Social media trolling

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Trolling is online behaviour that includes:

  • intentionally provoking someone,
  • harassing someone,
  • saying inflammatory or hurtful things,
  • frustrating a social media event, or campaign, or
  • otherwise targeting a person or page with the aim of undermining that person or page.

It is often done anonymously or under a fake account. 

It often happens repeatedly.

It can be part of a broader strategy or an individual tactic.

Trolling is a tactic that can be used by all sides of the political sphere. It can range from annoying to criminal or incredibly harmful.

For example, anti-Trump (USA) and anti-One Nation (Aus) protesters have trolled political events by reserving event tickets with no intention of actually attending the event.

Other more extreme examples include:

  • Young/child climate activists being targeted by trolls posting pornography on their social media pages, being sent hate messages and death threats, and being the target of racism [1]
  • Climate scientists getting their emails hacked and sent death threats [2]
  • A report by Amnesty International found that most trolling against women activists involved physical and sexual violence, targeted harassment, privacy violations and attacks on their appearance or identity [3]

Threats of violence, death threats, racial and religious vilification, defamatory comments, and breaches of confidentiality/ privacy violations are still crimes when they occur online.

These threats or comments can be just as real, hurtful, and scary as in-person.

See: Defamation


If you or someone in your activist group is being targeted by trolls there are some formal processes you can take.

For all options you will need to document the evidence by taking screenshots of the posts/comments and/or saving emails or private messages (DMs) to your computer.

You can report cyber abuse (or bullying), illegal or harmful content, or image-based abuse to the E-safety commissioner.

The E-safety commissioner does not have any formal powers, but they can approach the website/social media service where the content has been shared to have it removed/taken down.

It is a crime to make threats to harm someone where the person making the threat either intended the victim to believe it would be carried out or was reckless as to whether or not they would believe it would be carried out.

While contacting the police is not a preferred option for many people, they are currently the only formal body empowered to deal with physical, sexual or death threats.

It is also a crime in Victoria to make statements that encourage hate, serious contempt, revulsion or severe ridicule of another person or group because of their race or religion. This is known as racial or religious vilification.

You can bring a dispute about racial or religious vilification to the Equal Opportunity Commission or you can bring a claim to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (‘VCAT’).

If it is found that they did commit racial or religious vilification, VCAT can make orders restraining a person from committing further offences, order that person to pay compensation, and/or order that person to do other things to address loss/damage/injury suffered.

You might not want to go through formal processes for dealing with trolling/cyber abuse, or the trolling being directed at you might not be considered serious enough to trigger those formal processes – which doesn’t mean that it is not harmful or damaging.

There are simple technical steps you can take to reduce the opportunities for trolling or cyber abuse, like:

  • turning off the ability for people to comment on your page or posts,
  • blocking or muting certain people,
  • reporting that person to the site you are on, or
  • making pages private or member access only.

If it is a group page that is receiving harmful messages (as opposed to an individual group member) you may want to discuss your social media monitoring strategy:

  • who will be responsible for managing message inboxes,
  • will it be an individual or a team or done via a rotation, or
  • will you decide not to monitor inboxes.

You might want to have support/debriefing sessions for the social media team and talk about ways that they can be supported.

If an individual in your group is receiving harmful messages directed at them personally, you should talk with that person about how the group can best support them and what they need from group.

Lifeline also offers free phone counselling 7 days a week and online chat is available from 7pm – 4am AEST every day. 13 11 14




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