Science//

Science Explains Why Internet Trolling is a Real Mental Health Problem

And Google shows us how to fight back.

Image Courtesy of Mikayla Mallek on Unsplash

On July 3rd Ed Sheeran renounced Twitter after receiving a stream of unwarranted, malicious tweets. “I can’t read it,” Sheeran told The Sun. “One comment ruins your day…that’s why I’ve come off it.”

Sheeran’s not the only one that’s been impacted by internet trolls. Trolling—defined as antagonizing someone online through offensive comments or content—is a dangerous form of cyberbullying with devastating mental health consequences. It’s also, if you haven’t noticed, become a relentless part of our political and popular culture. Fortune’s Sy Mukherjee gathered a series of studies documenting what trolling does to people’s hearts and minds:

The results are devastating:

1. Compared to texts and phonecalls, social media posts are the most damaging form of cyberbullying.

2. Victims of cyberbullying are almost twice as likely to attempt suicide compared to their peers. This finding doesn’t prove causation, but the strong association is cause for concern.

3. Teen victims of cyberbullying are more depressed, irritable, and angry.

4. Cyberbullying affects 60 million working age Americans, or roughly 24% of the adult population.

Interacting with trolls has become an almost unavoidable part of being online. Fortunately, a few companies are exploring artificial intelligence as a method of identifying and preventing cyberbullying, according to the BBCOne tech initiative called Jigsaw was launched through a think tank at Google’s parent company, Alphabet, last year. The technology uses machine learning to detect abusive language and can do so faster than any human moderator and more accurately than any keyword blacklist. 

There are also a few campaigns aimed at reforming trolls, including one cleverly named initiative, Zero Trollerance. For now, we can also take the Ed Sheeran method and just disengage—if social media isn’t a part of your job.

Read more about the mental health effects of trolling here

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