Athletes take on Internet trolls

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Norwegian skiing star Therese Johaug isn’t sure if it’s envy or a lust for some sort of revenge that prompts some people to constantly make negative, insulting and usually anonymous comments about others online. She’s now joining a national campaign to take on the so-called “trolls” and bullies of the Internet.

Norway's Marit Bjørgen (left) took gold again, and Therese Johaug won bronze in the women's 15-kilometer pursuit at Holmenkollen on Saturday. PHOTO: Stian Broch/Oslo 2011

Both Marit Bjørgen (left) and Therese Johaug, who’ve won multiple medals in skiing competition, have been insulted by Internet trolls. Johaug is joining a new campaign against online bullying that’s being launched by retired freestyle skier Kari Traa. PHOTO: Stian Broch/Oslo 2011

“Even when you’re a public figure, it’s not okay that you’re subjected to comments that are offensive or, in the worst case, direct threats,” Johaug told newspaper Aftenposten on Thursday. That’s when Norway’s Olympic freestyle skiing champion Kari Traa was launching the campaign against the chorus of critics who spread written abuse online.

Traa’s goal is to form a network of women who will support each other and virtually disarm the trolls. “We will show that we’re tougher and stronger by chasing the trolls back into the forest,” said Traa, who has also had a video made in which eight women will reveal what they’ve had to tolerate in the form of online insults, agitation and threats, and the profiles of who may be behind it. The campaign will also support work being done by the organization MOTS to combat bullying in Norwegian schools and Traa, who became a successful businesswoman after retiring from competition, will personally donate money to the cause.

Retired freestyle skiing champion Kari Traa is intent on chasing Internet trolls "back into the forest." PHOTO: Wikipedia Commons

Retired freestyle skiing champion Kari Traa is intent on chasing Internet trolls “back into the forest.” PHOTO: Wikipedia Commons

The women include entertainers, actresses, athletes, models and coaches, all of whom have been victims of online insults. “We must never let fear (of such hurtful commentary) stand in the way of our dreams,” Traa wrote in a commentary of her own published in Aftenposten on Thursday. “I hope we can get a peoples’ movement going, where the goal is to tell the trolls out there that what they’re doing is stupid and they should cut it out, but also that we have to learn how to just shake them off. I think we can get girls and women to be proud of themselves, and not let the trolls bother them.”

Johaug, who has won multiple Olympic gold medals and World Championships, said she has chosen to ignore the comment fields of websites. “I feel that I have enough self-confidence in what I’m doing, but I know that many get hit with rude comments about their physique,” Johaug told Aftenposten. Even Norway’s undisputed ski queen, Marit Bjørgen, has had to tolerate mean comments in the public arena about her muscles, Johaug said.

“I don’t really understand the point, or the need, to bring others down,” Johaug added. Nor do those doing research on the topic yet, because the volume of online harassment on social media is still relatively new. Women are those most targeted, though, researcher Jørgen Lorentzen, director of the Hedda Foundation, could claim, suggesting that many of the trolls are “lonely and abandoned men who sit in their rooms at home. There’s still little hard research on this because it’s so new, but statistics from Sweden indicate (those writing hateful or insulting comments) are mostly young and old men.”

Lorentzen said he’d gladly find out why they have a need to harass others as they hide behind their anonymity. He thinks websites should ban anonymous comments and require debate participants to use full names and addresses. Online debate should also be followed much more closely by editors of websites, he said. “We can’t protect ourselves from everyone but I wish the victims of online abuse would report it to the police,” he told Aftenposten. “Slander is illegal.”

Anette Sagen, Norway’s pioneering female ski jumper, is disgusted by it as well. “Yes, we have freedom of expression,” Sagen, who’s also supporting the campaign, told Aftenposten. “But it shouldn’t be used to spread muck.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund

  • inquisitor

    “He thinks websites should ban anonymous comments and require debate participants to use full names and addresses.”

    A slippery slope indeed when all one needs is a fix on reality and a thick skin.

  • Johan Consumares

    “He thinks websites should ban anonymous comments and
    require debate participants to use full names and addresses.”

    Just like Ashley Madison. And – oh, yes; the last four
    digits of the burner pre-paid card you picked up at Co-Op on your way home from The Pink Flamingo. Even requiring ‘full names and addresses’ i.e. membership is a vexed solution. A full 55% of Ashley Madison credentials appear to be bogus and these are persons who wish to elicit a relationship with other participants. (Yes illicit – pun, pun.) Trolls want no such thing. The difference is that of a pick-up line versus an obscene gesture.
    I would seriously challenge any celeb, sports or whatever, to spend just a few precious hours attempting to moderate a website, much less
    craft, implement and enforce such a policy. This is exactly what is grinding up the executive management of reddit (“Front Page of the Internet”), which is an established, much used and well financed enterprise.

    Moreover, the collection of such data presents a very real liability issue. Nobody is likely to seek restitution for the aforementioned data spill. You stuck your foot in it, so don’t roll around on the ground screaming.
    However, the US has just experienced an horrific leak of details about persons with clearances to access, view, and manipulate classified data including Top Final Crypto and Yankee White. This will have a significant and ongoing impact, and there is a real possibility that even the US government may face actual legal consequences. Collect personal data and pay to protect it against exposure over a blog or share site which accrues little, no, or even negative revenue?

    “I don’t think it’s nice, you laughin’. You see, my mule don’t like people laughin’. He gets the crazy idea you’re laughin’ at him. Now if you apologize, like I know you’re going to, I might convince him that you really didn’t mean it.”