Internet trolls use the anonymity of the Internet to inflame emotions, tarnish reputations and possibly damage careers. In Internet slang, troll refers to someone who participates in a range of actions from attacking total strangers and celebrities to bullying.  Recently trolls received worldwide attention for their attacks on Nicola Brookes and drew the attention of a court in the United Kingdom, which required Facebook to reveal the identity of an anonymous troll.

Nicola Brookes is a 45 year old who was attacked by trolls after she made a comment on Facebook supporting former X Factor contestant Frankie Cocozza.  The trolls set up a fake Facebook account in her name and used it to attract young girls and make inappropriate comments. While Facebook seemed concerned over individuals using its platform to abuse others, Facebook could not disclose the identity or IP address of the trolls without violating data protection laws.  Facebook has yet to be served at its headquarters in California, but a representative of the company said the company planned to comply. Brookes is the first person to take a private case to the high court and win an order compelling Facebook to disclose the names, email addresses, and internet protocol addresses of the trolls.

Unfortunately, Brookes is not the first person to be targeted by trolls or other abusive behavior on-line. A survey last month found that just over half of internet users say they have been abused online or via text message. In the United States, Chief Judge Royce Lamberth ruled force Twitter to disclose the identity of a troll who threatened to use a “Vietnam era machete” on then Republican presidential primary candidate Michelle Bachmann.

Extreme cases like these drove some prominent technology executives (Randi Zuckerburg and Eric Schmidt) to speak out against Internet anonymity. New York recently introduced legislation that would require trolls to reveal their identities or remove cruel posts if someone filed a complaint. The legislation has received mixed reviews but indicates a responsiveness to the trolling and Cyberbullying issues.

Samara C. Pals Cramer

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