Kathleen Ndongmo: The rise of the African Trolls (YNaija Frontpage)

Is there any stopping the hate-filled anonymous commentators? Seth Godin is right, everyone’s not entitled to their opinion…

Shortly after writing a recent post about Fabrice Muamba’s cardiac arrest, I came across the news story that a student in the UK had been slapped with a jail sentence for posting racist comments about the footballer on Twitter. My initial reaction was surprise, as I didn’t realise UK lawyers could prosecute people posting offensive and provocative comments online, but this quickly turned to annoyance that nothing was being done here.

Upon further research, I discovered “HR 1966”, the Megan Meier Cyber bullying Prevention Act named after the high-profile “MySpace suicide” victim, Megan Meier. This piece of US legislature is meant to prevent people from using the Internet to “coerce, intimidate, harass, or cause substantial emotional distress to a person.”

You see, while other countries are slowly taking down the trolls, the problem is just getting worse here.

In case you aren’t up to speed, internet trolling is a recent phenomenon in which online forums, social media accounts, comment forms and more are bombarded with insults, provocations and threats – the anonymous perpetrators behind them known as ‘trolls’. While it is a common practice on websites around the world, it seems that online trolling in Africa, in particular, is starting to spiral out of control.

If you don’t believe me, go take a look at the comment sections of online blogs you read every day: Linda Ikeji’s blog or Sahara Reporters for example, and you will find everything from racial slurs to mysogynism to death threats. Or, to see all of those awful things at once, cast your eye over the comments on this admirably brave  Chude Jideonwo’s piece.


But why is cyber trolling happening so much on the continent, and what can we do to put a stop to it?

A simple explanation for why trolls do what they do is given by Professor Mark Griffiths at England’s Nottingham Trent University. “Online people feel anonymous and disinhibited,” he says. “They lower their emotional guard and in the heat of the moment may troll either reactively or proactively.” He also adds that it is most commonly carried out by young adult males for amusement, boredom and revenge.

While many of these factors ring true everywhere, there are some distinctly African issues that add to the unsavoury mix. For one, the continent’s tribal history and unlimited clans, often expressed in ethnic hatred, is something people can easily tap into. Remember Rwanda 1994 and the role the media played? Radio Rwanda became the voice of the devil, diffusing hate propaganda and calling on one tribe to “eliminate those cockroaches…” of another.

Gender and income divides, lack of exposure are also still acute in many places, fueling anger that can often only be expressed in an anonymous environment. And there is still a lot of ignorance in these parts, which as we all know is exactly the kind of thing that can fuel prejudice.

So what to do? We can’t just sit back and wait for legislation to be passed in Nigeria. We need to act quickly – before the trolls take their online behaviour and apply it in the real world. The tide will start turning when websites start policing such comments. The fact is, a simple fair warning will go a long way. It would seem that many websites are part of the problem, leaving the most horrific comments online because the more sensational it reads the more traffic it generates, and the more heated arguments there are, the longer users will stay on the site. Seth Godin is right, everyone’s not entitled to their opinion if…

Some moderation needs to be put in place, starting right here.

I am hopeful that legislation will be brought in to help deter cyber bullying – maybe Paradigm Initiative Nigeria will champion this? Until then, writers will just have to learn to take the praise and the constructive criticism from genuine readers while discarding baseless vitriol from bored cowards. That, at least, is what I’m planning to do.

In that spirit, over to you. And to you too.


Editor’s note: Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.


Comments (0)

  1. You couldnt be more on point! Trolling in Africa is taking a dangerous dimension. Its not the same as free speech! people should have free speech, but they should do so with their names and identity traceable. They should take responsibility for their comments otherwise they should not be allowed to comment!

  2. You couldnt be more on point! Trolling in Africa is taking a dangerous dimension. Its not the same as free speech! people should have free speech, but they should do so with their names and identity traceable. They should take responsibility for their comments otherwise they should not be allowed to comment!

  3. The point iis that trolling is anonymous. You can tweet and facebook what you want because you aren't hiding behind an anonymous tag.

    Even if you don't give out your real name on social media. Also, I don't believe she was talking about not letting opinions be heard or not. Maybe you may wanna check out the meaning of trolling again?

    1. Are you saying trolling is not an opinion? You might not like, it may come across as mean spiteful and delibrate…….that does not mean it isn't an opinion. We are in the internet age, get with the programme, folks will be spiteful delibrately simply because irrespective of wether it is the manipulation of a deeper crisis.

      It is this kind of sense of entitlement that make people report people/online characters they don't like as spam. The internet is not your kindergaten playgroup, if you find it a bit unfriendly kindly log off.

  4. While bullying is awful, shouldn't the right to troll be in some way protected as the right to free speech? Racism, as discrimination, is a crime in many countries and should be punished as so. But sincerely, restricting A from tweeting 'I hate B' seems a bit of a stretch.

    I enjoyed reading this but I think using Chude's piece sort of detracts from the point Ms Ndongmo made – conflict of interest, blah blah.

  5. Great! My eyes are scalded from Chude's article comments, could not read so far, even.

    I was under the impression that Nigerians are cowardly enough to never comment as it will label them in a certain way,now I confirm. I forgot the 'anonymous' route, maybe cos I never take it, it exists only outside of my awareness.

    Why comment anonymously when the comment needs to be assessed by your (in my case, robust)personality? I dont get it and I hope I never do!

    Legislation and enforcement needs to kick in and I hope it will end up in the courts and our judiciary will stand up and be counted!

    Well done! One by one, the issues to entrench sanity will be championed to a logical conclusion! Well done again, I say!

    BTW, what happened with the vehicular matter? Just have a need to know.

  6. Hello, hi……

    Seth Godin's post on opinion has no relationship with trolling.

    That post was about difference in opinion and why not every opinion must be paid attention.

    Trolling is not growing in Africa, the use of Social media is and alongside trolling. I do agree with you that the multiplicity in this region deepens trolling as it gives people amunition to incite, malign and spite.

    Deal with, if any Tom, Dick & Harry can blog, then by all means let every opinion be heard. Next thing is we will want to censor what people post on blogsphere, Facebook or Twitter. Who is talking about moderating those who tweet, blog or Facebook insensitively? As long as anonymity is part of Social Media, trolling will continue. Trolling is simply a manifestation people's shallow personalities & insecurities.

  7. Blogs should vet comments before posting. I believe comments can b moderated by d administrators of d blogs. Though subtly d administrators enjoy d tirades in d comment section as this often serves 2 drive traffic 2 d sites as well.

  8. I was wondering when this matter would come up. Cyber bullying in Nigeria is at a ridiculous high and the blog administrators post vile and hateful comments just to attract more traffic to their blogs. Curses, death threats are posted, sometimes even directed at the blog owners. Its so bad that the bloggers cannot afford to give out their business addresses for fear of attacks.

    I think they should do the right thing, the moral thing and look beyond the adverts, google adsense and the paychecks. They need to stop promoting hate, racism and all the other hineous posts that they allow on their blogs. We have Boko Haram to deal with, why create another monster?

  9. Hmmm trolls. I am all too familiar with them having been under attack once. It's not pretty and reeks of cowardice.

    Was reading an article yesterday where the author argued about the benefits of disabling comments on blogs to discourage trolls. Another author was of the opinion that if this were done, the message it would be sending to the readers is that they don't really care to have their opinions.

    Now, as much as we(bloggers) want to encourage and engage interaction on our sites, we need to watch that it doesn't get out of hand.

    I would say let's all veto any comments that may be left on our blogs but imagine a situation where you have a full time job and have to veto like 100 comments daily, surely that's a daunting task.

    My solution would be maybe having your site wired in such a way that people cannot leave comments with fake e-mail addresses otherwise it bounces back. Going further, leave a notice on the blog saying that anyone who leaves a rude/abusive comment will have their e-mail addresses published alongside the comment.

    Perhaps, this might help.

  10. Websites need to veto comments before posting them. People need to learn to comment objectively without being rude.

  11. Many people hide under the annonymity of the internet to say what they would otherwise not have said in real world. I read someone's comment on ChannelsTV Facebook page yesterday and was horrified. This fellow was pratically threatening another person who has made a comment of the same post to remove his comment or face that within 7 days. He promised to see to the guy's death. I was like 'are you kidding me?'…

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