Ginger Gorman Takes On The Online Bullies
Trolling and harassment impacts 39 percent of Aussies
In 2013, journalist Ginger Gorman was subjected to an orchestrated campaign of hate, directed at her and her family, as a result of an article she’d written years earlier about a gay couple who had a child through surrogacy.
“They turned out to be the most horrendous paedophiles,” she explains. “I couldn’t have known - the police apprehended them years later. And once they were in the news, conservatives in the US were blogging about it and so forth, and then torrents of hate started to pour in.
“Suddenly all of these people were calling me a paedophile enabler, they were saying you should pay for what you’ve done, and it grew until it was quite extreme.”
Her husband Don found a photo of them, with their young daughter, on a fascist website, and almost at the same time they received a tweet reading “Your life is over”, which was geolocated – with the coordinates pointing to their house.
Understandably concerned for the safety of her family, Ginger rang the local police.
“He said to me ‘just stay off the internet love’, which is really common.”
“Victims don’t know where to go and the places they reach out to don’t give them good advice. We now have the eSafety office and they are doing an amazing job, but there is still this problem where the social media companies don’t help you, the police responses are patchy, and you find yourself in the middle and you don’t know how real it is.”
Once she felt the danger had passed, Ginger decided to dig deeper into trolling, its impacts, and why people behave so violently online.
What she discovered was shocking, and has led to her new book, Troll Hunting. The extent of the problem was backed up by new research by the Australia Institute.
“It blew my mind. Its nearly 40% of Australians have either been victims of online harassment or cyber hate and trolling, that is equivalent to 8.8 million Australians.”
She also points out that over a million Australians have been victims of the more extreme end of things – so-called predator trolling, where a group gangs up with the intention of causing real world harm.
And that’s where the advice to block and delete comes up short. And where Ginger says social media companies are shirking their duty of care to provide a safe public space.
To understand what’s fuelling this tsunami of online hate, Ginger bravely decided to contact some of the trolls to understand what was driving them. They spoke of the desire to cause pain and distress, and to have that reach into their victims’ real lives.
“A lot of them have had terrible violent neglectful upbringings,” Ginger says. “There’s a lot of mental illness in there and a lot of drug taking and neglect, and there you have it, you have people who want to harm someone like me or someone like you.”
Australia has laws against using a carriage service (such as the Internet) to menace or harass someone, with a maximum sentence of three years’ jail. Almost 500 people have been found guilty over the last 15 years.
Ginger says she thinks that legislation should be utilised more frequently.
“We need the platforms to be safer, we need them to have proper policies that they implement, we need to educate everyone. We need to bring all these things together.
“It’s a huge effort, it’s not going to happen overnight but its urgent.”