Anonymity appeals to online trolls

Speaking in the wake of television personality Charlotte Dawson’s death, Lifeline Central West director Alex Ferguson said suicide was the largest killer of men and women aged 15 to 40.

Ms Dawson, 47, was found dead on Saturday after a long struggle with depression.

She was hospitalised in 2012 after hundreds of social media trolls viciously targeted her on Twitter.

The anti-bullying advocate appeared on the Nine Network’s A Current Affair and Ten’s The Project to expose vitriolic Twitter bullying.

Some of the trolls called for her to “please go hang yourself”.

Mr Ferguson said social media was a bully’s paradise because people could anonymously say the most outrageous things in a broad public forum without the person ever getting a right of reply.

“I think they get satisfaction from having an unprovoked swing at someone. If that person has depression or is at a low point in their life, that makes them particularly vulnerable,” he said.

“Social media trolls can be very cruel. What they write is designed to hurt, and that’s exactly what it does. They can say nasty things and post compromising photos, and it can do the most enormous damage. Did it give them any satisfaction to know they were part of the process that cost someone their life?”


Mr Ferguson added people in the public domain, in particular, were considered fair game, inviting comments from others who were not high achievers in their own right.

Mr Ferguson said he did not think toughening the legislation had a “hope in hell” of addressing the problem because of the anonymity social media provides.

“A lot of what people write is glib and tasteless, and I believe they do it because they think they are invisible,” he said. 

Mr Ferguson said everyone who engaged in online bullying needed to stop and think about what the outcome of their actions could be.

He said the number of calls received by Lifeline Australia had increased from 410,000 to 850,000 in the past two years. 

Eighty per cent of callers are women, but 80 per cent of those who take their own life are male.

“If people are having a conversation about suicide as a result of this tragic loss of life, then maybe that’s the best we can hope for,” Mr Ferguson said.

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