Have you ever faced a particularly horrifying piece of trolling?
If so, have you ever found yourself wondering what on earth was going through that person’s head? Well, you might want to check out #Trolljägarna (#Trollhunters), a new show on Sweden's TV3 where a camera crew confronts people who've posted abusive messages online and makes them answer for themselves in person.
The show is hosted by Robert Aschberg, a famously tough and no-nonsense TV presenter. He opens the first episode saying he doesn’t like “these cowardly creeps who under the cloak of anonymity threaten and harass other people on the web.”
The team then visits three trolls: a man involved in a hateful and aggressive Internet campaign accusing a woman of lying about rape accusations, which drove her to attempting suicide; a man whoharassed journalist Elisabet Höglund, who has received death threats and attacks on her looks and age; and a woman who has posted thousands of racist comments online and threatened writer and commentator Kawa Zolfagary.
Trolling is one of the most complex issues of the social media era. The ability to hide behind a computer screen and username has permitted some horrifying written attacks on everyone ranging from feminist activists to teenagers. At the same time, some moves to combat abusive online messages have been labelled restrictive to free expression.
Aschberg told PolicyMic that there are two main goals propelling the show: to help people who have been harassed and threatened online, and to ignite further discourse around trolling and online hate.
He also believes this is an issue that needs to be tackled from different angles, saying the show’s role is mainly to promote discussion. “Legislators, organisations and providers have to do their part of the job,” he added.
But not everyone believes #Trolljägarna is the solution. In a TV debate, Anna Troberg from the Swedish Pirate Party told Aschberg he’s setting a bad example and holds the old-fashioned view that the Internet is inherently bad.
Troberg told PolicyMic that the party acknowledges the problem with trolling, and in that sense agree with the show's aim. But at the same time, they believe #Trolljägarna is the wrong way to deal with it: Many trolls are people excluded from society who lash out in horrific ways, and we need to find the reasons for this behavior rather than expose them in a confrontational way, she says. The party also argues that it should be the police and courts who deal with messages found to be illegal, not a TV show.
Put simply, Troberge doesn’t believe #Trolljägarna will end trolling but rather make it worse, pointing out that one of the men featured in the first episode has since been subjected to Internet abuse, too. “The show is only fuelling hatred online,” she said.
But whatever you think of it, the show has proven to be very popular. Almost 450,000 Swedes tuned into the first episode, making it the third most watched show on TV3 last week. It also trended on Swedish Twitter, and has prompted speculation that neighboring Norway might produce their own version.
Aschberg says the victims have been very happy about the show so far, and he believes this is a “very good thing”. He adds that he and his crew are not necessarily “helping the whole world,” but rather contributing to the bigger cause of “[improving] the climate of the net.”
Whether #Trolljägarna has any long term impact remains to be seen.