Online Security: Aliases and Trolls

October 28th, 2014 by

Grant McMaster explains how to deal with enmity online…

There’s nothing new about aliases. People have wanted to hide their real identity for numerous reasons for as long as there have been people, and it’s not always for bad reasons.

Authors have published under pseudonyms with perfect legitimacy, rebels fighting tyranny have used aliases, and even the anonymous donor at a charity event could be said to fall into this category.

Unfortunately, the dawn of the Internet age changed all that. On the early net, before the masses arrived, everyone used a pseudonym or nickname, often chosen not out of a desire to conceal their real identity, but simply because everyone else was doing it.


Prior to Facebook, most online communities grew around forums dedicated to specific interests, and were moderated by individuals from those communities instead of by employees of vast multinational corporations.

This made the communities self-policing simply by virtue of their size.

Facebook and the advent of the modern Internet changed all of that significantly, creating a vast online community that has since been mirrored by other social media sites such as Google+, Twitter and Diaspora.

The change in the Internet and its integration into the real world changed how people relate to each other in a profound and unexpected manner, and Facebook further encouraged this integration into daily life by insisting that people use their real names and identities.

Now, when you get a message from ‘Hot-babe302’ you can be fairly sure that it’s spam, a bot or something similar.

Yet alias use remains an ongoing practice for people seeking to avoid undue attention, or to create undue attention for other people, and there’s a lot of that about.

The Internet has developed a rather unfortunate infection, which is called Trolls. Trolls are unpleasant Internet vigilantes who target anyone who they feel doesn’t fit in with their own personal views on the world, and woe betide you if you actually directly challenge those views.

Trolling is a new term for an old, and very antisocial form of behaviour called harassment, and in civilised societies we have laws preventing one individual from harassing another, or from organising a group to do so.

This is where the Internet steps in and messes things up somewhat. Not only does the net give people anonymity for good reasons, such as hiding from persecution, but it also allows people to hide their identities whilst they cause trouble for others.

This is possible because the Internet ignores national borders, and servers are governed by the country in which they operate.

This means that if that country has no law forcing a data centre on their soil to hand over identifying details to law enforcement, then they don’t have to and often won’t.

Don’t get me wrong, I am entirely in favour of net neutrality, the problem is that the actions of a nameless few are bringing a ton of negative media and political attention down on the side of net legislation and enforcement.

Whether it’s authors on Amazon and Goodreads being targeted by gangs of trolls who not only heavily criticise their work, but make personal threats, or Emma Watson being threatened with a release of nude photos for ‘Viral Marketing’, these people are abusing a position of anonymity and are creating a lot of hurt and concern as they do so.

Psychologists call the profile of most Internet trolls a ‘Dark Triad’; the triad profile being narcissistic, psychopathic and sadistic, with a good measure of Machiavellianism thrown in for good measure in many cases.

Just in case it needs spelling out, these are not good personality traits, you can’t reason with these people, they will always follow whatever agenda best suits their purposes.

So what’s the best way to protect yourself from anonymous trolls online?

Well the first and most obvious solution is to use a pseudonym, but if you haven’t, then there are other methods.

  • First, don’t take it personally. No really. Whatever you’re reading about yourself online, whether its negative reviews, personal comments or you find that someone has cloned your entire Facebook account, don’t take it personally.This isn’t about you, it’s about the agenda within the head of the troll and you have nothing to do with that, and no control over it.
  • Once again: Don’t take it personally.
  • If you’re on social media, block the perpetrator.
  • If possible contact the site upon which any such attack is taking place. Most reputable sites will take steps to ensure that the content it removed or moderated in line with their site policy and local law.
  • Keep a copy of everything, but don’t dwell on it. Trolling is an outpouring of hatred and if you dwell on it then you’re feeding the trolls.Keep the copy in case you decide to contact law enforcement. Many countries, the UK included, have changed their libel laws to deal with the emerging problem of Internet trolls, and methods exist to find and prosecute these people.
  • Don’t feed the trolls. Don’t engage with the person or people trolling. Once again, it’s not personal, no matter how much it feels that way. These are people who don’t know you, so how could it possibly be a personal attack?
  • If you absolutely have to engage then keep it factual. Don’t become emotional and don’t rant. Keep your responses polite and don’t engage in banter.
  • Don’t join in with their attempts at humour, by doing so you are condoning their behaviour.
  • Don’t take responsibility for their words and thoughts. Their dislike of you in whatever form is theirs, don’t seek to justify yourself in the face of unjust criticism.
  • Don’t over react. Even if the threat seems credible, take rational safe steps to ensure safety, but don’t stop living your life.

If this doesn’t mitigate the problem then you may need to pursue the matter through formal channels.

  • If you’re a citizen of the European Union then you may contact Google to have distressing or trolling content removed from their search engine.

There is even a site that offers to make the process simple for you:

  • In 2012 the UK government passed the Protection of Freedoms Act which targets Internet stalking, and thus trolling under the laws relating to stalking.This law specifically targets harassment through communication, unwanted contact, publication of defamatory or personal material and, amongst other things the monitoring of an individual’s internet use.

This law is most useful for law enforcement to deal with an immediate and obvious threat, the police should already be aware of it but if not then you should ask for someone who is.

  • In 2013 the Defamation Act was passed, this more complex law allows an aggrieved person to pursue any defamatory comment made about then through the courts. With the commencement of the legislation in January 2014 the UK became the easiest place in the world to win a defamation case.

You are likely to need the services of a solicitor to pursue a case of defamation or slander, and such cases are known to be difficult processes with little solace even if you win.

As individuals we can’t predict or control who will take offence at our actions.Our words, our successes and our failures are guaranteed to have an impact on other people, and in our massively interconnected world we won’t always know who has set their sights upon us.

Aliases, trolls and dealing with enmity are an ongoing part of life in the modern world and all we can do it safeguard against them and remember that it’s not personal.

To talk to someone in more depth about online security, call the UK2 support team.

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One Comment

Terry Bevington
# 13th November, 2014

I am involved in the case similar to the description in your article. The law is all very well but the police are not too interested in such cases and are not prepared to take perpetrators to court. In this case the perpetrator has been seen by the place on two occasions without any success in halting the abuse and has not had any readdress apart from a good talking to. Privitt court action is an expensive pursuit and the sort of people do not have money or assets to pay fines so they get off scot-free

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