Trolls and 'trolling’ have been dominating headlines since some high-profile Australians found themselves at the centre of vicious attacks on Twitter.
And it’s not just celebrities being targeted. Grieving families have been shocked to find their Facebook tribute pages to dead loved ones defaced with violent and disturbing images.
While a lot has been said about these so-called trolls, hardly anyone has been able to speak to them.
In an extraordinary television event, Insight hears from the trolls themselves – unmasked and unafraid to talk openly about their activities and where they draw the line.
They face off with trolling victims and experts to discuss the impacts of trolling, whether a crackdown on trolling would threaten free speech and whether people simply need to 'toughen up’ when they enter online spaces.
Senior Producer: Jodie Noyce
Associate Producer: Kym Middleton
Trolls and 'trolling’ have been dominating headlines since some high-profile Australians found themselves at the centre of vicious attacks on Twitter.
JENNY BROCKIE: Hi, I'm Jenny Brockie, welcome everybody - let's meet some trolls. Weev in San Francisco, you call yourself a troll, what do you do?
ANDREW 'WEEV’ AUERNHEIMER: Oh, largely I cause very large problems, social problems generally, for very powerful people. I like to think of trolling as a way of expressing working class discontent. I recall recently that Gina Reinhardt called the working class people of Australia lazy and without self- control and I think trolling is the right of said people to respond by telling her to perhaps stop eating and get on a treadmill.
JENNY BROCKIE: So how do you decide who to target Weev?
ANDREW 'WEEV’ AUERNHEIMER: You know, I think that I don't necessarily target a specific person. Trolling is a dialogue and it's impossible to do without the participation of the party that you're trolling. They have to - they have to somehow engage in a process of communication with you.
JENNY BROCKIE: So what would you consider a success then with your trolling?
ANDREW 'WEEV’ AUERNHEIMER: I've, you know, caused a success. I've made Goatsee an inexorable part of the corporate history of AT&T. Goatsee is a classic internet image of a man holding open a gaping anus and I think this is quite, quite funny.
JENNY BROCKIE: Why do you think it's funny?
ANDREW 'WEEV’ AUERNHEIMER: A, because AT&T is participating in a warrantless wiretapping program that is largely against our constitution and if anybody's ever had service with this company they know that they're just mean bastards. They're cheating customers so I think it's fair to bring something home to them and give them a little bit of a headache one day or two and with an honest critique of their products and their character.
JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, so you're up on charges as hacking AT&T and stealing email addresses and other personal information of Ipad users. How does that fit into trolling?
ANDREW 'WEEV’ AUERNHEIMER: That would be incorrect. I've never hacked into AT&T. AT&T made this data publicly available. They admitted that it was accessible by anyone on the internet and it's about taking the things that people make public and transforming that and using it to criticise those people.
JENNY BROCKIE: You say that trolling is about creating something that expresses the true nature of the character. I wonder how what you said about Gina Reinhardt exposes the true nature of the character if you're just talking about her weight
ANDREW 'WEEV’ AUERNHEIMER: Well I think it's deeper than her weight. I think it's a level of contempt for the average Australian when she has inherited wealth from her father, a bunch of mines, and she runs around calling the people that pull the minerals out of the ground for her lazy and stupid and then she dares, she dares to consider herself above the people whose wealth from the land, that belongs to the Australian people, that she's essentially stolen in her family has stolen and then she runs around calling good hard working class people of Australia lazy and stupid. It's disgusting. It's a level of decadence and gluttony that I think speaks not only through her weight but her general demeanour. She's a loud mouthed obnoxious idiot.
JENNY BROCKIE: Jaime in Chicago, you call yourself a troll too. What does trolling mean to you?
JAIME COCHRAN: Trolling is just basically emotion or invoking emotional reaction from someone. I guess my definition is a little simpler than Weev's. Basically what I do is perform trolling on the most part and creating conspiracy theories about myself, which is pretty funny.
JENNY BROCKIE: So who do you target in those forums? And how do you decide who to target?
JAIME COCHRAN: No one in particular, whoever will take the bait.
JENNY BROCKIE: And what sort of bait do you throw out?
JAIME COCHRAN: Anything inflammatory, getting people to expose the banality of the things that they hold dear. Like especially calling out people for, like their tastes in music or something, just super trivial, like gets them really upset about it and it's hilarious. Why would somebody get mad about something like that?
JENNY BROCKIE: Why is it hilarious, why put that much effort into doing something like that? Where is the satisfaction in it?
JAIME COCHRAN: It's just - it's just my sense of humour. I have a very dry sense of humour. It's very funny to me.
JENNY BROCKIE: Where do you do it? Where do you do your trolling?
JAIME COCHRAN: Mostly in internet forums. Started on IRC chat years ago and have moved on to Twitter and have spread my wings a little bit on Twitter.
JENNY BROCKIE: Steven in the UK, you also call yourself a troll. What do you do?
STEVEN: I would be someone that would troll forums, someone that would troll places like IRC, on-line gaming as well, trolling on there. My kind of trolling, it's more - it's more of a humorous thing. There's no, unlike Weev there's no sort of political or do you know, there's no sort of good motivation behind mine, I'll be honest about that. It's not to the extent where I'm deliberately trying to upset people. It's just, it's a wind up, it's just about leading somebody down the garden path, spinning them a story and getting them maybe angry about something and at times making people look stupid and at other times it's about exposing people for what they are. So I guess with Weev there's some similarities in that case.
JENNY BROCKIE: So who do you target Steven?
STEVEN: I don't specifically set out to target somebody. They kind of put their hands up and volunteer. You post something really mildly inflammatory on a forum somewhere.
JENNY BROCKIE: Such as?
STEVEN: I mean the best example I can think of is I was recently posting on a computer forum which provides help to people building their own computers and somebody had been asking a very simple question and somebody that had responded to help them did so in a really aggressive manner. So for me it was as simple as waiting a couple of days, posting something really stupid myself, waiting for this guy to respond and then just kind of laid it down as if I was a complete idiot and he was getting - they get really riled up about it. So in most cases of me, you have to respond to me, you have to kind of pick yourself as a target. I don't specifically go looking for you.
JENNY BROCKIE: Why do you like it?
STEVEN: In cases like the one I just said, it's about exposing somebody for who they are. This guy's on a website where it's supposed to be, you know, helping people. He's supposed to be a nice guy helping you with your problems when in actual fact he's just an ass that wants to kind of lord superiority over people. My enjoyment comes from actually stringing these people along and showing people how nasty others can be if you know what I mean.
JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, Whitney Phillips in New York, you've spent four years researching trolling. What do you think of what you've heard and how do you define it because it means a lot of different things to different people?
WHITNEY PHILLIPS: Well, the word is used in very different ways in different contexts. In the media it tends to be used in a particular way. The research that I've done focuses on people who self-identify as trolls. For example, the people that you've just heard from, and the subcultural definition for me is really predicated on this idea of your self-identifying, it's this desire to incite an emotional reaction and the stronger the emotional reaction, the more amusing the behaviour, the more gratifying the behaviour is. And as for what we just heard from the three trolls, there's a huge spectrum of behaviours.
Some of the behaviours are on one end, I don't know if I would say exactly harmless but don't really mean to cause any permanent emotional damage. It's silly, it's absurd, it's intended to be kind of amusing - both to the troll and for those who may be witnessing the behaviours. But then on the other end of the spectrum you can get really nasty behaviours, really abusive behaviours, and in between sometimes there are political iterations of these same behaviours. So it runs the entire spectrum and so it's very difficult to make blanket statements about all trolls or all trolling.
JENNY BROCKIE: Who are the people most likely to be trolls, is there any pattern?
WHITNEY PHILLIPS: In the research that I conducted between 2008 and 2012 primarily on Facebook and on4chan's B board, they tended to be white male, between the ages of 18 and 34 typically, and that could be sort of a difficult - that's a difficult statement to make often because many of them are anonymous. I mean most of them are anonymous and right now we have this interesting opportunity to actually see the people behind the trolls which is - that's not a luxury you often get.
JENNY BROCKIE: And is it mostly anonymous, trolling?
WHITNEY PHILLIPS: For the most part, I mean as all cultural and sub cultural behaviours, things change over time. You see now more people trolling under their real names, under their real accounts, sort of lower level trolling. Most trolls who self-identify as such, they tend to do so anonymously because if your name is attached to a project you can sort of get away with less.
JENNY BROCKIE: Anyone here done trolling? So what does trolling mean to you?
ASHER WOLF: It can be something as simple as surprising somebody with the information or the way in which you present information, or playing a small practical joke that's completely harmless. But it can also mean a format of talking back to people who are in positions of power or who are abusing others.
JENNY BROCKIE: So anything can go, like does anything go with trolling? Is anything acceptable?
ASHER WOLF: Well every troll is individual. For me I have limits - I have ethical and moral limits on my behaviour. I, you know - try to stay within the law. I try not to harm others.
JENNY BROCKIE: I mean you're making it sound very respectable when in fact we know that often it isn't and that often it can often do great harm to people.
ASHER WOLF: I think there's a conglomeration of issues such as cyber bullying, sorry, bullying, let's not add the word on cyber on it. Bullying or abuse which are pre-existing issues within our society which are being lumped in with the term trolling at the moment and this is really problematic because what's happening is we have the mass media talking about trolling in a way that traditionally on the internet, trolling was not seen as necessarily just bullying or just law breaking or just abuse of others. Really, insightful trolling involves getting information across to others. It involves changing the way people think about things.
JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, other people have trolled? Anyone else want to put their hand up for trolling? Masood?
MASOOD: Yeah, well I guess everyone's kind of done it. You're just speaking your mind. If you're saying something that everyone's thinking about, you're just saying it.
JENNY BROCKIE: Is it something you'd say to someone's face?
MASOOD: Oh, I would not but not everyone would say what they're thinking. Like in a situation where it's like say on a Facebook status or something, you're just thinking something, you just say it and then everyone just gets riled up and angry. But you don't intentionally do it to like make them angry.
JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, Sanjeet, you're nodding your head?
SANJEET KHERAY: Yeah, trolling's got a huge spectrum. It can be inappropriate, it can also be really witty.
JENNY BROCKIE: Have you done it?
SANJEET KHERAY: Yes, plenty of times.
JENNY BROCKIE: Have you done stuff you regret?
SANJEET KHERAY: Never, because you know, we have values and moral ethical values that we stick to. I would say that satire, sarcasm and all those kind of things are involved in trolling and you can have very tasteful trolling and on the other hand you can have trolling that is very inappropriate. For example, the Beaconsfield miners’ page for the memorial for people who had passed away in the Beaconsfield mining accident, I remember there was very irrelevant information on that page and any amount of trolling on a memorial page on a Facebook forum, on asocial network, is totally inappropriate.
JENNY BROCKIE: Joe Hildebrand, you're sitting listening to all of this.
JOE HILDEBRAND, THE DAILY TELEGRAPH: Yeah.
JENNY BROCKIE: You played a key role in the Daily Telegraph's "Stop the Trolls" campaign. What do you think listening to these definitions?
JOE HILDEBRAND: Well certainly in terms of the campaign that the Telegraph was running, it wasn't about social commentary, it wasn't about people poking fun or taking the piss out of people or, you know, going to powerful figures and saying what they thought or having a go at Gina Reinhardt for her comments. What we were talking about was sustained, targeted and personal abuse that was directed specifically at individuals and resulted in cases of self-harm as we saw with Charlotte Dawson, who is obviously a very famous example but there are plenty of other people less famous who get upset by it and get affected by it, and plenty of other people who, without resorting to self-harm or things that extreme, get upset and emotionally, you know, tortured or manipulated by it, and no one should be put through that.
JENNY BROCKIE: Weev, I wanted to ask you a little bit about this because your description at the beginning is very much a political one of what you do but I notice that you tweeted to somebody "you're fat and your kid has autism". I wonder what the greater purpose in that kind of tweeting is?
ANDREW 'WEEV’ AUERNHEIMER: I believe that tweet is pretty fair. I believe that person was fat and their child did have autism.
JENNY BROCKIE: What about the impact that something like that has on the person receiving it?
ANDREW 'WEEV’ AUERNHEIMER: Well if they're going to insult me, I'm absolutely going to take the liberty to insult them back. I mean that wasn't just a random comment. They engaged in a dialogue with me.
JENNY BROCKIE: We'll put up that exchange on our website so people can see the string of tweets that went on but what I'm interested in is every time that you describe something like that you're saying you're reacting to something rather than being an initiator. Do you not take any responsibility for initiating those kinds of comments? I mean you don't have to respond that way. Why choose to respond that way?
ANDREW 'WEEV’ AUERNHEIMER: You know, I think the problem with our society is that everybody is so politically incorrect because they've grown up in a bubble of Fisher Price rounded corners and bright colours, where costumed animals tell nobody anything that might hurt their feelings. Kids these days, they should be out welding, they should work with caustic chemicals, you know, controlled demolitions, throw spears, like learn to be real people in a real world and not these insulated morons who can't ever hear anything that might hurt their feelings. Like get over it, get over it, grow up, grow up and learn to deal with people on the internet not liking you and if you don't like it shut down your Facebook page, make your Twitter private, don't engage in a public discussion and you'll never run into a conversation where I can say something that will hurt your feelings.
JOE HILDEBRAND: Can I just comment on that? I mean firstly what he's saying is completely idiotic. I mean the number of completely nonsensical blanket statements he made are so pathetically under graduate, they barely merit a response. But what I will say to the argument that people keep pulling out which is that if you don't like trolling or if you don't like being abused, get off the internet. That is exactly the same as saying to someone if you don't like being bashed or you don't like being raped, then don't walk the streets. Stay locked in your house. It's a completely unfair, unrealistic and psychopathic thing to say to people.
ANDREW 'WEEV’ AUERNHEIMER: This is completely different. Trolling is a back and forth dialogue.
ASHER WOLF: See Joe, you're actually trolled to many people. Many people consider you a troll. We look at what you write and the way that you engage with the world out there as a form of trolling.
GREG WALSH, LAWYER: Yeah, but Asher, what this gentleman has just said, to target a vulnerable boy because he's overweight and he's got autism is a disgrace. I mean it's outrageous and he doesn't - he seems to have a sociopathic attitude.
ANDREW 'WEEV’ AUERNHEIMER: That was a grown woman, not a vulnerable boy.
GREG WALSH: Yeah well Weev, or whatever your name is, that's no answer to the proposition at all, it’s just as bad.
ANDREW 'WEEV’ AUERNHEIMER: I'm not picking on children.
GREG WALSH: Weev, what right do you have to target another human being because they're overweight and they maybe autistic. I think it's outrageous you have that view.
ANDREW 'WEEV’ AUERNHEIMER: I have the right to say something if I am insulted. I have the right to say something back.
GREG WALSH: What did she say about you, how were you insulted?
ANDREW 'WEEV’ AUERNHEIMER: If you don't want to engage in a conversation with me, don't start it buddy.
GREG WALSH: Well how were you insulted? How did she insult you? What did she say?
ANDREW 'WEEV’ AUERNHEIMER: I don't even recall at this point.
GREG WALSH: But you recall calling her fat and autistic.
ANDREW 'WEEV’ AUERNHEIMER: I don't specifically recall but I think it's pretty fair to call it like I see it.
GREG WALSH: But you don't care - you don't care what effect you say has on another human being, do you? It's all - it doesn't matter?
ANDREW 'WEEV’ AUERNHEIMER: If somebody can't handle somebody not liking them on the internet, they have some deep seated problems that should have been addressed in their childhood but that's not really my problem.
JENNY BROCKIE: Jaime, you're nodding your head. You agree with this?
JAIME COCHRAN: Definitely.
JENNY BROCKIE: So anything goes, you can say whatever you like on it internet to anybody and not have to really concern yourself with the consequences on that individual?
JAIME COCHRAN: Not necessarily anything you want. I draw the line ethically for myself, like I'm not a malicious person, like I like to say things that are just. I have a sardonic wit but I don't attack people. I don’t attack people.
JENNY BROCKIE: So would you post something like what Weev posted?
JAIME COCHRAN: No, I wouldn't.
JENNY BROCKIE: So where do you draw the line then?
JAIME COCHRAN: But I respect his right to do so.
JENNY BROCKIE: Steven, what about you because I know that you've been concerned about what you think trolling has turned into. Do you agree with what we've seen?
STEVEN: I don't necessarily agree with it. My own trolling is, it never gets personal. It never degrades into personal insults and things like that.
JENNY BROCKIE: So what is it, what is your trolling? How would you define it?
STEVEN: In my case, it's like I said before, it's getting arise out of somebody but you can you get a rise out of somebody without resorting to calling them, you know, saying that you're autistic, you're fat, something like that. You can go down the pub and get a rise out of one of your mates by saying your sister spent the night at my house last night. He might get a bit annoyed by it but, you know, it's not really insulting, it's not offensive and you can go afterwards look, I was only joking mate and the two of you can have a laugh about it. You know, there's no need to really go as far as personal insults for me. Everybody has their moral line - everybody kind of decides where to draw that. I'm certainly not going to tell anyone where to draw theirs.
JENNY BROCKIE: A lot of people laughing here but I mean this is widespread, this sort of stuff, yes?
MALE: Jenny, I have to say that trolling is almost just another kind of freedom of speech. It's essential in a democratic society that we allow people to have their say. It's only concerning when these comments are actually harmful to other people, if they take it seriously, if they harm themselves, and obviously we have to try to have limits for this kind of harm. I mean Facebook has been improving its blocking and reporting sort of systems and now it's much easier compared to previous years for a person to block trolls, whatever. It should be the social networking site that's actually responsible for these kinds of trolls.
KATHERINE FEENEY, FAIRFAX JOURNALIST: But one of the interesting elements is this idea of responsibility because we're talking about freedom of speech, that's the right but the right comes with the responsibility and when we're looking at the platforms particularly, there's a lot of buck passing going to on in this conversation. You know, yes, I'm ethical in my behaviour. Yes, I'm not really out there to cause harm but one of the consequences is when we've got a platform like Twitter, for example, the speed that bile can be passed around and the wave that can build around it, it's nobody's fault but it happens and it impacts on people. So I think it's a little bit rich for people to sit back and pretend as if their actions, their responsibility for their actions stops as soon as they put it out there simply because they didn't intend for it to cause harm.
JENNY BROCKIE: Is there a difference between cyber bullying and trolling?
JOE HILDEBRAND: I think cyber bullying is an extreme form of trolling. I mean trolling in the definition of this show seems to have taken on every single form of communication.
JENNY BROCKIE: That's because trolls takes on a lot of different definitions and call themselves trolls.
JOE HILDEBRAND: That's right.
ASHER WOLF: I think it's really the Daily Telegraph that took on the term cyber bullying to conflate it with the idea of trolling. There was not that much conflation in the two terms before in the mainstream. Really, trolling, where it came there in terms of its internet background, was not necessarily a form of bullying. We had things like rick rolling. We this things like posting"¦
JENNY BROCKIE: Rick rolling you had better explain please?
ASHER WOLF: So somebody posts a blind link on the internet and says: Check this out, the Prime Minister is somewhere, is doing something, hilarious and you click it and it's actually Rick Astley singing some terrible song from the '90's.
JENNY BROCKIE: We'll put that on our website too.
ASHER WOLF: And it's like a practical joke, it's harmless, but what we're seeing"¦
JENNY BROCKIE: But that's a very benign description and that isn't the description that people understand his term now.
ASHER WOLF: Well that I would you say in part because we have mainstream media commentators who are focusing on the really harmful aspects of what they see occurring on-line. Now I wouldn't necessarily say that those are the way that we actually originally saw what trolling was.
JENNY BROCKIE: But do you think there are harmful aspects online Asher?
ASHER WOLF: Of course, there are harmful aspects all over society.
WHITNEY PHILLIPS: I actually have something to add, one of the things that I focused specifically on in my research is the relationship between the mainstream media and trolling. And one of the common themes in the conversations I had with trolls, and just what I could see based on watching the trajectory on the sub culture, is that trolling as a sub culture would not exist were it not for the mainstream media interventions that have catapulted it to this extraordinarily visible behavioural category.
Trolling is big business, it's fantastic news for people in the mainstream media. So if we want to talk about trolls and why trolling is problematic, and I don't deny that it is, we also have to talk about the ways that the media amplifies and gives a platform for these behaviours, and in fact in some ways sort of enables it.
JENNY BROCKIE: Tonight we're talking about trolling, who does it and why they do it. Darren, you were targeted by trolls after appearing on the first series of Go Back to Where You Came From. Let's have a look at some of the things you said in that series.
DARREN: GO BACK TO WHERE YOU CAME FROM SERIES:
DARREN HASSAN: Why have they traversed half the globe to land on a safe haven such as Indonesia, why are they then taking that boat journey to Australia? This tells me that they are nothing but economic refugees. We are getting bombarded with boat people coming and it was only a matter of time before Christmas Island happened.
People who come here without any documentation by boat, should be immediately expatriated and particularly if people are destroying documents – what are they trying to hide?
JENNY BROCKIE: What happened after the show aired?
DARREN HASSAN: Well, as I said on the response program, I'd started as a twitter virgin and I certainly became deflowered over the course of the program. I was prepared for robust debate about it.
JENNY BROCKIE: Well you took strong views in the program, yeah?
DARREN HASSAN: At the end of the day that's all they are, they're just opinions from an average Joe that I was asked to tell. I can't see anything - I guess the quotes that mainly come up were racist, uneducated, bogon"¦.
JENNY BROCKIE: Well it got worse than that, I mean there were people you should have been sodomised in refugee camps, I saw one message, yeah.
DARREN HASSAN: Yeah, that was intelligent.
JENNY BROCKIE: And there was other stuff that was equally bad.
DARREN HASSAN: They disagree with it so rather than, you know, go okay, well that's his opinion, their frustration I suppose led them to, I guess, launch a bit of a Twitter attack.
JENNY BROCKIE: Now you've been trolled Katherine?
KATHERINE FEENEY: Yeah. I've had, you know, the emails, the tweets, the photos, the, you know, general interactions even in the street which is not necessarily trolling but you know, you're a dirty whore, go off and die. I want to, you know, I'd rape you in the gutter walking home. Stuff on Twitter and you know - emails and photographic - very explicit photographic emails coming my way. And I'm totally prepared to say I'm putting myself out there, I've got to be able to expect a reaction and because I'm a blogger I've always promoted conversation in a two way scenario. I'm happy to engage, the idea being I'm happy to engage with people who are reasonable.
JENNY BROCKIE: Weev, what do you think about the kind of thing that Katherine's describing that she gets? Is she that fair game for that sort of stuff?
ANDREW 'WEEV’ AUERNHEIMER: Well it's terrible. I don't think that throwing out a threat of violence is in any way could be construed as trolling. That's just simple bullying, threats of violence are against the law, they're against my law, they're against your law, that's not trolling. That's a threat of violence and that's illegal and it should be, it should be. And there's nowhere in the spectrum of behaviour that I've ever seen that could be levelled trolling would include a threat of violence against somebody's person.
JENNY BROCKIE: Weev, I guess what I'm interested in with you, you've said that violence is unacceptable. I mean where else do you draw the line with trolling? I mean what won't you do?
ANDREW 'WEEV’ AUERNHEIMER: Trolling is about a debate. It's a style of confrontational rhetoric and the line is, you know, if somebody's not in a dialogue then it's not trolling. It's impossible to troll somebody that doesn't engage in a conversation with you and there's no way, there's no way that a threat of violence is trolling. That's straight out illegal and it should be.
JOE HILDEBRAND: I just want to point out that it's also illegal in Australia to intimidate or harass someone over the internet so it doesn't actually have to be a threat of violence and plenty of the stuff that, even that line alone about the woman being fat and her kid being autistic, that could constitute harassment on the internet so that would be breaking the law, and Weev, if you ever should see fit to come to these shores"¦.
ANDREW 'WEEV’ AUERNHEIMER: There's a very simple button on Twitter. You know, I find it funny, you're part of this cast of rich celebrities that seem to be at war with the working class Joe. You've really made yourself a name off of trying to portray the common Australian is backwards and stupid and racist and I just find it funny that you sort of participated in a war against the free speech of the common man and you sit here, you know, you live a very Marie Antoinettesque life while mining magnates run your country and try to steal the wealth of common Australians, I find it hilarious.
GREG WALSH: It's not just limited to threats of physical violence. I've been in cases where tragically young boys and girls have been trolled in the most despicable way - they've taken their own lives. Now Weev should understand what really can happen when these people make these representations. They seem to be oblivious of the impact and the likelihood of harm and injury to people in our community and that's an important point.
JENNY BROCKIE: Do you think about the consequences of the words that you put out there? Jaime, do you think about the impact they can have on an individual and potentially on a very fragile individual who might eventually take their life or attempt to take their life?
JAIME COCHRAN: Yes, absolutely. I've been a target of violent attacks, verbal attacks on the internet too. Like I've been trolled before but I just don't, I just don't, it doesn't bother me and I don't engage in those kind of conversations. However, I just treat trolling as like an interactive comedy routine for me and I try and make other people laugh with me and like I don't target people's insecurities. I just go after the things that you know, exposes who they really are – if they are racist or misogynist or I’ll expose that.
JENNY BROCKIE: But how do you know what their insecurities are? You only know them on-line.
JAIME COCHRAN: It's just banter, like it's just using my logic and logical fallacies and anything I can to just put one over on them and make it funny.
JENNY BROCKIE: Steven, what about you? I mean where do you draw the line on all this?
STEVEN: Well like I said before with me it never gets to the personal level. You know, it never comes down to insults or you're fat or you're kid's autistic or anything like that. I mean most of the stuff I say, if you're a reasonable person, you shouldn't really take any lasting offence from it. It's just, you know, wasting somebody's time derailing a conversation.
JENNY BROCKIE: Is it ethical to be anonymous? Jaime, you use a number of pseudonyms to do what you do, is it ethical?
JAIME COCHRAN: Yeah, I use a number of names but I'm pretty, you can find me pretty easily anywhere.
JENNY BROCKIE: Why don't you use your own name to do what you do?
JAIME COCHRAN: Because it's funnier to use pseudonyms.
JENNY BROCKIE: Steven, do you use your own name?
STEVEN: I don't use my own name though. I use, I'm like Jaime, I'd use quite a few different pseudonyms, handles, whatever you want to all them.
JENNY BROCKIE: Why?
STEVEN: Well in my case it's not because, it's not really for fear of being recognised, for me it's a case of if I'm winding somebody up and I'm using the same name everywhere you can sort of the prank people like that.
PROFESSOR MICHAEL FRASER, UTS COMMUNICATIONS LAW CENTRE: Those people who hide behind a mask of anonymity to abuse or harass or intimidate other people make a claim for freedom of expression, but this in fact is a direct attack on freedom of expression, to bully other people out of the forum so that they're intimidated and threatened and in fear so they can't express themselves. And if we agree to that, only the bullies will be left crowing on-line and everybody else who wants to engage in civil discourse and exchange of ideas will leave the forum. It's the opposite of freedom of expression.
JENNY BROCKIE: I want to switch gear here for a minute. Stephen, you've been listening to this very patiently now and I know that you and your family were trolled after your 15 year old daughter died in a car crash. Tell us what happened?
STEPHEN DEGUARA: Yeah, she was, they were driving along the Flinders Highway and a truck ran up the back of them. The truck itself was carrying bananas, and what happened was about twenty four hours after the incident, she's only 15 so she's grade 11, she had a lot of friends socially. There was a site that was opened for Kirsten, RIP Kirsten, and a lot of the kids were leaving really nice messages and I mean I read them and I thought jeez they're nice and that was good because it supported me, it helped me try and get over the hurt.
And out of the blue this - all of a sudden there was jokes starting to come through about bananas, banana trucks, even a game was posted. This is on her RIP website. I mean it destroyed us. I mean we took it to the police and the police couldn't do anything because these guys are really bright, they're good. Because they didn't post anything pornographic or say anything pornographic, the Queensland police couldn't do anything.
I had to get the website closed down. Out of the blue one of the trolls opens up an RIP Kirsten website, out of the blue. There was five kids that started talking to a troll. I realised it was a troll because one of my friends infiltrated the system and he got back to me and said: Hey, you've got to get these kids out of system. This is a troll. So I had to virtually go through, ring these kids up and go get out of the website, get out of the website.
JENNY BROCKIE: This is all while you're grieving for your daughter?
STEPHEN DEGUARA: This is like three days after the accident. I'm trying to organise a funeral. You try and do that with a 15 year old girl, you know, you've lost her out of the blue. I've got, you know, her brother in hospital, her boy, the girlfriends in hospital. You know, I'm trying to deal with all this stuff happening in front of me. The only way I could fix it, the police couldn't do nothing, the only way I could fix it was to go in, open up a website and then get people to contact me and physically talk to the people and go, okay, how do you know Kirsten? And when they explained it to me, then I had to go right, I'll get back to you and I had to ask the question to other people. Do you know this person? Yeah, I do. Okay, fine. Let them in. So I had to do that full time to control the environment that these young kids were getting into.
JENNY BROCKIE: Did you ever find out who was doing the trolling?
STEPHEN DEGUARA: We found out the names. There's a group of them and I'll tell you now, they're sarcastic, really bad people. Really bad people. The person that infiltrated them got back to me and said: "Steve, I can't stay with them no more, I've got to get out of because they are really, really bad." Now whether or not they were, they were chasing kids, I don't know.
JENNY BROCKIE: Did they know your daughter?
STEPHEN DEGUARA: No, they didn't.
JENNY BROCKIE: Did they know your family at all?
STEPHEN DEGUARA: We thought they did at first, you know, but when we actually started to get into it no, we didn't. These are people, I'm in north Queensland but these are people down south here, you know, Victoria, South Australia. These are people that I don't even know. You know, where do you go? What do you do? The police can't do nothing. I can understand, you know, you lose somebody and life goes on guys, it's cool, you know, I can deal with it. But I can't deal with this shit because that's all it is, it's just crap and I don't like - like it's wrong. Mentally wrong.
JENNY BROCKIE: Can I get a response from our trolls here? Why do trolls attack RIP websites and it happens again and again and again?
STEVEN: Personally I wouldn't do that. It's just bullying.
ANDREW 'WEEV’ AUERNHEIMER: I don't understand the urge to do something like that. I agree it's absolutely extremely wrong and it's an unfortunate consequence of having a society with free debate.
JENNY BROCKIE: Who do you think does that stuff?
WHITNEY PHILLIPS: Actually I researched RIP trolls, I focused specifically on them for a chapter in my dissertation, and what I found in a lot of cases, so a lot of Facebook trolls, not all of them were RIP trolls. They don't think about the families, they don't really think about the impact of what they do, except that it will be amusing to them. So it becomes this weird fetish object that the person who has died isn't really a person at all. They essentially become like a character in a television show or a movie that only exists for the, you know, audiences amusement. So there's there profound emotional disconnect.
JENNY BROCKIE: So Whitney, how would those people you spoke to go sitting in this room with Stephen?
WHITNEY PHILLIPS: I think that they would probably lower their eyes and not look at him. I mean frankly, because the thing that's so strange about it and it was so difficult to try to write about it from an academic perspective, I mean they know what it does but many of them don't care when they're in troll mode, but as people they know that it's wrong. So there's this, again there's this strange disconnect that ends up happening.
JENNY BROCKIE: Can I ask the trolls that we have here, can I just ask Weev and Jaime and Steven, I mean what do you think drives that behaviour? You know, the behaviour that does do that to the RIP websites. Where do you think those people are coming from in what they do?
ANDREW 'WEEV’ AUERNHEIMER: There's a group here in America called the Westborough Baptist Church and they do systematically picket funerals with signs that say some pretty inflammatory terrible things. This is not a phenomenon unique to the internet, I think that this is something deep in the soul of humanity that some people want to do terrible things and that's a shame.
JENNY BROCKIE: Jaime, what do you think?
JAIME COCHRAN: I think it's despicable, it's disgusting, it's not funny in the least.
STEPHEN DEGUARA: You know, there's a law to say I can't go to a graveyard and kick over a stone, alright, deface a grave site. Yet there's no law to say I can go into a website, an RIP website, and whatever I want to do.
JENNY BROCKIE: Michael, what is the legal situation?
PROFESSOR MICHAEL FRASER: It is illegal to abuse somebody or intimidate them or harass or even to cause offence on-line. It is an offence, a criminal offence under the Crimes Act. It has penalties of up to three years imprisonment and $11,000 fine. I understand that it may be new for police forces to have to deal with it and they're concentrating their efforts on even worse crimes on-line.
JENNY BROCKIE: Are there many prosecutions?
PROFESSOR MICHAEL FRASER: No, there aren't so it's up to the police now to resource their ability to respond to these crimes and to call people to account.
JENNY BROCKIE: Asher, what did you want to say about this?
ASHER WOLF: Anonymity is very important because give a man a mask and he'll tell you what he really thinks and sometimes my ability to be pseud - I am pseudonymous on the internet, I'm not anonymous but I pseudonymous so I use a name that is not my real name and I use it because primarily because I spend a lot of time researching surveillance contractors and some of those surveillance contractors use fake accounts to say we'd like to kill you, we'd like to hang your son and my anonymity or my pseudonym"¦
JENNY BROCKIE: Well Asher's your pseudonym?
ASHER WOLF: Yes, it's my pseudonym. Quite often people need anonymity to whistle blow. So huge cases of corruption, or you know, corporate corruption is something that we need anonymity for people to be able to use to bring to justice.
PROFESSOR MICHAEL FRASER: That is true but all criminals want to be anonymous, that's why they wear masks.
STEPHEN DEGUARA: No one wants to get caught.
PROFESSOR MICHAEL FRASER: And so they commit their crimes behind a mask, both on line but and in the real world. But there are – people should understand that law enforcement agencies have forensic investigation methods to unmask people on-line.
GREG WALSH: Jenny, could I just make a comment on this as to the adequacy of the laws? In my practical experience I don't think the laws are adequate. There's not the commitment of the politicians and also our police law enforcement agencies to see these offences, to perceive these offences are very serious offences indeed, and we need a greater degree of resources and commitment, hang on, a greater degree of commitment in detecting these crimes. In this area we're sadly lacking and we need a greater commitment from the politicians, a greater commitment from our law enforcement agencies. In the United Kingdom as long ago as 1988 they implemented legislation and they have a much more effective package of legislation that we have in Australia.
JENNY BROCKIE: Michael, you've got a different view about this. You don't think we need to change the laws, is that right?
PROFESSOR MICHAEL FRASER: Well we do have laws in place that make menacing or harassing or causing offence a criminal offence, but I agree that the law enforcement agencies don't seem to be equipped or set up to actually enforce those laws. And I think"¦
JENNY BROCKIE: I mean it's huge, what we're talking about is huge, I mean where do you begin and end if you start prosecuting this stuff?
PROFESSOR MICHAEL FRASER: Well I think if you prosecuted a few people then that would send a message to the on-line community about upholding a civil standard in our community.
ANDREW 'WEEV’ AUERNHEIMER: Let me interject here. So, at the time of his inception, Jesus Christ would have been labelled a troller in modern era. For example, John 8 he calls the leaders of a specific ethnic group murderers and liars and in Luke14:26 he demands hatred and crucifying Jesus didn't really stop the spread of the Christian meme. You're not going to be able to create an example out of a couple of people and hope that this behaviour stops. It's timeless, it's timeless, people are going to express their discontent when society has really sort of wronged them and they're going to continue to do it.
JENNY BROCKIE: Joe, what did you want to say?
JOE HILDEBRAND: I thought it was interesting how Weev was comparing abusing the families of dead children on-line to Christianity. But that aside one of the practical things our campaign"¦
ANDREW 'WEEV’ AUERNHEIMER: That's not what I'm doing.
JOE HILDEBRAND: "¦ was able to do was just to get the lines of communication open between some of the really big social media companies and the law enforcement officers here and I think there is a real problem with a willingness to act. They're over stretched, they don't have the sources to chase everything down every hole but if you have can have a point of contact with a Twitter representative, which is one thing we achieved during the campaign, or Facebook representative, they're already got somebody out here a little while ago. That can make it so much easier because of course they have the facilities and the tools to deliver the information about these people who have already breached the terms of agreement with the provider. They've breached the company's actual own terms of service and they've also of course broken the law or suspected of breaking the law.
MAN: But isn't part of the problem jurisdictional? I mean you've got the AFP and then you've got your seven or eight state police forces, they don't always talk to each other and we've seen plenty of examples of that.
JOE HILDEBRAND: Yeah, there is some buck passing, that is absolutely true.
GREG WALSH: Yes, that's a very important point you've made and I think there needs to be a greater commitment of the politicians, our Attorneys General regularly meet with all the state Attorney Generals and they have to recognise the nature of this problem and do something more effectively about it. I think the Australian community is calling out for leadership here and we really need some effective leadership in this area.
JENNY BROCKIE: Stephen, what sort of response did you get from Facebook over this?
STEPHEN DEGUARA: They did close it down, actually they helped us a fair bit because they probably knew straight away, RIP straightaway, look, we've got to sort this out. We had probably two days, three days and then they closed it all down. What I was more disappointed about is the authorities. I'm Mr Joe Bloggs down the backyard, I mow my grass every week, I drink a bit of grog, I watch the footy, I have a problem I go to the police. They sit there and go sorry, I can't help you. Well that's fine I'll take it in my own hands because if I get the bugger I'll punch the shit out of him.
JENNY BROCKIE: Joe, I just wanted to ask you a question about your newspaper because it made a play for the moral high ground on this with trolling.
JOE HILDEBRAND: Yes, that's where we belong.
JENNY BROCKIE: Now I wonder how a Telegraph front page like this one fits in to that, portraying the former speaker of the Parliament, whatever you might think of him, as a rat complete with a tail. I mean how does that sit with an anti-trolling campaign?
JOE HILDEBRAND: A rat is a very long established and well established and well known term for someone who betrays their political party, who leaves their political party and Peter Slipper has done it not once but twice. I want to make very clear we, and part of the stop the trolls campaign, we are not stop trying to crack on any freedom of speech. We're not trying to crackdown on taking the piss. We're not trying to crackdown on people saying whatever they want to say about any issue and we're certainly not trying to crack down on people having fun with serious political issues, as that front page does and as I do, countless times a day, day in, day out.
What we were talking about is personal sustained abuse at strangers from anonymity, if people have a problem with that front page and we've been in correspondence with previous times that we've done up the speaker as a rat when he first got elected, where the sergeant at arms of the parliament can contact us. They can make a complaint, there's correspondence back and forth. People are accountable for that, the editor is accountable for that newspaper when I represent it. And we have that argument and we have it in a public debate.
What we are not doing is the sort of behaviours we're talking about and we're talking about the in campaign which is targeting individuals on-line and bombarding them and speaking directly to them. Not just talking about them but speaking directly to them, so using their Twitter handle to send direct and public messages saying "go kill yourself", "go hang yourself", "go drown yourself", as people were saying to Charlotte Dawson, as people said to me and as people say to countless other anonymous people who don't even have the benefit of a public platform to respond.
JENNY BROCKIE: We have to wrap up. How do we establish a more civilised discourse with one another?
ASHER WOLF: Start with the Daily Telegraph not putting rat's tails on parliamentarians.
JENNY BROCKIE: Well I'm not suggesting that is the answer to this issue but you know, how do we? I mean because this is about behaviour, it's about behaviour, it's about people being able to act on impulse a lot more easily, all of those things, being able to generate those comments much more broadly around the world. I mean how do we address that?
GREG WALSH: The first thing is I think that we've all appreciated tonight that representations do have the capacity to injure and harm others we all as individuals need to recognise that and we also secondly need to have more effective law enforcement in respect of setting the standards and ensuring that in a just society that people who go over the line are detected and prosecuted.
JENNY BROCKIE: Steven, final comment from you?
STEVEN: I'll use my time to speak about the law we have, the laws over here in the UK to deal with this sort of thing. It's not really as effective as some people would like it to be. I know at least three or four different people have been prosecuted and people are still going on, the real hard core people don't really seem to care. There's nothing wrong with taking the piss and that's what a lot of trolls are about. I think the wider issue is you need to start separating the trolls like myself that are out taking the piss and winding somebody up and the actual bullies and you need to start dealing with the bullying side of it rather than trying to pass around these meaningless labels of calling everybody a troll.
JENNY BROCKIE: Jaime, final comment from you?
JAIME COCHRAN: I think the problem is partially systemic but mostly it's a cultural problem that you have bullies and you have people that, you know, are going to push people over the edge, the precipice of despair, and it's a very sticky issue dealing with anonymity on the internet and especially with privacy and the encroaching surveillance, it's an on-going discussion
JENNY BROCKIE: Weev?
ANDREW 'WEEV’ AUERNHEIMER: I think that this issue, the core of it is that people are so dissatisfied and I think they're dissatisfied because our generation is the first in a long time that knows they're looking downward. That our civilisations are in decline and if you want people to be less discontented you're going to have to improve the management of the society. You know, spread wealth a little bit more and generally make people have a sense of a positive outlook on the future. That as long as they think that the future is negative they're going to be at war with the external society.
JENNY BROCKIE: Whitney, final comment from you?
WHITNEY PHILLIPS: The implications of legislation are going to be widespread and will affect way more people than just trolls. That if you take anonymity away it would have immediate impact on groups of people who aren't trolling at all and who need anonymity for personal expression or for safety issues or for whistle blowers or whatever else. So it's really important that we take as much care and time as we can to clearly define legislation, that doesn't end up undermining the very goal that we're trying to accomplish.
JENNY BROCKIE: Stephen, I'd like you to have the last word in here?
STEPHEN DEGUARA: Yes, I think Twitter, Facebook really need to take the first step on the whole thing and then they need to be followed up by the authorities. The authorities need to be trained in this area a lot more. It is a new area, it's an area that's untapped, no one knows what's going on. You can say whatever you want to say and do you know what because it's a bottomless pit and that's all it is, it's a big fat pit.
JENNY BROCKIE: A big fat pit, okay thank you all very much for joining us tonight. It's been terrific talking to you. Thank you much to your international guests. Weev, thank you for your time, Steven, Jaime and Whitney, thank you all very much for joining us. It's been great to talk to you. And you can keep talking about this on-line. We have to wrap it up here but you can go our website, Twitter or Insight's Facebook page, if you're game.