'Troll hunter' says Christchurch terrorist attacks show how online bullying can lead to 'real life harm'

An author and self-described online "troll hunter" is warning people of the dangers of harmful ideology on the internet following the Christchurch terrorist attacks, and is calling for a shift in people's thinking.

"‘Hate speech leads to real life harm," award-winning Australian journalist Ginger Gorman told TVNZ1's Breakfast today. 

After finding herself a victim of online hate herself, Ms Gorman decided to look into the issues that exist in cyberspace. It led her to write Troll Hunting, a book that was published in February. 

She said today that the man accused of having killed 50 Muslims while they prayed at two Christchurch mosques on March 15 fits the bill of a "predator troll".

"I define it in my book as essentially someone who is using the internet to do real life harm to people," she said. "That might be physical, mental or both ... With the Christchurch killer, he really fits that bill almost exactly."

Similar crimes are sure to play out again if nothing is done to prevent hate speech online, Ms Gorman predicted.

"None of us have absolute free speech," she explained. "No one can bully you at work, harass you at work - they shouldn't be able to do it on the internet either.

"We need to stop thinking this is virtual. It's very clear, like with the Christchurch killer, he said what he was going to do online, he was egged on by a cohort, he went and did it, and then that cohort helped spread that message of hatred.

"If you're going to dehumanise people, it leads to violence ... It's just completely naive to think that it's a fairyland online - it's not at all."

Ms Gorman also suggested the alleged shooter got media to "do his dirty work for him" by spreading ideology in his manifesto, which she described as "bait for the media".

"It's full of those kinds of memes and language that exists in those [online hate speech] forums," she said. "So really it's kind of helping, if you like, in his cause, which I find horrifying as a journalist."

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Ginger Gorman talks about the dangers of harmful ideology online following Christchurch terrorist attacks Source: Breakfast