Trolls occasionally hit the headlines because the outrageous nature of their crimes has had tragic consequences. Here are ten of the worst, along with their sometimes high-profile victims.
What is a troll
In Internet slang, a troll is someone who posts inflammatory, or off-topic messages in an online community, such as a forum, chat room, or blog, with the primary intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion. Source
Following a somewhat disappointing showing in the London 2012 Olympics, diver Tom Daley (above) was devastated to receive a tweet condemning his performance and mocking the recent death of his father. The comments sparked outrage across the Internet, drawing condemnation from all quarters.
Messer was arrested by Dorset Police and issued with a police warning about his behaviour.
Sean Duffy was handed a 300-hour community service order and banned from using social media website for five years after sending abusive messages to the grieving family of Charlotte Porter. Duffy posted a number of indecent or offensive comments on a Facebook tribute page dedicated to the memory of Charlotte, as well as creating a defamatory YouTube video.
Duffy also admitted to sending several offensive messages to the families of two other young people who had died. Like many trolls, Duffy had never met any of his victims, nor had any obvious reason to attack them.
60-year old Frank Zimmerman hit the headlines after emailing threats to former Conservative MP Louise Mensch. Convicted of sending by public communication network an offensive, indecent, obscene, menacing message or matter, Zimmerman earned himself a six month jail sentence suspended for two years.
Zimmerman had also sent a number of threatening messages to several celebrities and was issued with a restraining order. He faces up to five years in jail should he breach the order preventing him from contacting Mensch or any of the other specified celebrities.
Shortly after footballer Fabrice Muamba collapsed on the pitch with a cardiac arrest, Liam Stacey took to Twitter to joke about the situation, before following up with a stream of racist tweets. Stacey was quickly unmasked by Welsh police and charged with racially aggravated harassment.
At trial, Stacey tried to blame his actions on drunken stupidity, but he was found guilty and sentenced to 56 days imprisonment. He was also kicked off his Biology degree at Swansea University.
A seemingly inoffensive grandfather and reported cat lover, Michael Brutsch was also the “brains” behind the “Creepshot” forum, which encouraged users to upload sexually compromising photographs of women. Experts suggest that 40% of the pictures submitted were of underage girls and were taken without their permission.
Operating under the nickname “Violentacrez”, Brusch also posted thousands of obscene and offensive messages on forums and message boards across the Internet. Since being publicly identified, Brutsch has lost his job as a programmer and received dozens of death threats. However, the US police do not appear to be interested in pursuing any form of legal retribution.
An unemployed 38-year-old from Manchester, Colm Coss shot to infamy after trolling Facebook pages dedicated to the memory of John Paul Massey, who was mauled to death by a dog. Coss also left a series of messages intended to cause upset on other websites, including a Jade Goody fansite.
Coss even went on to send photographs of himself to neighbours, describing himself as an ‘internet troll’. In 2010 he was sentenced to 18 weeks in prison. However, in interviews since his release he has continued to show no remorse for his actions.
In October 2012, 19-year-old Matthew Woods was sentenced to 12 weeks’ imprisonment after making a series of controversial and offensive jokes on his Facebook page. Missing girls April Jones and Madeline McCann were both targeted as part of Woods’ sick humour.
Woods was arrested by police for his own protection after a 50-strong crowd attempted to storm his house when he was identified. He was later convicted of “sending by means of a public electronic communications network a message or other matter that is grossly offensive”. The judge hearing the case said that the comments were so abhorrent they deserved the longest sentence he could hand down.
21-year-old troll Joshua Cryer decided to target ex-footballer and high-profile Twitter user Stan Collymore with a string of racist tweets. Cryer, who was studying law at Newcastle University, claimed he wanted to “snare a celebrity” and hoped to gain a reaction from the former England footballer.
Cryer initially tried to claim his computer had been hacked and he was therefore not responsible for the messages. He later changed his story and pleaded guilty to a charge of sending grossly offensive messages under Section 127 of the Communications Act. He was handed a two-year community order with 240 hours of unpaid work and £150 costs.
For most people, joking about an abducted child is offensive enough. 18-year-old Sam Busby, however, took things even further by making sexual comments on Facebook about missing April Jones. When questioned about the incident he claimed he was “immature” and “seeking attention”.
Busby was reported to police by another Facebook user and later received a suspended 6-week jail sentence. He was convicted of sending an indecent an offensive message that breached the 2003 Communication Act.
20-year-old Ahmed posted a message on his Facebook profile stating that all soldiers should “DIE & go to hell”. The message was left shortly after the deaths of a number of British soldiers serving in Afghanistan.
Ahmed removed the messages following an outcry, but denies the messages were offensive. Huddersfield Magistrates Court disagreed and sentenced the young man to 240 hours’ community service as part of a two-year community order.
Are you being trolled?
If you find that you are on the receiving end of messages which leave you feeling scared, vulnerable or deeply offended, you must tell someone. Friends and family can provide help and assistance, but if the abuse is particularly offensive and persistent, you should contact the Police with evidence.
You should also avoid the temptation to retaliate or engage in a battle of words, as this almost always inflames the situation and leads to even more vile accusations from the troll. You can use the following contact details for particular social networks to report incidents of trolling and abuse:
- Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/help/?page=247013378662696
- Twitter – http://support.twitter.com/groups/33-report-a-violation
- LinkedIn – email@example.com
- MySpace – http://www.myspace.com/help/reportabuse
If this does not help, you can call the Police on their non-emergency contact number 101 for further advice.
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Written by Alexandra James, a blogger interested in online safety and online education.