Racially charged Internet trolling draws harsh criticism

Aggressive online trolling by Michele Tittler, a Vancouver woman who posts inflammatory comments about Aboriginal issues and people, has led to at least two police probes — although the most recent case has been halted according to RCMP.

Aggressive online trolling by Michele Tittler, a Vancouver woman who posts inflammatory comments about Aboriginal issues and people, has led to at least two police probes — although the most recent case has been halted according to RCMP.

Tittler's rants, last week, on the Facebook page of First Nations teenager Tenelle Starr led police in Saskatchewan to open a file.

Starr, 13, was posting updates on her experiences from early January when she wore a "Got Land? Thank an Indian" sweatshirt to her Balcarres, Sask., school.

Tittler leapt onto the teen's page to denounce the message of the sweatshirt. In an interview with CBC News, Tittler admits to posting harsh, race-based comments on the teenager's Facebook page, considered a form of trolling. None of her words included physical threats.

On Monday RCMP said their investigation would not go any further because, after some initial interviews, they had yet to receive a formal complaint.

"No victim, no crime," File Hills RCMP Sgt. John Ennis told CBC News, adding that in cases of alleged harassment officers need the victim to make a complaint.

Extensive history of trolling

Meanwhile, CBC's ongoing examination of the woman, a 52-year-old mother of two, reveals Tittler has a history of harassing people. In 2006, a criminal court judge in B.C. granted a peace bond against Tittler after a neighbour complained of harassment. A peace bond is similar to a restraining order. In order for a judge to grant a peace bond, the neighbour would have to show "fear on reasonable grounds." In the B.C. case it was not clear whether the fear was that Tittler would cause personal injury or damage property. The imposition of a peace bond does not result in a criminal record. Tittler admits to other confrontations in which the police were called.

What is Internet trolling?

According to popular sites, such as Wikipedia, the term internet troll is slang for "a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community."

The Oxford English Dictionary provides a similar definition and traces the term's origins to 1992. According to the OED, trolling is to "make a deliberately offensive or provocative online posting with the aim of upsetting someone or eliciting an angry response from them."

In September 2013, Tittler registered a not-for-profit organization with Industry Canada called ERBL Inc., or End Race Based Law Inc. Its Facebook page has 3,100 likes. In an interview with CBC, Tittler explained that she is unemployed and spends most of her time on-line denouncing Aboriginal treaties, posting rants on YouTube and engaging in caustic debates with vocal critics. She's registered several domain names containing the words "Idle No More" to intercept web traffic from the actual site of the group. She has also filed formal complaints against people to Facebook and internet providers alleging that some sites are promoting racism.

"It got to the point that my hair was falling out of my head," Tittler told CBC News about the energy she has expended. "[I] was going to sleep for a few hours, then waking up and reporting [people]. Then I'd go to sleep for a few hours, then I'd wake up and report. My whole 2013 life was reporting."

Tittler defends her decision to troll a teenager's Facebook page, insisting it's a public space.

Tittler's ERBL has been dubbed an "online hate group" by Idle No More organizers, many of whom have filed their own formal complaints to Facebook, domain name registries and police.

Métis blogger Wanda Probe, also from B.C., told CBC News that she filed a complaint to police in Delta, B.C., about Tittler in early January.

"Personally, it makes me fearful," Probe said. "She's popping up these videos and targeting my website and telling people some pretty nasty stuff."

Tittler undeterred

"I'm probably the most stalked person on the Internet today in Canada," Tittler said, noting it was a point of pride that she had attracted such attention.

Tittler's family, however, has asked her to shut down her website. After the most recent controversy erupted, Tittler's 81-year old father, Konrad, discovered that his daughter had used his credit card to register more than 100 domain names in his name. He said he received an abusive phone call at five o'clock in the morning from someone accusing him of being a white supremacist.

"It’s astounding," Konrad Tittler told CBC News. "It’s foreign to me completely."

On the weekend, the senior Tittler contacted to try and shut the websites down. He learned that his daughter had pre-paid for the domain names, and, in some cases, they won't expire until 2023.

"My relationship with my daughter is my own, and it’s very personal," he added. "I care about my daughter. I’m not rejecting her as a person [but] I try not to be involved."

Starr's family told CBC News they were concerned about Tenelle's safety and found many examples of over-heated rhetoric from a number of sources, posted to her Facebook page and elsewhere on the Internet.

"As a family, we are just trying to weather out the storm and protect Tenelle," Joseph Gordon, an uncle, said. According to the family, Tenelle Starr's Facebook page, which was deactivated for a few days, is operational again although some people have been blocked from leaving comments.

With files from CBC's Bonnie Allen