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Making Sense of Internet Trolls

Feb 7, 2015

Credit npr.org

Trolls aren't just those mythical uglies who live underneath a bridge and tend toward harassing travelers with impossible riddles.

Internet trolls are mean-spirited -- no -- hateful people who incessantly harass others on Twitter -- especially women.

One of those women is Lindy West -- a writer and frequent target of Twitter harassment.

She actually got an apology from one of those trolls, who she ended up talking to for This American Life.

Among other things, this troll mocked Lindy after the death of her father -- creating a fake account in her dad's naming which said that her dad was ashamed of her.

This kind of online hate is now getting the attention of the people who run Twitter and they're out to do something about it.

But can they?

Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute's Sense-Making Project thinks the Lindy West experience holds out some hope.

"Everybody tells us to ignore the trolls, and Lindy didn't do that. She wrote a column about how awful this was and this guy reached out to her using his real name and apologized. He said he was sorry," McBride explained. "So when she tracked him down and had this conversation with him, those of us who've been watching this phenomenon on the internet for years, we just went wild because it was such a meaningful exchange."

Lindy West's conversation with her internet tormentor caught the attention of the people who run Twitter, too.

Leaked comments from the head of Twitter have him saying the social media platform has been doing a lousy job dealing with trolls and must come up with a way to deal with the problem.

And, McBride said that even in the free wheeling frontier of the internet, that is possible.

"They can do lots of things, but if they're going to be effective, it's going to take human resources," said McBride. "If Twitter was going to take your account away, or if maybe they were going to figure out who you are and publicly humiliate you, then maybe trolls wouldn't be so eager too take out their frustrations on other people."