Recently I commented on a Facebook post that has a national if not international audience. One of the responses to my comment was very negative and was directed at my profile photo and not at the comment I had made. That the profile pic I was using wasn’t even one of me but of someone I love made the blow doubly hard. Say hello to an Internet troll.
NOTE: After I started work on this, Robin Williams’ daughter, Zelda, got off Twitter and Instagram due to cruel attacks by Internet trolls after the death of her father. This has sparked renewed debate about the best way to deal with such posters. At the bottom of this post are several links to articles related to that.
What is an Internet Troll?
According to Wikipedia an Internet troll is a person who sows discord on the Internet by:
- starting arguments or upsetting people
- posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a newsgroup, forum, chat room, or blog) with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response
- or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.
Troll or Critic?
There is a difference between a Troll and a negative commenter or critic. This difference is nicely stated in a 2012 post by Dan Syron:
- A troll, a term used commonly in internet forums and chat, is used to describe someone who, for the SOLE PURPOSE OF ENTERTAINMENT (whether it is meant or not) says something deliberately inflammatory to another to cause a ruckus. Trolls often use personal attacks on these individuals and can be classified as harassment.
- Criticism is the form of feedback in which an individual with an HONEST and backed-up argument disagrees or wishes to inform an individual of a fault, which can sometimes be used to improve.
Either can be upsetting. Even a valid criticism may hit you on a bad day or be stated in such a way that it pushes your buttons. And both a troll and a critic requires an unemotional response, if you choose to respond at all.
What is the best way to deal with an Internet Troll?
Many believe that ignoring vicious comments is the best way to go, and there is a lot to be said for that. Trolls are typically looking for attention and wanting a fight, so if you ignore them they are likely to go elsewhere. You’ll often see “Please don’t feed the Trolls” posted in online discussions to discourage “flame wars”.
If you are in business, however, a responding to trolls or negative posters in a calm and reasoned manner may be a better option. That means that you do not answer in the heat of the moment. Ideally you have a pre-written reply that you can use for negative comments so you have time to take deep breaths and make a plan. You will also need to decide whether you are dealing with a troll or with genuine criticism before deciding what your response should be.
Online Behavior Can Be Like Chicken-Pecking
One of my favorite quotes was made by Stewart Brand, editor of The Whole Earth Catalog and a founder of The WELL (Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link). About trolls he said, “…online behavior can be like chicken-pecking: If anyone shows blood, that bird is down.”
Attacks on Zelda Williams
Zelda Williams regarding negative comments on social media following the death of her father:
“As for those who are sending negativity, know that some small, giggling part of him is sending a flock of pigeons to poop on your car. Right after you’ve had it washed.”
Recent articles on this subject:
Serial trolls, sockpuppets and Twitter harassment: Why Zelda Williams’s abusers are still online
Twitter Will Finally Crack Down on Social Media Abuse After Disgusting Trolls Ran Zelda Williams Offline
Web Trolls Winning as Incivility Increases
“It’s not a question of whether or not we’re winning the war on trolling, but whether we’re winning the war on misogyny, or racism, and ableism and all this other stuff,” Dr. Phillips said. “Trolling is just a symptom of those bigger problems.”
These links may help you to deal with trolls and negativity, whether the remarks are personal or related to your business:
Deal With Haters and Trolls
Especially check out the section titled “Why haters exist and the things that motivate them” and “The difference between people who are critical and haters”. The podcasts offer in-depth info about dealing with negatives.
Dealing with trolls can be viewed as an opportunity: Don’t Feed the Trolls
“You’re more likely to win an argument with a tree than you are with a troll.”
You Can’t Win an Argument with a Troll
This article has some good advice on using self care to recover from a troll attack.
How to Deal With Internet Trolls — Advice for Businesses and Bloggers
Be sure to read the section, “Are Negative Reviews Considered Trolling” and the “Six Tips for Dealing With Internet Trolls”. Also interesting is, “How the Pros Handle Trolls”
Forcing Commenters to Use Real Names Won’t Root Out the Trolls
Wired Magazine article makes the case that attacking anonymity on the web will not fix the problem. Instead focus on verification of facts.
OF NOTE: Not all states have cyberbullying laws, but many do and others are considering them.
Evil Red Trollface image courtesy of BillyfabianCow on deviantart
Do Not Feed the Troll photo courtesy of Zen Sutherland on Flikr