Hunting the trolls who hide behind their keyboards

Lorin LaFave, Breck Bednars mother, who featured in the disturbing Murder Games: The Life and Death of Breck Bednar
Lorin LaFave, Breck Bednars mother, who featured in the disturbing Murder Games: The Life and Death of Breck Bednar

Social media is all around us. We update our Facebook status by the hour, and hungrily check our Twitter feeds for likes or retweets, our hearts a-flutter to hear the longed-for ‘ping’ of a smartphone alert.

With this constant sociability comes another modern phenomenon. The troll. Not the ones which live under bridges and enjoy menacing goats. These ones lurk under the cloak on anonymity and menace social media users – often women.

Trollhunters (BBC3, Wednesday, 9pm) sent vlogger Em Ford on the trail of these modern-day trolls. Ford has been the target of vicious abuse herself, abuse she turned into a film, You Look Disgusting, which reached millions.

Ford – together with journalist David McLelland – revealed shocking stories. She met former Premier League referee Mark Halsey, whose cancer-stricken wife and eight-year-old daughter were the subject of vile abuse. Meanwhile, former MP Louise Mensch, who is active on Twitter with more than 96,000 followers, revealed how one troll bombarded her with tweets, many including pornographic images, labelling her a ‘feminazi’, and worse.

Ford and McLelland tracked this particular troll down, but the ensuing interview revealed a man unperturbed by the emotional devastation his rants left behind. All he seemed to care about was that his tweets – which he saw as simple ‘banter’ – gained likes and followers. The fact Mensch had flown 7,000 miles from her New York home to confront him only seemed to give him a sense of validation.

The previous night, Murder Games: The Life and Death of Breck Bednar (BBC3, Tuesday, 9pm) shed light on a horrific side of social media.

Bednar, a 14-year-old model pupil from an affluent Surrey home, was lured to his death by 18-year-old fantasist Lewis Daynes, who told Breck – via online gaming chatrooms – that he owned his own New York-based tech business and had fought in the Arab Spring.

After a period of grooming – and despite the best efforts of his parents – Breck secretly made the journey to Daynes’ flat, where he was murdered.

The film – a mix of interviews and dramatisation – was disturbing, heart-wrenching, illuminating.

Both films showed the dehumanising aspects of social media – how these trolls believe they are not abusing real people, that somehow their words have no consequences.

What Em Ford and Breck Bednar demonstrate is that these consequences are all too real.