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Is online abuse out of control?

Trolling continues to rise

Within minutes of the start of a top-rated TV show like Strictly Come Dancing, the online trolls begin their abuse. They “hate” this dress or that hairstyle, they “can’t stand” this dance or that performer. It gets very personal. Social media is flooded with abusive words such as revolting, despicable, disgusting, gross, and cheat; with the addition of a hashtag they are liked and re-posted in seconds. All so the individual can get attention, or better, have their post featured in a sensational story on one of the many online news platforms launched overnight, all hungry for clickbait. More clicks means more advertisers and more income. “Strictly fans are all saying the same thing…” or “Strictly star’s tragedy…” shout the teasing headlines, only for the reader to find that the story contains little or no genuine news. No matter, the click has been made. Even more concerning is the increasing number of online death threats. Celebrities, politicians, sports stars: virtually anyone in the public eye is potential prey to vicious cyber intimidation, with many living in fear. Recently, Russian former world number eight tennis player Daria Kasatkina said the abuse players receive on social media is “completely out of control”. She shared screengrabs of messages sent after reaching the WTA Elite Trophy semi-finals in Zhuhai. One said she “should be dead,” while another blamed her for having lost the sender a bet. In May, American Taylor Townsend shared a screenshot of the death threats and racist abuse she received after losing at the Italian Open. Terrifying, menacing messages like these are not confined to the famous. Anyone who has offended another, knowingly or inadvertently, is at risk. Online platforms claim they are committed to tackling abuse, while governments push for further safeguarding laws, but technology moves faster than legislation, making it easier for the abusers to hide. Meanwhile, the online aggression continues.

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