The grief of losing a loved one is heartbreaking.
But the distress faced by friends and family of 16-year-old Leighton Erbs was heightened when a Facebook memorial page for him was hacked.
Since then, the page has been taken down, but this type of behaviour is far from rare as internet trolls revel in others’ grief.
The page was created after the South Gippsland teen drowned at a notorious section of coast at Cape Paterson, in Victoria’s south-east, recently. Friends posted smiling pictures of Leighton and family members remembered him as an “absolutely inspirational” young man.
Soon after its creation, however, trolls began bombarding the page with disrespectful status posts and disturbing images.
It is not an uncommon phenomenon. Eleven million Australians use Facebook so the social media site has become a magnet for trolls who get their kicks out of attacking other users and defacing pages. Australia was last year named by an Ipsos Social Research study as the worst country in the world for social network bullying.
The practice can have serious consequences. Teenagers who have been repeatedly bullied, becoming the subject of hatred and degradation, may turn to suicide or self-harm as an escape from their tormentors. The increasing role of social media in young people’s lives means similar incidents are becoming more common.
There is even an online group that actively announces its involvement in delicate issues on the internet. Facebeef is notorious for its self-proclaimed politically incorrect humour and social commentary mocking the victims of such sensitive issues as mass shootings.
Such activity is against the law in Australia. According to the Victorian Lawstuff website, the maximum penalty for being found guilty of stalking – defined as contacting a person with the intention of causing fear – is 10 years’ imprisonment. Online stalking can take place via email, social networking apps such as Facebook and Twitter, on chatrooms and on message boards.
Jessica James, who is friends with many of Leighton’s mates and family, reported the hacking of his memorial page to Wonthaggi police.
“There were horrible photos being uploaded and very rude statuses making a mockery of the poor boy and his grieving friends and family,” she said.
“The police asked me to get everyone to report the posts and the page and ask people not to retaliate to the trolls.” – Kate Ball
If you are a victim of cyberbullying contact:
Kids Helpline: www.kidshelp.com.au 1800 55 1800
Youth Beyond Blue: www.youthbeyondblue.com 1300 22 4636