We can’t accept this is ‘just how it is’
CYBERHATE and its nasty little exponents, those commonly referred to as "internet trolls", are once more in the headlines.
If it's not those abusing and threatening Yumi Stynes for telling Kerri-Anne Kennerley (KAK) she was "sounding racist," then it's those viciously attacking Alice Springs councillor, Jacinta Nampijinpa Price for defending KAK.
Last week, anti-domestic violence campaigner, Sherele Moody wrote a column revealing how trolls' hatred of her (for what exactly?), had crossed into the real world. Not only was her beautiful Great Dane poisoned, but she has reason to believe her horse, Frank, was murdered.
You don't even have to be engaged in fraught social issues, a female gamer, feminist, or expressing a view about politics to become a target of these detestable denizens of the cyber-deep. Just ask West Australian "mummy" blogger, Constance Hall.
Hall, a former Big Brother contestant, who has 1.2 million followers on Facebook, a clothing line, and authored two books, often blogs about her five kids and husband, drawing praise but also vitriol for her outspoken views and alternate lifestyle.
But it was the odium which increased exponentially once it was announced she was a contestant on Dancing With The Stars. This prompted Hall to make a video in which she shares some of her messages, the impact these have had on her mental health, and expresses concern for younger people who face the same barrage day in day out.
Lest we forget the likes of Amy (Dolly) Everett, Jessica Cleland, Jessica Tolhurst, Libby Bell and Allem Halkic and other young people who thought taking their lives preferable to enduring online tirades.
And what about those who continue to suffer this kind of abuse, suppressing their feelings of worthlessness, sadness and even self-blame and dragging themselves out of bed each day?
Whereas once we used to counsel that words can't hurt, we now know very differently. They can and do - with tragic consequences.
And why should we accept that, for women especially (who are the main targets of online abuse), being threatened and bullied is a "trade-off" for being online or in the public eye or having an opinion?
The answer is simple: we shouldn't.
Yet what are we really doing about it? What can we do? As individuals, families, communities; as a nation?
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk should be commended for putting the issue on the COAG agenda and for setting up a taskforce which reported last year, making 29 recommendations.
But, as Palaszczuk has said, there needs to be a national response.
While there are laws against cyber abuse - the Commonwealth Criminal Code Act 1995 stating it's an offence to use a carriage service to menace, harass, threaten to kill or cause serious harm to a person or even cause offence, with most states and territories having laws covering stalking, blackmail, criminal defamation etc - these can sometimes be difficult to prosecute.
In the wake of Dolly's death, NSW introduced a maximum five-year jail term for online abusers. Would a law like that have given Charlotte Dawson's tormentors pause for thought? Stopped those threatening former video gamer, Vanessa Holmes with rape and murder? Will it ever be enough of a deterrent?
According to the Australia Institute, online abuse is costing Australians $3.7 billion. One estimate is that 8.8 million Australians are affected by it.
The Australian Universities' Anti-Bullying Research Alliance believes that "Cyber-bullying… is a complex relationship problem which is deeply embedded in our society and which requires equally complex social and behavioural responses and interventions."
Name and shame or "lock 'em up" doesn't cut it, apparently.
Journalist Ginger Gorman thought the key to managing trolls might lie in understanding what motivates them in the first place.
Her new book, Troll Hunting: Inside the World of Online Hate and Its Human Fallout was inspired by the terrible trolling that happened after she did a story on gay people choosing surrogacy and unknowingly profiled two paedophiles.
Determined to get to the root of why people "troll", she interviews a range of perpetrators (and their targets) even developing empathy with them. She argues that the "story of trolling is a story about society and the things that are wrong with it… (it's about) what it means to be human - and how complex we all are. That you can be a kind person, and be angry and hateful too. Sometimes at the same time."
Sure. But until we start acknowledging and rewarding human kindness and decency and refuse to walk past expressions of anger, intolerance, bigotry and threats - in the real world and cyber one - and demand real-life consequences, then anonymous online hate will continue to flourish, breaking those we love, and don't, and our humanity in the process.
Karen Brooks is a Courier-Mail columnist.