Trolls force Robin Williams’ daughter off social media: High time to hunt them down?

Have you ever cracked you knuckles, pursed your lips, shoved your hands inside your pockets, locked unlocked your phone and looked out at the window while trying to make a conversation, and found absolutely nothing to tell the person before you? A person who has just suffered a tragedy like the death of a family member?

Trolls force Robin Williams’ daughter off social media: High time to hunt them down?

Since death is hardly something any of us can avoid knowing from close quarters for too long, possibly yes. Chances are that in situations like this, you can’t come up with anything to say, because you know nothing is comforting enough. And everything might sound phony. Of the many things that make us all human, this dilemma is one. However, between an average human being and an internet troll, lies a huge chasm.

One of the several ills that social media has brought upon us apart from stalking, and legitimising the contortion of language and spelling, is making sadism something that can be practiced unabated. And for proof you need look no further than the biggest headline in recent days – the death of Robin Williams, who committed suicide after a long battle with depression. His daughter, Zelda Williams, was forced to quit the social media platforms she frequented after she was harassed by trolls.

Zelda Williams with father Robin Williams. AFP.
Zelda Williams with father Robin Williams.

According to reports, while some people harangued her on the number of photos she has put up with her father, trying to suggest that the fact that she didn’t have many pictures of her father on Twitter meant she was not involved in his life. Or she didn’t care.
Others tweeted at her with pictures of a dead man in a mortuary – a person who looked vaguely like Williams. You might think you would have to be a special kind of a monster to actually do this. But as Zelda’s ordeal showed, there is no shortage of them.
And if you think that this was something only restricted to the Internet community overseas, think again.
Closer home in India, after Tarun Tejpal was arrested for allegedly sexually assaulting a junior colleague, scores of Twitter users thought it was perfectly acceptable to direct their hatred for Tejpal at his young daughter. A bunch of shameful tweets directed at her asked her everything from how it feels like to be Tejpal’s daughter to details about her father’s sexual exploits. The harassed Cara deleted her Twitter account immediately.
While the histrionics of trolls are usually on the lines of abuse, abusively-worded criticism and often border on verbal sexual harassment – and no expects them to behave otherwise – incidents like this one make you wonder whether some lines have to be arbitrarily drawn, and some kinds of behaviour punished.
For example, in Zelda’s case, Twitter immediately suspended the accounts of those who harassed her.
Zelda wrote on her Tumblr blog, “My family has always been private about the times spent together. It was our way of keeping one thing that way ours, with a man we shared with an entire world. But now that’s gone and I feel stripped bare.”
Situation like this also rekindle discussions on the need to have legal recourse to online abuse and trolling. Because when these trolls are not causing anyone bodily harm, they are perfectly capable of emotionally scarring their target, especially in situations like.
Social media expert Janet Fouts explains what makes trolls thrive, “Trolls are a special breed. They look for high profile sites or people to grumble at, generally to make themselves feel more important. They play off anything you say in response. They exist to stir things up and the bigger the argument becomes the more they love it.”
She explains that trolls are mostly attention seekers, possibly with low self esteem and lots of free time, who are best dealt with cold dismissal. However, in a situation like the one Williams faced, is it okay to just ignore such vindictive behaviour?
An article on The Independent says that a study conducted by psychologists found that internet trolls show traces of severe sadism and psychopathy. It says, “The researchers defined online trolling as “the practice of behaving in a deceptive, destructive, or disruptive manner in a social setting on the Internet” for no purpose other than their pleasure.” Obviously behaving is a disruptive manner is not permissible by law anywhere in the real world, why should it be allowed in the virtual world too? Especially when it causes deep mental distress like in the cases of Zelda Williams?

While the jury maybe out on that, social media websites might have to become a little more vigilant in who they are accessible to and what terms. And the non-troll population may have to take a little more enthusiasm in blocking, reporting these accounts. Because from where we are now, the way to deal with trolls such as these is to be relentless in hunting them, as they are in abusing others. Sadly, we are content being wary and not angry, giving them longer lives.