Your Handy Guide for Dealing with Internet Trolls and Online Bullies
While most of us choose to see the good in people, Internet trolls work hard to shatter that core belief. No matter how big your name is, or isn’t, you’ll always attract the ‘reply guys’, those people who love to chime in and correct you, even though you literally wrote the book on it.
There will always be those people who come to mock your physical appearance or rubbish your opinion in the comments. Some will seek you out on social media to continue harassing you. Some choose to send private messages with insults or threats. Some will go as far as writing a response article just so they can let the world know they disagree with the article you wrote.
Ultimately, you have to recognize that the reason trolls and bullies do what they do is for one of two reasons. There are the trolls who enjoy upsetting people and think it’s hilarious that people are so upset about what they say because it makes them feel powerful.
Then, there are the trolls who are acting out of jealous insecurity. They see someone succeeding where they are not and want to tear them down.
Now, let’s talk about how to deal with them.
If you’re operating a business, whether it’s a product or service, then it can sometimes be difficult to identify whether you’re dealing with a troll or a disgruntled customer. While both may be enraged or furious, the substance of their comment should help you determine whether it’s a legitimate gripe or a troll. In either circumstance, you need to remain calm as you read.
Does the comment read as a frustrated person making an authentic complaint or claim about what you put out?
They may be a customer who is so angry they can’t form a coherent complaint. Look for the motivation of their comment. If it’s a disgruntled customer, then overcome the rudeness of their message and engage them in order to resolve the problem.
Now, if they’re someone who isn’t abiding by the unwritten rules of social media etiquette, they’re outraged and trying to turn others against you, then you’re likely dealing with a troll. You can’t reason with a troll because they aren’t interested in resolution.
The only thing the troll wants is to create havoc, and if you engage the troll they’ll keep going. If you starve them of attention, they’re more likely to get bored and disappear.
So, let’s talk about identifying a troll:
They Wind You Up
The only thing a troll is interested in is upsetting you. They stir up trouble intentionally to sit back and watch the fallout. So if someone posts inflammatory comments or tries to start arguments, they’re likely a troll, especially if they seem insincere in their engagement.
Ah, the inflated self-worth, trolls act as though the world does or should revolve around them. They believe everyone else sucks, but they’re great, and they know better than everyone else.
If they say never, always, every time, etc, then they’re probably a troll. Trolls tend to exaggerate and use superlatives and extremes to inflame others.
They Get Personal
You may have seen healthy discussion online, where two people are respectful of each other’s opinions and resolve their conversation peacefully and politely. That’s not what trolls do, trolls get personal. They don’t have a logical or reasonable point or argument to make so they attack you. They take aim at your character, personhood, physical appearance, etc.
I don’t know what it is about trolls, but they often struggle with basic grammar. They use the wrong word, spell poorly, eschew punctuation, and use a lot of capitalization, exclamation points, and the word “I.” It’s not just me saying this, Stanford University and Cornell University completed a study on anti-social behavior. They found that trolls opt for profanity more than positive words and fail readability metrics.
So, as you can see, trolls stand out. Now let’s deal with them.
If the trolls are coming directly to your website, then you’ll have to create a policy just like social media sites do. You can block each troll that appears, but for those people who are merely disrespectful and not yet overt trolls, you can remind them of your policy to nudge them back into toeing the line. Most social media groups have their own rules that moderators apply strictly. You can do the same.
You may want to take a screenshot, so you have proof. Trolls often delete when they realize they’ve taken things too far, and if their harassment continues to get out of control, you may have to involve the relevant authorities, which means screenshots will be important.
You may choose to ignore trolls. Trolls tend to troll for the attention, so by ignoring them you’re starving them of the fuel they want to allow their fire to grow out of control. When you don’t get upset, they don’t get the pleasure, and they’ll likely go and annoy someone else. The problem with this tactic though, is that other people may choose to intercede on our behalf, which will give the troll exactly what they want.
In this case, you may choose to respond with facts. If a troll is spreading inaccuracies, then you can provide a list of facts to counter that. It might not deter the troll, but it will let other readers know the truth.
Some people choose to respond with humor to defuse the situation. That’s much easier to say than it is to do. If you execute it well, then it shows your humor and humanity as you defuse the situation.
We already touched on this, but you may choose to simply block or ban them. If you personally block them, other people will still see them and respond. If you ban them from commenting on your page, then you deal with the issue. However, they may simply create another account and come back. If they’re harassing you on social media, then you can report them and have your followers and friends do the same.
Whatever you do, don’t allow a troll to bait you. Just like it’s best to ignore them, you shouldn’t feed the troll. When you respond you provide them with more fuel.
Trolls are a fact of Internet life, unfortunately, and it’s very likely you know people in real life who enjoy trolling people online. There are entire communities built around the practice and it’s how a lot of people get their kicks.
Do your best to build a friendly and supportive community. Be the leader in how you deal with trolls and your community will follow that lead. Trolls will realize there’s no space for them in your community and they’ll give up if they even tried to bother in the first place.