Dealing With Trolls

Article 7 min
Having a troll following is almost inevitable as your social media presence grows. Ignoring trolls only gives the narrative and focus of your platform to them. Interaction with trolls must be carefully planned and constructed. Don't feed the trolls unless you can get them to guard your bridge!

Generally speaking, an internet troll is someone whose behavior falls outside of acceptable bounds in an online community. While it is normal and acceptable to disagree, a troll lacks the empathy to participate in respectful debate. A troll will use swearing, yelling, posting inappropriate images and personal attacks in an effort to get attention and sow discord. They will drop bait pellets into as many public threads as possible in an effort to get you, the moderator, involved. To make matters worse, the presence of trolling actually increases the likelihood of setting off anti-social behavior in others by a whopping 68%.

Trolls are dying to point out your mistakes, to sow discord and chaos and draw attention to themselves. But by acting quickly, giving sincere responses and engaging the help of brand loyalists, you can keep the troll activity to a minimum.

Your first line of defense is having well-defined terms of use so you have something to point to when general population trolls stomp all over them. Some trolls, however, are just extra and need unique and innovative strategies to keep them in check (and in some cases working for you). Here are some of the more common trolls you’ll encounter in the wild.

a graphic of a troll that wants to be correct with grammar and punctuation
This person has a deep love of grammar and the innate ability to spot when autocorrect led you astray or you missed a period, comma, or apostrophe. They're not a typical troll, in that they don't really want attention so much as for the world to be correct. The best way to deal with this kind of troll is to thank them for their eagle-eye and free proofreading skills. Send them a private thank you and ask them to tag you in the future if they spot any mistakes. By engaging in a positive way, you're inviting this person to help protect your brand by ensuring that content looks its best.
Photo by: Andrea Batts-Latson
VIRIN: 200422-D-VE872-1010
This person has a deep love of grammar and the innate ability to spot when autocorrect led you astray or you missed a period, comma or apostrophe. They're not a typical troll, in that they don't really want attention so much as for the world to be correct. The best way to deal with this kind of troll is to thank them for their eagle-eye and free proofreading skills. Send them a private thank you and ask them to tag you in the future if they spot any mistakes. By engaging in a positive way, you're inviting this person to help protect your brand by ensuring that content looks its best. 

Strategy: Edit and proofread all content thoroughly and respond positively. 

a graphic of a troll who always posts in all caps
This type of commenter knows that the best way to get people to quit skimming and PAY ATTENTION is to post in all caps. While this may have indicated a form of internet shouting some years ago, this is no longer the case. As long as this user stays loud but reasonably respectful, they're generally harmless.
Photo by: Andrea Batts-Latson
VIRIN: 200422-D-VE872-1009
This type of commenter knows that the best way to get people to quit skimming and PAY ATTENTION is to post in all caps. While this may have indicated a form of internet shouting some years ago, this is no longer the case. As long as this user stays loud but reasonably respectful, they're generally harmless.

Strategy: Keep calm and be exceptionally polite. Don’t respond directly to the Cap'n. Instead, gear responses to provide information or context to the passive audience members watching the comments. If they feel invested in the brand and engaged on the thread, users do the policing for you.

a graphic of a troll that wants to inflict hurt on others
Technically not a troll but definitely someone to look out for. While a troll wants to bring attention to themselves, a cyber-bully wants to inflict hurt on others. They are typically very adept at making people feel as though they have done something to deserve the mistreatment. This combination of gaslighting and bullying can drive users away permanently, so it's important to deal with this kind of troll immediately.
Photo by: Andrea Batts-Latson
VIRIN: 200422-D-VE872-1011
Technically not a troll but definitely someone to look out for. While a troll wants to bring attention to themselves, a cyber-bully wants to inflict hurt on others. They are typically very adept at making people feel as though they have done something to deserve the mistreatment. This combination of gaslighting and bullying can drive users away permanently, so it's important to deal with this kind of troll immediately. 

Strategy: Your social media terms of use clearly state your official policy against cyberbullying. Block them and report them to the appropriate social media platform for violating community standards. If the bullying was especially egregious, make a post explaining the standards and what the consequences are. Your audience will appreciate your swift action and the protection you offer. 

a graphic of a troll that attempts to change the subject away from a person or topic they want to protect
Unfortunately, the whataboutism troll is very determined to silence the conversation and change the subject away from a person or topic they want to protect. Whataboutism trolls are drawn to conversations that favor fragile communities. Often armed with conspiracy theories and tropes, this type of troll fans the flames of arguments with false comparisons and straw man arguments that almost always start with "well, what about xyz?"
Photo by: Andrea Batts-Latson
VIRIN: 200422-D-VE872-1004
Unfortunately, the whataboutism troll is very determined to silence the conversation and change the subject away from a person or topic they want to protect. Whataboutism trolls are drawn to conversations that favor fragile communities. Often armed with conspiracy theories and tropes, this type of troll fans the flames of arguments with false comparisons and straw man arguments that almost always start with "well, what about xyz?" 

Strategy: Shut the troll down by asking them to cite their sources. Keep the tone breezy but make it clear that silencing is not a technique that you'll allow. Establishing trust in the platform on a daily basis will reinforce the moments when engaging with the whataboutism troll is essential. 

a graphic of a troll that will turn every post into a lengthy debate
This troll will find some way of turning any post into a lengthy debate. Like all trolls, this tactic stems from a desire to be the center of attention. It's possible that somewhere, buried in the back and forth, the troll may arrive at a pain point, or a legitimate frustration, so it's important to look for that nugget buried in the word rubble.
Photo by: Andrea Batts-Latson
VIRIN: 200422-D-VE872-1001
This troll will find some way of turning any post into a lengthy debate. Like all trolls, this tactic stems from a desire to be the center of attention. It's possible that somewhere, buried in the back and forth, the troll may arrive at a pain point, or a legitimate frustration, so it's important to look for that nugget buried in the word rubble. 

Strategy: Engage only when necessary to correct misinformation or to respond if you recognize a legitimate complaint that needs to be addressed. Many debates launched by the windbag come from their own opinions. Don't fall into the trap of debating feelings over facts. 

a graphic of a troll that attempts to silence others
Silencing is a popular tool of trolls. This happens when someone talks over/interrupts a person to explain something that is unique to her/their experience (example: when a white person explains diversity to a person of color). When a silencing troll corrects someone who is speaking of their own experience, the troll is not so subtly suggesting the poster is incapable of possessing authoritative knowledge. Trolls like this come from a culture of devaluing others' voices as a way to elevate their own. Women and people of color experience this kind of silencing constantly, but not exclusively.
Photo by: Andrea Batts-Latson
VIRIN: 200422-D-VE872-1003
Silencing is a popular tool of trolls. This happens when someone talks over/interrupts a person to explain something that is unique to her/their experience (example: when a white person explains diversity to a person of color). When a silencing troll corrects someone who is speaking of their own experience, the troll is not so subtly suggesting the poster is incapable of possessing authoritative knowledge. Trolls like this come from a culture of devaluing others' voices as a way to elevate their own. Women and people of color experience this kind of silencing constantly, but not exclusively. 

Strategy:  Silencing comments have a chilling effect on the entire conversation. Call it out when you see it. Provide some clear guidelines on what silencing is (the person doing it may not even realize it) and redirect the conversation back to the point the original poster to was trying to make. By holding space for those who are traditionally forced out of the conversation, you'll create a more robust and diverse online community. 

a graphic of a troll that likes to inflame people
This troll really just likes to throw those matches around and inflame people. They agitate, stir the pot and then sit back and watch the explosions.
Photo by: Andrea Batts-Latson
VIRIN: 200422-D-VE872-1000
This troll really just likes to throw those matches around and inflame people.  They agitate, stir the pot and then sit back and watch the explosions. 

Strategy: This is a tough troll to deal with on a thread-by-thread basis, but if you view their actions over time their pattern of behavior becomes more obvious. Try reaching out to the troll but point out that you're aware of their motives. Share your end user agreement or group rules. This may be enough to convince the troll that your page is no longer their playground. If not, and they continue to agitate with incendiary comments, block them and report them. 

a graphic of a troll that looks for opportunity to agitate
Text can be fantastically tone deaf, so it's practically a lock that you'll offend someone at some point. These trolls, a close cousin to the ones that want to watch the world burn see your gaffe as an opportunity to agitate. If the conversation turns on them or they feel uncomfortable, they may weaponize their tears in an effort to silence others. Even if the troll instigated or escalated the debate, they will use those tears to gain sympathy and divide the group into a sort of "with me" or "against me" scenario.
Photo by: Andrea Batts-Latson
VIRIN: 200422-D-VE872-1002
Text can be fantastically tone deaf, so it's practically a lock that you'll offend someone at some point. These trolls, a close cousin to the ones that want to watch the world burn see your gaffe as an opportunity to agitate. If the conversation turns on them or they feel uncomfortable, they may weaponize their tears in an effort to silence others. Even if the troll instigated or escalated the debate, they will use those tears to gain sympathy and divide the group into a sort of "with me" or "against me" scenario. 

Strategy: Always evaluate your content for possible avenues of offense. This will mitigate many of the issues that are associated with this type of troll. If something slips past, be sincere in your mea culpa. For the salty troll that is insistent on making something out of nothing, just acknowledge their feelings and move on. 

a graphic of a troll that is the authority on any and every subject
This troll presents their online presence as the absolute authority of any and every subject. They spend a great deal of time trying to discredit a platform, while simultaneously claiming it is their favorite brand.
Photo by: Andrea Batts-Latson
VIRIN: 200422-D-VE872-1012
This troll presents their online presence as the absolute authority of any and every subject. They spend a great deal of time trying to discredit a platform, while simultaneously claiming it is their favorite brand.

Strategy: This is a good opportunity to correct the record and reinforce trust in the brand. Be careful, as this can quickly descend into a middle-school playground argument.

graphic of a troll that wants to engage and mean well, but don’t understand the content or context.
This troll really wants to engage and mean well, but don’t understand the content or context.
Photo by: Andrea Batts-Latson
VIRIN: 200422-D-VE872-1005
This troll really wants to engage and means well, but doesn't understand the content or context.

Strategy: Correct the record when necessary – but do so tactfully. There is rarely any malice behind these simple trolls. Calling them out will diminish brand credibility. 

a graphic of a troll that will look to turn every topic into an opportunity to debate or introduce politics
These trolls will look to turn every topic into an opportunity to debate or introduce politics. They also enjoy referencing everything as a waste of taxpayer money.
Photo by: Andrea Batts-Latson
VIRIN: 200422-D-VE872-1006
These trolls will look to turn every topic into an opportunity to debate or introduce politics. They also enjoy referencing everything as a waste of taxpayer money.

Strategy: The brand itself must remain apolitical. Don’t fall into the trap of debating politics on the platform. If absolutely necessary, encourage the troll to engage with their elected official or offer their opinions on a more appropriate platform. 

a graphic of a peacemaker troll
The Peacemaker is useful if cultivated correctly, but be wary about making them a BFF. You don't actually know these people, or what may trigger them to turn against you. Always exercise caution. They will defend a brand from other trolls, if they feel valued by the platform.
Photo by: Andrea Batts-Latson
VIRIN: 200422-D-VE872-1008
The Peacemaker is useful if cultivated correctly, but be wary about making them a BFF. You don't actually know these people or what may trigger them to turn against you. Always exercise caution. They will defend a brand from other trolls if they feel valued by the platform.

Strategy: Establishing a strong and engaging brand upfront creates an environment where the Peacekeeper feels comfortable defending a platform.

a graphic of a troll that trolls others to be genuinely funny
Even though trolling is typically executed in a negative fashion, there are people who troll others to be genuinely funny. While this can descend into something divisive, the humor is often an opportunity to engage.
Photo by: Andrea Batts-Latson
VIRIN: 200422-D-VE872-1007
Even though trolling is typically executed in a negative fashion, there are people who troll others to be genuinely funny. While this can descend into something divisive, the humor is often an opportunity to engage.

Strategy: Look for opportunities to engage their humor, if appropriate. If they feel they have an audience, this troll will continue to engage. Remember, engagement breeds engagement.

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