The damage caused by relentless cyber trolls and online bullies goes well beyond the emotional and physical, with a new report putting a dollar figure on the economic impact.
New research conducted by the Australia Institute found 39 per cent of people have experienced one or more forms of online harassment, equivalent to 8.8 million Aussies.
From that, the organisation estimated the total cost of cyber trolling to the national economy by examining medical expenses and lost income, which sat at a staggering $3.7 billion.
“The survey had six respondents who have been subject to ongoing cyber hate attacks
that have lasted in one case for over a decade,” the new report said.
It found that those six people experience medical costs of up to $250,000 and legal services ranging from $2000 to $100,000.
“Interstate and international travel costs had been incurred, while four had moved house, three multiple times,” the report said of those participants.
Across the board, the most common types of cyber bullying reported by study participants included abusive language (27 per cent), being sent unwanted sexual messages or explicit pictures (18 per cent), and threats of physical violence or death (8 per cent).
Women were much more likely to be harassed online, with 44 per cent of females experiencing some kind of cyber bullying compared to 34 per cent of Australian males.
Model and reality television star Charlotte Dawson died by suicide in 2014 after a long and well-documented battle against cyber trolls.
Prior to her tragic death, Ms Dawson spoke at length about the relentless abuse — including repeated calls for her to kill herself.
“It just triggered that feeling of helplessness when the trolls got to me,’’ Ms Dawson said after one night of abuse led to her being hospitalised. “They got the better of me and they won.’’
The Australia’s Next Top Model judge highlighted the dangers of anonymous trolls — particularly for vulnerable victims.
“If people are wanting you to kill yourself and you are somebody who has previously tried to end your life it’s very, very easy to feel like that’s exactly what you want to do,” Ms Dawson said.
After her death, community outrage sparked a call for action from governments to combat the worsening problem, although little progress seems to have been made.
The Australia Institute study found online harassment was experience most by younger age groups.
Research conducted last year for the National Day of Action Against Bullying and Violence found one-in-four Australian students reported being bullied every few weeks.
It found that cyber bullying was an ongoing issue, with 72 per cent of schools reporting incidents of online bullying in the last year.
The youth service Kids Helpline received more than 3800 counselling calls from young people concerned about bullying in 2016, with 84 per cent related to bullying at school.
As well as the financial cost to the economy, trolls can have a huge impact on people’s wellbeing, with one-third of respondents reporting negative mental or physical consequences.
Journalist and author Ginger Gorman has written a book about trolls after she experienced an avalanche of online hate and harassment herself.
“One of the big fallacies about the internet is that it’s somehow not real, it’s somehow virtual,” Gorman wrote about the experience in 2016.
“If you feel that your children are threatened or that you are threatened, it’s not less real than if someone did it to you in the supermarket.”
“They were far more dangerous than I imagined,” Gorman said.
“Most of them operated in gangs. They’d research each victim and try to find their weakest point. Then these trolls would ‘pile on’ the victim in an unrelenting campaign of hate and fear.”
The Australia Institute’s research was based on a national survey of 1557 people between March 27, 2018 and April 7, 2018 via the platform Research Now, with nationally representative samples by gender, age and state and territory.
The report was commissioned by journalist and author Ginger Gorman for the purposes of her book Troll Hunting
If you or someone you know needs help, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or lifeline.org.au
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