Don't Be a Troll
by Susan Basko, esq
Trolls are people who act like fools on the internet. Ten years ago, there was a general idea that the internet was a place separate and apart from the real world, a place where offensive or illegal actions did not count because they were not "real." Ten years later, a great many "trolls" are in prison or facing it, or have their reputations permanently harmed.
The internet has seen a lot of bad "leaders" -- people luring others in to bad behavior. These bad leaders have led gullible young people to believe that socially unacceptable things such as racism, sexism, harassment, obscenity, etc., when done on the internet -- were funny or did not count. The victims of these actions have thought otherwise.
These bad internet leaders have also caused some young people, who might otherwise have been intelligent and ambitious, to spend their internet time and efforts on actions and attacks meant to harm or reverse social progress. We've seen the sad display of people spending their online time attacking activists, attacking victims of tragedies or their families, mocking those who help others, attacking women in technology, attacking racial minorities, creating bizarre conspiracy theories or mind-blowingly stupid hoax theories, engaging in a cult of death or depravity, or giving themselves over to obscenity or pure stupidity. To me, this has often seemed like an intentional "dumbing down" of otherwise smart people, as if there is an invisible effort to keep people from being socially or politically active or aware, because they are too busy creating or posting foolish memes or posting idiotic racist or antisemitic comments.
It has been reported that in Russia, there is a specific enterprise, called the Web Brigade, engaged in creating such foolish internet content for the purpose of mocking the politically progressive. Sadly, in the U.S., internet trolls are often fools who engage in this type of counterproductive subterfuge on their own or in mob groups, not for pay, but simply out of the desperation of wanting some small level of fame or notoriety. Thus, the targets of trolls are often people the trolls see as having more fame or accomplishments than they do, so that by attacking those people, the trolls believe they will move up the ladder a small step in their quest for internet fame. Why it never occurs to them to seek their fame by doing something good and productive is baffling. Perhaps it is easier to be a fool, to be a racist, to be the class clown, because it is so easy to succeed at being bad.
If you don't want to be a troll, here is a list of things to avoid doing. Many of these things are crimes. Some are actions usually undertaken only by the mentally ill. Others are actions of hate. Others are signs or symptoms that a person is unethical and untrustworthy. Each of these actions can be found at any time on the internet, particularly on Twitter, where trolls and fools abound.
I have been the victim of lots of lots of foolish and sinister trolls, so creating this list is easy. The flip side is that I have been around long enough to watch so many trolls end out in prison, hiding out from the law, in big trouble at their jobs, or caught in an endless cycle of their own foolishness.
Don't Be a Troll - 13 Things to Avoid:
1. DON'T post any correspondence you received from another person, unless that person has given you specific written permission to do so. It doesn't matter what your reason or excuse is. Publicly posting personal correspondence that was sent to you means you are unethical and untrustworthy. The personal correspondence could be a letter, email, direct message, phone call, picture, etc.
2. DON'T post any correspondence of third parties, unless you have written permission from all the participants in the correspondence, as well as from anyone mentioned or discussed in the correspondence. Again, posting any such thing means you are unethical and untrustworthy. If the correspondence is strictly truthful and noninvasive and about people and events in the public eye, and you have permission of all parties to the correspondence, then it would also be okay to post or publish it. Otherwise, you are abusing the trust placed in you.
3. DON'T photoshop the picture of any person to make it obscene or mocking or insulting. This is bad behavior and it is also usually illegal as a copyright violation. Satire is a Fair Use of copyright materials, but satire is very rare. Satire must actually be funny and is usually about a public figure. If what has been created is mean or insulting or obscene, it is, by definition, not satire.
4. DON'T post any personal information about anyone. Such acts are usually invasions of privacy and are cyberstalking. These actions are also very often defamation because the personal information that you think you know is most likely not true or not fully true. If you are posting things such as anyone's social security number, address, financial information, or any other such thing, you are a foolish troll. You are displaying yourself to the world as someone who is unethical and cannot be trusted. If you ever run for public office or apply for any job with any level of security clearance, you deserve to be denied on the basis that you cannot be trusted with others' information.
5. DON'T post your assumptions about anyone. I have experienced this so often, as clownish buffoon trolls have posted their bizarre assumptions about me, my work, my friendships. Some even created an imaginary address for me, and one clownish lawyer put this fake address in a lawsuit filing in a case where I was not a party, lawyer, witness, or anything. Idiotic trolls have posted their weird theories about me being a friend, pal, associate, or supporter of persons who have barely crossed my mental threshold or that I never even heard of. This is idiotic trolling.
6. DON'T expect people to behave unethically for your amusement. I am a lawyer. As such, it is unethical for me to talk about or post about my work, to name my clients, or to discuss what I am doing. A lawyer is not even allowed to state who their clients are, unless the client gives permission. Very rarely, I have written about or spoken about a client and their situation. This was always with the client's permission or more often, at their specific request. This happens because the client feels their interests are best served if the public knows some certain thing about them. Don't ever expect a lawyer or other trusted professional, such as counselor, therapist, minister, teacher, care giver, journalist, or any other person entrusted with personal information to break confidentiality in order to give you information. It's not ethical.
7. DON'T create or post any form of indecency. We've all watched as peoples' careers and lives have crumbled after they posted dick pics, sex pics, rape videos, "goatse" pics," sex gifs, etc. At best, posting such things marks you as short-sighted and unprofessional and inconsiderate of others. Posting such things can also cause you to lose your job or to be denied a job or career, cause you to lose a desired personal relationship, bar you from any position requiring security clearance, and possibly get you charged with a crime.
8. DON'T post any form of racism or antisemitism. These hateful things might look smart to you and your two internet friends, but most of the world is not living back in 1952. Twitter in particular allows its users to post lots of hate-filled garbage and does nothing about it. Sure, you can use Twitter to spread hate. But, you could also use Twitter to learn about others whose lives are different than your own. How you use the social media is a reflection of what kind of person you are.
9. DON'T swat or soft swat anyone. That means, do not file a false police report hoping to get an emergency response sent to someone else's home or job. Soft swats are just as bad -- calling the police for a welfare check on someone basically to get back at them. Swatting is illegal and extremely dangerous. Swatting a person can harm them physically, financially, psychologically, socially. This is a very serious crime. Swatting is not a prank, a joke, or in any way harmless. It is not an acceptable "payback" or a way to stop someone from doing something. Swatting is a crime, and a very dangerous act. On the other hand, it is acceptable to report if someone has suicidal plans or plans to kill or hurt others.
10. DON'T hack anybody's website, email, Twitter, etc. Hacking takes very little skill. That's why 12 year olds do it during their lunch breaks at school. Hacking in to other peoples' websites and accounts is a crime. Granted, some hacking is kind of funny, such as kids hacking into the emails of the head of a major national security agency who uses AOL email. But even if funny, this is a crime. There is a famous old rule: Just because you can do something, does not mean you should do it. We have social boundaries. I could walk down the street right now, find an open door, and go in and steal things. I don't do that because I respect other people and their homes and I expect them to respect me and my home. The same should be true on the internet.
11. DON'T FILE false or frivolous lawsuits or restraining orders. I have watched as the very most horrendous internet trolls have filed lawsuits and restraining orders against others who have done nothing to them or who have bantered forth with them, exchanging abuse for abuse. I have watched as one internet troll has gotten such restraining orders by default because the defendants could not appear for court in a distance state, yet she can be seen online each day harassing and mocking the very people against whom she has restraining orders.
I personally had the experience of having one of the most foolish internet trolls try to get a restraining order against me, though I had never met him or spoken with him or had any interaction with him. This will always be with him as an example of him lying to the courts and trying to harm me by his devious deceptions. The Court denied him and did not allow him to tarnish my name and reputation based on his dishonesty and viciousness. Who is the one that suffers the most in the long run? I am still the good person that I always was. His reputation is now as a person who lies to Courts, makes up outlandish and bizarre nonexistent events and conspiracy theories. In other words, filing that false request for a restraining order against someone living thousands of miles from him, who has never had any contact or interaction with him, has forever cost him whatever credibility he might have had, if any. He will never be able to apply for a job or a position without his corrupt actions being brought before the decision makers.
12. DON'T buy a domain or create any account in anyone else's name. Do not buy a domain in the name of any other person or company. Do not start a website, blog, email account, Facebook, Twitter, sex site or dating account, or any other thing in the name of any other person. Aside from in most cases being criminal to do so, these actions are malicious and show you to be unethical and untrustworthy. Such an act is a good reason for any company to refuse to hire you, to fire you if they already hired you, for any agency to deny you any position requiring any level of security clearance, to be denied the chance to run or hold public office, to be denied a license as a professional in most fields, to be disallowed teaching credentials, to not be allowed any sort of police or municipal or government job, to forever be considered a dishonest person and an extreme security risk, and possibly to be denied immigrant status or a renewal of a green card.
Impersonation has been ruled a crime of moral turpitude. Moral turpitude is a category of acts or crimes that are considered to speak to the basic bad character makeup of the person. Why is the perpetrator trying to harm the name and reputation of another, to defraud, defame, and impersonate? These actions are never good. What I have noticed is that the people who buy domains or open accounts in the names of other people engage in a whole menu of abusive acts towards others. These are people who do not respect boundaries and who never learned consideration for others. They disrespect the names of others because they lack basic civility.
13. DON'T fall for the lies of people who tell you these things don't matter, or that it is all in fun, or that there are no victims, or that the victims are overly sensitive and feeling "butt hurt." In fact, if you see anyone using the term "butt hurt" to describe the reaction of the victims of internet crime, run like hell and find yourself a much better internet mentor.