Cloak of anonymity lifted from internet ‘trolls’ - Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 10 July

Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 10 July

Cloak of anonymity lifted from internet ‘trolls’

They have become a depressing but almost permanent fixture of social networking sites, bent on causing hurt and distress to other users seemingly for no reason. They are internet “trolls”.

Around since pretty much the first chatroom in the 1990s, the latest example of the troll at work is Reece Elliott, a British man who was jailed on Tuesday for more than two years after causing widespread panic by threatening to kill 200 US schoolchildren in a mass shooting.

The case highlights the hazards of being online, but also reveals that no one is truly anonymous on the internet – and that, increasingly, what is said and done in social media forums is taken seriously by police and legal authorities around the world.

There are also increasing concerns among teachers and educators that the apparently anonymous nature of the internet allows teenagers to take part in bullying classmates without ever really realising the “real” repercussions of their actions and the damage they are causing.

Elliott made his threats on Facebook memorial pages set up for two girls in Warren County, Tennessee, US, who had died in car accidents in October last year. When the father-of-one from South Shields was confronted by a local deputy sheriff online over his comments, he wrote: “My father has three guns. I’m planning on killing him first and putting him in a dumpster. Then I'm taking the motor and I'm going in fast. I’m gonna kill hopefully at least 200 before I kill myself. So you want to tell the deputy, I'm on my way.”

Elliott made the intimidating comments under a false name in the weeks just after the Sandy Hook school shootings in Connecticut, where 20 children and six adults were killed by a lone gunman and unsurprisingly he triggered panic throughout the town. He was exposed by the FBI, which then worked with British police forces to secure the conviction.

Elliott is not alone in falling foul of increased police interest in trolls and internet comments. In March last year, Swansea University student Liam Stacey was jailed for inciting racial hatred after he posted messages on Twitter following the collapse of Bolton Wanderers football player Fabrice Muamba.

Despite the fact that Muamba nearly died following a heart attack in a game against Tottenham Hotspur, Stacey tweeted a series of racially offensive comments about the player. His identity was quickly revealed and he was arrested.

The phenomenon of trolling was the subject of a legal ruling in Britain last year when a 45-year-old mother, who was barraged with death threats by trolls for leaving a supportive message about an X-Factor contestant, won a landmark case forcing Facebook to reveal the identities of her online attackers.


  • What associations does the word "troll" have? Why do you think the people who post these messages are referred to as "trolls"?
  • Authorities are beginning to take online comments more seriously. How do you feel about these tighter controls?
  • Anonymity seems to change the way that people behave to one another. Why do you think this is?
  • What measures can you take to keep yourself safe online?

Related resources


  • Check out TES' special collection of lesson plans and advice on tackling cyberbullying.

Digital rights

  • These resources give teachers and pupils the opportunity to talk about the digital rights of young people.

Internet safety and cyberbullying

  • Help children to realise the consequences of anti-social and aggressive online behaviour on individuals and communities.

Teachers TV: Cyberbullying

  • Take a look at this Teachers TV video in which a 14-year-old girl discusses her experiences of cyberbullying.

Further news resources

First News front page

  • Help your pupils understand the features of the front page of a newspaper.

Write all about it

  • Get students creating their own news report with this step-by-step guide.

What is the News?

  • A sociological and media perspective on what makes an event 'newsworthy'.

On the box

  • Help pupils to write their own TV news broadcast with this handy PowerPoint.

Structuring stories

  • A scheme of work to help students structure news stories.

In the news this week

As, no doubt, you’ll have noticed, he’s done it. Andy Murray has won Wimbledon.

After days of unrest and mass demonstrations, Egypt’s first democratically elected president Mohammed Morsi has been ousted as leader of the Middle Eastern country by the army.

Buttercup, a one-legged duck born in a school biology lab, has had a prosthetic foot printed, using the latest three-dimensional technology.

For the second time in almost as many years, Egypt has been rocked by huge protests this weekend as the country’s capital, Cairo, witnessed mass demonstrations against the government.

In the news archive index