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Don’t feed the Internet trolls

We’re probably all very familiar with the concept of Internet trolls, especially in recent years as their actions become more and more prevalent in the world. These people, hiding behind a generic username and a faceless profile picture, apparently take great joy from bullying others.

Recently, three high school students from Washington, D.C. were on the receiving end of an attack by these trolls. Why? Simply because they were black girls competing in a contest conducted by NASA.

According to reports from The Washington Post and NBC News, the team of three eleventh graders—Mikayla Sharrieff, India Skinner, and Bria Snell—entered the NASA competition with their project: a method to purify lead-contaminated water in school drinking fountains. The idea was sparked by seeing water fountains at their own high school being marked as unusable because of potential contamination.

With the finalist teams selected, the competition entered the public voting stage. Those votes combined with judge assessments would determine the winners.

That’s where the trolls of anonymous internet forum “4chan” decided to strike. They tried to sabotage the girls’ chances with a slew of racist and sexist remarks, encouraging others to even try to hack into the voting system to skew the results. NASA quickly ended the public voting, releasing a statement acknowledging that social media trolls were “attack[ing] a particular student team based on their race and encouraged others to disrupt the contest and manipulate the vote.”

I still can’t understand why there are real people out in the world who spend this much time on the computer spreading negativity and hate like this. I can’t wrap my head around any of it. Who are you angry people? Why is the success of others so offensive to you?

I wish I had the answers to these questions. Because if I did understand, then it would be easier to work towards changing this attitude.

The girls at the center of all this gave interviews to the local news, but they chose to not make any statement on the voting attack. Instead, they’ve been commendable in the way they’ve handled the situation with positivity and grace.

According to the Washington Post article, the students simply said they were “excited about the positive attention their project has received from classmates, the D.C. community and even strangers on social media.”

And they should be proud of their work! It’s a fantastic, useful project.

The NBC News article added that the girls released a statement on Twitter saying “words cannot express how enjoyable this academic project has been from start til now.”

Instead of sinking to the level of internet trolls, these girls have proven just how smart they truly are. They’ve brushed off the haters and acted much more maturely than their bullies. And they’ve chosen to focus the attention on their competition project, developing a solution to a real problem they were facing instead of waiting around for someone else to do it.

I’m glad to see these girls thriving in the STEM field. We need more people like them working to make the world better. They’ll find out sometime this month whether or not they won NASA’s contest. But win or lose, they’ve already made an impact.

To the racist, misogynistic trolls who tried to bring them down: go find something better to do with your time. In the end, your efforts will always fail. 

Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at holly.taylor@r-cnews.com or by phone at 252-332-7206.