and director of the Social Intelligence Lab at the University of Maryland.

To listen to the full conversation you can use the audio player above.