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‘Swarm of killer bees’: warning social media tools no match for trolls

“The harm is cumulative but when we went to the platforms … they’re looking at each individual tweet or post and whether or not that contravenes their terms of service,” Ms Inman Grant said.

“We liken it to swatting individual bees when you’ve got a swarm of killer bees circling your body, or playing a game of Whack-a-Mole.”

She cited the recent example of lawyer Nyadol Nyuon, who was targeted online with vile messages after an appearance on Q&A discussing racism in Australia.

Ginger Gorman, journalist, cyberhate expert and author of Troll Hunting, said predator trolls sometimes referred to such activity as a “raid”.

“As a rule, cyberhate is incredibly orchestrated and some of the syndicates are highly sophisticated,” Gorman said.

“Much like private companies or bikie gangs, they have organised structures with presidents and vice-presidents etc.”

Most adults in the survey were comfortable with how they resolve negative experiences online but two out of five experience mental or emotional stress, financial loss, relationship problems or reputational damage as a result.

Indigenous Australians and those identifying as LGBTQI+ are more likely to be targeted and also harmed, with three out of five reporting adverse impacts as a result. Older Australians are least at risk.

The report suggested those who have negative experiences are more likely to become perpetrators, which mirrors eSafety’s previous research on young people and children.

About one in eight adults were estimated to have behaved negatively to someone online in the 12 months to August 2019 and 95 per cent of these people were also the target of a negative online experience.

“Of course this is going to evoke a response of hurt and hatred – when you’re damaged you want to damage back, it’s a natural human instinct,” Ms Inman Grant said.

Gorman said until recently predator trolling was not taken seriously and victims felt they had to resort to “digilantism” and take matters into their own hands.


She said people could get now get help from the eSafety office but social media companies continued to “shirk their duty” to the public and should be held accountable by government.

Gorman said predator trolling was linked to crimes such as incitement to suicide, terrorism and murder and it surprised her that the public, law enforcement and legislators did not understand this better.

eSafety has no formal powers over social media platforms when it comes to adults but the government is working on a new Online Safety Act that would include a cyber-abuse scheme with take-down powers for adults.

A spokesperson for Facebook and Instagram said it provided tools to give people more control over their privacy and safety and invested billions of dollars to enforce its community standards, with artificial intelligence starting to play more of a role in the past six months.

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