How to deal with trolls

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Every organisation has its critics on social media. It is important to remain accountable to your supporters and beneficiaries and social media is a great opportunity to evaluate and respond to the legitimate concerns of your audience.

However, trolls are not critics. A troll is defined as such when their interaction with your or your organisation’s social media accounts is simply to be a nuisance. There will be no answer or service you can provide which will satisfy them.

That’s why a fundamental principle of community management is:

Don’t feed the trolls.

"It’s often best to ignore hateful, discriminatory or otherwise inappropriate comments. Answering may only encourage more of the same. Ignoring will normally mean comments tail off when they see no reaction to their provocation."

Here are some guidelines to help you identify and engage with trolls and trolling behaviour.

Step 1 – identify whether the poster is a troll

Some common criteria:

  • They have an obscure bio, name and avatar – it is hard to see who / where they are, and what they do
  • They have few followers
  • Most of their posts are outgoing – they seem to rarely engage in conversation and dialogue – few people tweet at them
  • They post angry or provocative comments, tagging in many organisations or people
  • They use offensive and abusive language
  • They attack others
  • They post flurries of comments and then switch topic, tack or focus
  • They often switch focus – tagging in new organisations or topics
  • They rarely post on issues related to your work, but are taking a ‘turn’ on this topic
  • They are not one individual but many, delivering a swarm of comments.

Step 2 – decide what the value is in engaging

If the poster fits any of the above criteria, let alone several, we would suggest not engaging.

If they fit the criteria above, there is little value in responding, and in fact some strong risks. Depending on the post, you would need to be ready to publically debate with them, and potentially discuss other topics they have raised in a public sphere.

If there is more than one person delivering a coordinated campaign or attack, we would recommend even more strongly not to engage. It is impossible to have a meaningful conversation with such a large group.

With limited resources, your time would be better spent engaging with positive commenters to offer thanks and further information or content.

Twitter trolls suspended account
Twitter trolls suspended account

Step 3 – watch and wait

If you decide a user is a troll, the best action is to wait – 24 or 48 hours and see if they stop posting when you do not respond. They almost always do stop and turn their attention elsewhere.

Step 4 – use the tools

If you decide a user is a troll, and they persist in posting, you can use these tools:

  • Twitter account blocking and reporting
  • Facebook comment hiding, deleting and account page-banning
  • Instagram comment deleting, account blocking and reporting

Resources:

  1. Facebook’s own guidelines: Facebook’s Moderation Guidelines
  2. Twitter: Twitter’s progress on addressing online abuse
  3. Instagram: Community Guidelines

Using Twitter’s advanced search, or tools such as Sprout Social’s contact search (only available with a paid account) to see what previous interactions your brand has had with a particular user might also be helpful to add context.

Instagram's community guidelines help to deal with trolling
Instagram's community guidelines help to deal with trolling

Step 5 – more complex trolling cases

In 95% of cases, a response can be eliminated via the guidelines above. Some of the ways where this decision becomes more complicated is if the following occurs.

1. They are influential and others will be witnessing our non-response

In this case, a response should be written in consultation with your comms, PR or media team as they will be skilled at managing the public profile of your organisation. This does not mean you should not offer the expertise you have regarding your organisation’s social media audience and social media culture, however. These are things your media team may not have access to without you.

2. They have legitimate concerns

It is sometimes difficult to identify what is trolling behaviour simply because discerning someone’s motivation is not always possible. You can be a nuisance, without intending to be.

It is important to remember that just because someone isn’t communicating their needs clearly, or because they are unhappy with a service you’ve provided does not make them a troll. ‘Dont feed the trolls’ should not be used as an excuse to dismiss members of your audience or ignore uncomfortable truths.

A response to someone with legitimate concerns has value for your organisation and non-response is a reputational risk. This falls under community management, and a careful response should be planned by your team.

Step 6 – Look after yourself

Dealing with nuisance behaviour, criticism or abuse online is not easy. It is important to be aware of how these things affect your mental health.

If you enjoyed this post on how to deal with trolls, take a look at our other blog on how to cope with difficult social media shifts for tips and advice on staying well as a moderator.