THE recent hospitalisation of TV personality Charlotte Dawson after copping vicious abuse over social media - including death threats - has only highlighted the need for tougher laws over cyber bullying.
The gorgeous Dawson was admitted to hospital after she was targeted by a stream of abusive death threats on Twitter, including taunts to "stick your head in a toaster" and "kill yourself".
Dawson said it was the relentless and vicious messages that finally broke her and tipped her over the edge.
During an interview last weekend on 60 Minutes, Dawson said: "You do have to have a thick skin and you do understand that no matter what you do, even if you're Mother Teresa, people are still going to hate you just because they think you're ugly or they don't like the sound of your voice.
"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."
What came out of this was not only the need for tougher cyber bullying laws, but also the proliferation of the word "troll" in respect to the cyber bullies who attacked Dawson.
For most older people out there, a troll is a supernatural being in Norse mythology and Scandinavian folklore and is also used to describe witches and various other evil magical figures.
However, in recent years, particularly with more people hooking up to social media outlets (according to statistics more than one billion people use some form of it today), in internet slang, a troll is someone who posts "inflammatory, extraneous or off-topic messages in an online community, such as a forum, chat room or blog, with the primary intent of provoking readers into an emotional response".
These "trolls" - a very appropriate word for them - are cowards. They are people who hide behind anonymity in an effort to get their grubby messages across. They are disgusting blots on our society who think it is funny to poke fun at, construct lies about or provoke others - usually strangers - in an effort to make themselves feel bigger, to feel more important.
One way to stamp out cyber trolls is to ignore them. One of Charlotte Dawson's downfalls in her case was to retweet the trolls' comments in the hopes of embarrassing them into stopping their attacks. Retweeting only fluffed up the trolls' egos into continuing the barrage of disgusting comments.
A cyber expert stated: "It is the fact that people who show 'toxic disinhibition' are essentially ordinary people rather than inherently bad ... The practice of re-tweeting an abusive tweet is likely to make the situation worse if the tweet was sent in anger because it will be seen as a further provocation. For a real troll, it may actually work in stopping a troll (but probably not) because they may have achieved their goal of provoking a reaction. Re-tweeting to a large number of followers makes the troll victory all the better."
Another way to stop trolling in its tracks is to toughen laws against such actions.
New cyber bullying laws, like the enacting of Brodie's Law - Crimes Amendment (Bullying) Bill in 2011, which made serious bullying a crime punishable by up to 10 years in jail, should be implemented.
Brodie's Law came about after the tragic suicide of Brodie Panlock in September 2006 after she was subjected to relentless bullying at her workplace in Melbourne. Staff members pleaded guilty to workplace charges and the five defendants were convicted and fined a total of $335,000.
Brodie's Law makes serious bullying a criminal offence by extending the application of the stalking provisions in the Crimes Act 1958 to include behaviour that involves serious bullying.
Ballarat MP Jaala Pulford best summed it up at the time of Brodie's Law introduction, when she said "it's a terrible thing that we live in a society that requires a law like this".
Modern technology has made it easier for people to become "trolls" and cyber bullies. In the past, bullying, on the whole, was left at the school gate or the workplace front door. Today, online abuse can, and is, a 24-hour-a-day, seven-days-a-week scourge on our society.
As a society, we need to take a stand.