Recently, someone I worked with closely passed away in what appeared at the time to be a suicide. He was a popular figure in the community, and saddened by his loss, they created a R.I.P. Facebook page to act as a tribute and memorial. In the first few hours of its life, the page attracted hundreds of followers, many of whom shared condolences and heartwarming stories about the deceased. However, by 11pm, with 2,000 followers, the discourse on the “wall” of the page had turned so ugly, the administrators had to shut it down. Pictures of nooses, ethnic slurs, and long, malicious posts mocking the deceased filled the wall and discussion section of the page. The poster or poster seemed to relish in the reactions to his/her posts, and continued the onslaught. The Memorial page had been taken over by tribute page trolls, and for those who had not experienced their wrath before, it was a shocking, confusing, and enraging experience.
Tribute page trolls may or may not actually know the victim. Some people actively seek out pages that begin with R.I.P., find out what they can about the circumstances, and wreck havoc in an attempt to hurt and get a reaction from friends and family members. Trolls don’t discriminate, Young, old, Accident Victims, Veterans, Murder Victims, those who died from disease and those who took their own lives are all targeted equally.
“Cyber bullying” is a relatively new term, and in many places it’s unclear under which laws or even if trolls can be prosecuted. This past summer a woman in Australia was sentenced to probation and had her internet privileges restricted for being a tribute page troll in the case of a murdered woman. Under the guise of a fake facebook account, she had posted obscene pictures and made hurtful comments, even boasting when her actions gained media attention.
So what can we do to combat the disgusting practice of trolling? Trolls get off on the reaction they get, even if it’s just calling them out as trolls. Not reacting, or controlling your reaction may be the best way to combat them. In an ideal situation one would be able to Block trolls and delete their posts before anyone had time to react. But because it’s so easy to “like” a page on facebook, trolls using multiple accounts can easily overwhelm and consume a tribute page. A tribute “group” where member have to join and can be kicked out may be a better option.
It’s disturbing to think that there are individuals in this world who hide behind computers to intentionally disrespect and hurt grieving friends and family members. The world seems like a darker place after one experiences the onslaught of a tribute page troll. But if we let the actions of a few miserable people make us cynical and jaded, the trolls win. One of my pet peeves is hearing people say “Nobody cares about anyone anymore!” If that were the case, we wouldn’t have tribute pages to begin with.