What is trolling and how should you respond to it?

Online trolling can cause you to feel upset, angry and distressed. Learn what it is and what you can do about it.

Trolling is when someone baits people into having pointless, time-consuming and often aggressive online discussions. It’s not OK, and if you experience it, it can leave you feeling upset, angry or distressed, and it can have a significant impact on your wellbeing. But there are ways you can get help and support yourself without feeling pressured to engage with it.

 

The difference between trolling, cyberbullying and cyberstalking

Because trolling happens online, a lot of people see it as a form of cyberbullying. But there are three different forms of online harassment - trolling, cyberbullying and cyberstalking. It’s important to understand the differences, as they often have different intentions and behaviours, the best way to respond will vary.
 

male in brown jacket looking down at his phone

Trolling

People who troll want to start arguments and stir up trouble. They do this by posting provocative comments or saying negative things to deliberately upset people.

People who troll don’t necessarily target one person. They will often say controversial things to get a reaction, and they don’t really have a purpose beyond getting this reaction.

On different social media and forum sites, trolling can be used to derail entire conversations so that people aren’t able to have meaningful discussions.

Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying is an online form of abuse, targeting a specific person. The intent of someone who cyberbullies is to cause social, psychological or even physical harm or intimidation. For example, they might continually post negative comments on your pictures, call you and your friends’ names, or exclude you from group chats.

 

Cyberstalking

Like cyberbullying, cyberstalking is generally targeted at one person or a group of people. Someone who cyberstalks is intent on harassing you and creating distress and fear in your life. They may make unwanted contact with you, share or threaten to post videos or photos that may humiliate or embarrass you, or monitor and track your movements.

Trolling, cyberbullying or cyberstalking are three of the most common risks to watch out for when you’re active online and it’s important to be aware of what these behaviours are, so you can practise good cyber safety and look after your headspace.

Why do people troll?

Research shows that anyone can become a troll under certain circumstances – even you or your friends. Being in a bad mood, responding to troll posts with other troll posts and feeling anonymous, can all impact how we engage in online discussions.

People who troll don’t usually target specific people. While their comments may make you angry or upset, they’re not typically out to hurt you for personal reasons. There are a range of reasons that people choose to troll online.

A lot of people find amusement in trolling, and for them, it’s funny to upset other people. The more attention their negative comments get, the more exciting it is for them. But they might not understand the very real impact their negative posts can have on the wellbeing of the people they troll. Because they can be somewhat anonymous online, people often say things they wouldn’t usually say face-to-face.

 

What can you do if you’re being trolled, cyberbullied or cyberstalked?

Trolling can take its toll on anyone. Constant exposure to negative content can leave you feeling exhausted, angry or distressed. That’s why it’s so important to practise good self-care. A good place to learn about taking care of yourself is our top tips for maintaining good mental health.

If you’re having problems with being trolled, talking to someone may help. This might be a trusted adult, a friend, a teacher, a mentor, an Elder, or even a friendly headspace clinician. Reach out to your local headspace centre to find someone to talk to.

Consider the behaviour you’re witnessing and try to work out what it is. If it’s trolling, you may be best to ignore it, so the troll does not get the reaction they are looking for.

People who troll want a reaction. They want you to get upset and keep on replying to their messages. They want you to tag your friends and pull other people into it, too. Often, by ignoring the content altogether and not responding, they’ll get bored and move on.

Social media sites give you the option to block and report content that is offensive, or you can block the individual. If you do this to a troll, the site may notice that they’re posting nasty stuff and block their access so they can’t post anymore.

If you feel yourself getting upset over something you’ve seen online, consider taking a break from the internet. Log out of your social accounts and stay offline for a few days. This will give you a break, and hopefully lead to the troll moving on when they don’t get a response.

If you believe you are being cyberbullied or cyberstalked this needs to be addressed differently from trolling. Being cyberstalked or cyberbullied is often very stressful. You don’t have to face this alone. You may wish to talk to someone for support and advice on how best to respond in these cases, a trusted friend, family member, teacher, Elder or a professional at headspace, and if you’re being threatened or are in immediate danger you can contact the police on Triple Zero (000).

If you think you are being cyberbullied or cyberstalked, it can help to take a much more proactive approach. This means it can help to include additional supports (such as family, friends, an Elder, school, workplace or police). It is possible that ignoring these experiences can escalate the cyberbullying or cyberstalking. Other things you may consider doing are:

  • record evidence; keep mobile messages, take screen shots, save emails

  • report cyberbullying or cyberstalking

  • block the person cyberbullying or cyberstalking

  • change your privacy settings and your passwords

  • seek the support of others earlier on.

Different social media outlets’ have security measures you can take to help with your esafety, including reporting.

What can you do to prevent your own trolling behaviour?

Here are some simple tips to keep in mind to ensure you avoid being a troll.

1. Check your mood

Consider your mental state and mood before you post something. If you’re feeling angry or upset, your post may not come across the way you want it to.

2. Post as if the whole world is watching

Remember, anyone might see your post. If it has the potential to offend people (even people you don’t know), reconsider whether you should be posting it.

3. Use constructive language only

Try to be positive and build people up when you comment and post online.

4. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes

Think about how you would feel if you were the one reading your post, and consider if it could sound threatening or aggressive in any way.

5. Think twice before you post

Do you need to post this comment? Take a deep breath and think about it before you hit send.

How do I get help if I’m being trolled?

If you are being trolled, help is available. Try one or more of the following suggestions.

  • Find a trusted friend, teacher, family member or Elder and explain what’s happening. Sharing your feelings may help you feel less alone, and they may be able to offer some helpful advice.

  • Use an online or phone-based service like eheadspace, Kids Helpline or Lifeline. You can access these anonymously and free of charge.

  • Reach out to your local headspace centre to chat to one of our clinicians confidentially.

 

Other useful websites:


The headspace Clinical Reference Group oversee and approve clinical resources made available on this website.

Last reviewed 6 August 2019

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