The Danger Of Predatory Trolls Are Exposed In The New Documentary 'Social Media Monster'

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Acccording to Social Media Statistics, in 2024 an estimated 5.17 billion people—over half the global population—are regular users of social networking sites. While social media allows easy connectivity to others, as the world becomes increasingly digital the negative effects of such platforms continue to rise. Depression, anxiety, catfishing, sexual harassment, cyber-bullying and -stalking are just some of the dangers faced by millions, and as laws in many nations have failed to keep up with constantly-evolving technology, there are often few legal avenues victims may pursue in order to attain justice from online tormentors.

In internet jargon, a ‘troll’ is anyone who deliberately posts offensive messages on social media or in a newsgroup, forum or chat room with the intent to provoke or manipulate. The anonymity of cyberspace has in recent years provided a fertile breeding ground in the burgeoning phenomenon of the so-called ‘predatory troll’—single or highly organized troll groups (sometimes sponsored by businesses or governments) who engage in purposeful disinformation and habitual harassment with the intent to damage reputations and destroy credibility. It’s a dangerous new frontier of online engagement, and educating the public about the reality of such behavior and its real-life ramifications is the purpose of the recent documentary, Social Media Monster.

The film’s central figure is Matthew Berdyck, a nomadic activist, journalist, and would-be Wagyu steak entrepreneur, who arrived in St. Joseph, Missouri, in 2018 and who, one evening at the local IHOP, claimed to intervene on the behalf of a woman being assaulted in the parking lot. The event escalated into an altercation with not only other restaurant patrons, but St. Joseph police, and following the incident Berdyck began an online trolling campaign of ceaseless email and social media badgering aimed at debasing city officials, law enforcement and reporters for what he saw as discrimination and governmental corruption. But are Berdyck’s allegations true? Or is he merely a mean-spirited, possibly mentally-ill man with free Wi-Fi access, idle hands and an axe to grind?

Despite the relevance of the message in Social Media Monster, director Peter John Ross allows his warning about the omnipresent threat of predatory trolls to slip through his fingers. Much like a skydiver plunging from a plane, the documentary drops viewers into the IHOP situation with little explanation and no context; all we’re privy to are a barrage of hostile cell phone videos which show everyone—Berdyck and patrons alike—behaving badly.

The use of Berdyck’s own obsessive, self-filmed diatribes railing against (real or perceived) persecution and corruption offer a disturbing gaze into his paranoid, outrageously narcissistic personality. Yet however unhinged and manipulative he may appear, Berdyck nonetheless proves an oddly compelling figure, a highly intelligent and highly motivated individual whose counter-charges against Ross are, in some ways, justified: by creating a movie that targets one man, Ross is essentially urging the audience to judge Berdyck based on a decidedly lopsided portrayal and makes him guilty of the same browbeating behavior he accuses Berdyck of.

The truth of predatory trolls and online harassment is undeniable, and a broader examination of the subject would not only have kept viewer’s attention but provided a much-welcomed exposé of the internet’s seedier underbelly. Instead, Social Media Monster comes off as tired, repetitive, and uninteresting, and it’s for this reason I give it a lackluster 2 (out of 5) on my Fang Scale. Can’t we all just get along?

2.0 / 5.0