Combatting online abuse

By Dr Chris Stiff 11/04/2021

THERE seems no end to the scourge of social media trolling and bullying. Jamie Lewis is the latest to receive an avalanche of vile abuse while playing in online events. Young Callan Rydz even suffered abuse for winning an award at the end of January while our own columnist Polly James also received vile messages. The PDPA have launched their campaign to help with abuse.

Darts World asked Dr Chris Stiff, a senior lecturer in the School of Psychology at Keele University his viewpoint:

SINCE lockdown, the world of darts has found a new home online. Here games can be viewed by fans and enjoyed from the safety of one’s home. However, with this positive step, there is also a negative downside.

As with many online environments, professional darts players have been subjected to awful online abuse. Why has this happened, and what can be done about it?

Cyberbullying is generally defined as “the use of technology to deliberately and repeatedly threaten, insult, harass, or tease another person”. A similar phenomenon is “trolling” – “intentionally disruptive behaviour that occurs in the context of the Internet amongst users that have no existing relationships in real life”. With both, a common method of abuse is the posting unpleasant messages, either directly to a victim, or posting them via social media for others to see. Sadly, these incidents have been rife during lockdown.

The impact of this kind of behaviour can be devastating to the victims. Research shows that online abuse can frequently lead to anxiety, depression, difficulty sleeping, and physical illness. At its most severe, it can lead to suicidal thoughts, and suicide attempts. Although the term “bullying” may have connotations with school and younger people, incidents of online abuse are just as damaging when received by adults. Females, sexual minorities, and ethnic minorities are all at higher risk of being victims of online abuse. Why do people cyberbully, or troll others?

One of the key aspects is the anonymity given by the Internet. Researchers have suggested that being anonymous allows Internet bullies to act with impunity, safe in the knowledge there will not be repercussions, particularly those which may involve physical violence. Of course, not all anonymous individuals act this way, and studies have shown that certain types of personality may also be important. People who are low in empathy, use social media a lot, are narcissistic, sadistic, or lonely are all likely to cyberbully or troll. Research also suggests that people who are more aggressive in real life may also be abusive online, and that some people simply don’t realise the effect online abuse can have.

There are some solutions to this pressing issue. As anonymity is a key factor, if it can be removed (i.e. if individuals post using their real names) online abuse is swiftly reduced. Also, as some bullies post abuse just for the thrill of it, abuse should ideally be ignored to prevent an “enjoyment” for the bully. Other Internet users can also be encouraged to stick up for those being abused - this emphasises to the bully that abuse is not appropriate, and will not be tolerated in that community. Banning abusive users can also show a community the consequences of abuse and what is and isn’t allowed, and also increases the feeling of community and support amongst fans.

With no end to lockdown in sight, cyberbullying/ trolling issues are no doubt going to bleed further into our lives as more and more interactions take place online instead of face-to-face. But hopefully, through quick action by positive role models in a community, it can be reduced so that true fans can enjoy a sport without worrying about people spoiling it.

Lead image:
Dr Chris Stiff is a senior lecturer in Psychology at Keele University.
Original version of this article appears: Darts World magazine (Issue 573)


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