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Negative attention attracts online trolls

The death of Robin Williams last week brought a number of difficult subjects into the forefront of public discussion, including suicide, how older men deal with mental and physical illness, and the underside of fame. One particularly distasteful aspect of the tragedy was the way Internet trolls seized on the moment by harassing Williams' daughter, Zelda. She announced that she was quitting Twitter after receiving photoshopped images of her father with bruises on his neck, and messages that blamed her for his death.

We all have our horror stories about the creatures who inhabit the depths of the Web. And everyone seems to agree that there is no way to effectively fight back. Celebrities, in particular, attract destructive, anonymous comments. But when the trolls draw blood, as they did with Williams' daughter last week, they may only be encouraged to become more destructive.

Claire Hardaker of England's Lancaster University, who has studied the troll phenomenon, told the New York Times, “As more high-profile cases come to light, particularly of celebrities and high-profile figures being chased off of social media, more people will view trolling as a way of having an effect on these otherwise apparently untouchable figures from the safety of their own smartphones and homes.”

In other words, the only hope is for the rest of us to ignore them – if we can.