Internet trolling is not uncommon. Harmful, offensive, and oftentimes downright disgusting comments are sent every day on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook by individuals who feel protected by the anonymity the Internet provides. Most people ignore these negative comments, while others try to rationalize with the troll. But in an almost unprecedented move, Democratic lawmaker Brian Sims actually called a troll's grandmother after a young boy posted offensive comments on his Facebook page.
Sims, an openly gay congressional representative for Pennsylvania, is no stranger to hateful comments being posted to his Facebook page. In fact, according to HuffPost, deleting hate speech from his social media accounts is part of his morning routine. But on Wednesday, one particular comment caught his attention. It was simply an offensive racial and homophobic slur, with no context or specific criticism.
"What caught me about it was there wasn't a reference to something I said or something I'd done or some policy," Sims told HuffPost. "And when I looked at his page there was very little there — but he'd posted a telephone number a number of times."
Sims decided to call the number at around 6:15 a.m. EST Wednesday morning — and the troll's grandmother answered the phone.
"I explained to her exactly who I was and what he had done," Sims said. "Like any grandma she was very embarrassed at having this kind of convo and very ashamed at the actions of her grandson."
Sims then responded to the troll's online comment, giving him a little lesson that might help his future Internet etiquette.
"You shouldn't have posted your grandmother's phone number on your Facebook page so many times," Sims posted. "She and I just had a very disappointing chat about you."
Sims isn't the first public figure to respond to internet hate by getting family involved. In 2014, game reviewer Alanah Pearce, who receives dozens of rape threats and sexually charged Twitter messages a day because of her position in a male-dominated field, actually started screen-shotting inappropriate messages and sending them to the mothers of the boys who sent them, many of whom were under 15 years old.
Above all, these hateful posts and responses raise questions about why people feel compelled to abuse and threaten others online, as well as what can be done to prevent it.
"It is the ultimate calling card of a coward to — under the guise of night and behind a keyboard — use the kind of language that in person would cause most decent people to respond in anger and frustration," Sims said. "The reason people do things like this is they don't have the courage, the education, or gumption to do this kind of thing in person."
This culture of internet trolling may not change anytime soon. But at least America has Sims to respond appropriately when needed.