Back to the Future: Trolling in 2016

Mean Girls, Clueless, Heathers? In these films, insecurity festered within "popular" beauty queens and jocks, pelting body shaming quips at protagonists that were "just like us." While this behavior had been taking place before then, these films represent a thread of films that preceded the Internet. Diaries, lunchrooms and school grounds were the platforms of choice for these bullies and their offspring of trolls. These films could be credited with why I did not keep a diary, participate in lunch periods or gym in High School, instead opting for student government, lunches in silent hallways and my PDA (look it up).

The Internet was then a dial-up AOL connection that you pleaded with your parents for in the evenings while they withheld allowance in exchange for chores before handing over the phone jack. My trolls existed only in the confines of red brick NYC public school walls and concrete yards. Today, my nephew (mass) likes my Instagram posts from the balcony of my sister's home in Santiago, Dominican Republic and my youngest sister will only Snap-at-me in 40 characters or less, that then disappear into "The Cloud."

I've seen accounts for them rise and fall, and the under 24 y.o. set, based on "not enough likes," "hiding out," and "trolls." Their disregard for high-touch interpersonal touch points has enabled them to master the digital language of "Delete" and "Report As Abusive," among others (see Unfollow for further reference). Celebrities, both those broadcasting their lives on "reality TV" or keeping low profiles, are also victims of unwelcome, often verbally abusive, if not criminal, social media trolling.

Instagram (AKA digital Polaroids), announced a new feature that empowers its users to opt-in and/or customize blocking of abusive and unwanted social media comments (or trolling). While it has been available to businesses since July, now everyday folks can moderate IRL because it appears schoolyard bullies who couldn't chase us down in the pre-Internet era have evolved into digitally astute warriors of time. Their insecurity has morphed into shaming habits that lead to low self esteem, and/or harmful behavior, at scale. DoSomething.Org says,

  • Nearly 43% of kids have been bullied online. 1 in 4 has had it happen more than once
  • 70% of students report seeing frequent bullying online
  • Over 80% of teens use a cell phone regularly, making it the most common medium for cyber bullying
  • 68% of teens agree that cyber bullying is a serious problem
  • 81% of young people think bullying online is easier to get away with than bullying in person

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Now Instagram, gives you the power to tune them out, but I'm exhausted for them. The old me, and new me, must admit that I wasn't trained for modern day duel of cruel that social media has created. Like "Reply All" emails at work from trigger happy employees, social media can both inspire movements or decimate lives.

However, I am reminded of three "fundamental truths at the very same time" (Thank You, Lin-Manuel):
  • 1. Accountability: Like using the potty and looking both ways before crossing the street, the Internet and social media have become need-to-know life skills. It is the responsibility of both parents and the educational system to properly teach how civility extends to the functional use of new media.
  • 2. Privacy: Reality TV and tabloids have fed into the public's insatiable thirst for celebrity. This means that the public feels as if they know, and are therefore entitled to opine on the lives of public figures. As Tim Gunn says, you must "EDIT" down to the essentials if you want to retain some semblance of control over your digital persona and how the public interacts with you.
  • 3. Mob Mentality: The rapidity with which incidents have gone viral underscores the fact that while people may understand fact from fiction, faceless/anonymous trolls will flourish like mushrooms. #JustDontDoIt

I'm not necessarily on Tay-Tay's squad, but keep it classy, y'all!