J Evan Gibbs of law firm Constangy Brooks and Smith writes about the trolls on the internet in the wake of events such as the death of Robin Williams, and the near impossibility of stopping them. But what else can be done, from a legal perspective? From JDSupra
Trolls. Until recently, they only existed in the pages of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Now they’re online.
Like the beasts of Tolkien’s imagination, digital trolls skulk around the internet shrouded in anonymity, unprovoked yet fiercely attacking the unwary. These trolls are individuals who use anonymous screen names to post deliberately inflammatory or provocative messages with the intent to cause disturbances and/or arguments for their own amusement.
In the aftermath of Robin Williams’ death, his daughter, Zelda Williams, was the victim of trolls. Their comments on her Twitter feed blamed Ms. Williams for her father’s death. They posted graphic, photoshopped pictures of the late Mr. Williams to his daughter’s social media accounts. Ms. Williams received dozens of these hateful messages from numerous accounts with different screen names. Even the monikers themselves were incendiary in their own right (e.g., @GetCancerPlease). Ms. Williams closed her social media accounts in the wake of these vicious assaults.
Practically speaking, trolls are nearly impossible to stop. According to The Washington Post, the trolls’ posts to Ms. Williams’ social media pages were most likely from a handful of individuals using multiple online aliases. This is a key problem with troll attacks – if one account is banned or deleted by the social media provider, ten fresh new ones quickly spring up to replace it.
In the context of harassment, courts view statements or pictures sent or posted via social media, text message or other electronic sources no differently than offensive verbal comments or lewd Polaroids left on a co-worker’s desk...
But what happens when trolls invade the online workplace? What happens when an employee suspects offensive or harassing social media comments are coming from a disgruntled co-worker, an angry customer or someone who attacks them for no reason other than (possibly) their affiliation with a particular company?