6 Methods for Dealing with Trolls Online

Have you ever been harassed or made to feel uncomfortable online by trolls? If so, you’re not alone. 

According to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center on online harassment, 41% of Americans have been personally subjected to harassing behavior online. Of that 41%, more than half feel that it’s a real problem. 

For the most part, the topics that seem to attract the most responses from trolls are posts regarding politics, celebrities, religion, and current events. But even seemingly uncontentious pastimes like sports and gaming are not immune to the mean-spirited attacks of a troll.

So, what can you do if you find yourself being targeted by an online troll? Here are a few helpful suggestions.  

1. Dealing With Trolls: Mind Over Matter

There’s an old saying that goes, “If you don’t mind something, then it doesn’t matter.” 

It was sage advice from your parents back in elementary school and remains equally wise when it comes to dealing with a troll online.

Let’s say you feel particularly strongly about something, perhaps a news event. You decide to share your thoughts on a friend or public figure’s social media post on the topic. To your astonishment, someone viciously attacks you, calling you names and trying to devalue your  opinion.

Do you get offended? Do you feel an urge to respond and defend yourself? The answer to these questions for most people is yes. It’s perfectly normal to want to fight back against someone who’s calling your opinion into question. 

When it comes to trolls, the best advice is to pay them no mind. Here’s another wise saying, this one originating online – “Don’t feed the trolls.” Their whole purpose is not an honest debate or an attempt to share ideas but to accuse, upset, and drain you of both time and emotional energy. 

Don’t encourage their behavior by using your valuable time to engage with them. 

2. How to Deal With Trolls When It Comes to Business

Many business owners have been dealing with troll attacks online via Yelp or other social media platforms. Even though you can’t prevent trolls from attacking your business online, you can control your response to them. 

Don’t let your emotions drive your response. We know it’s easy for us to say (after all, we haven’t put all of our hearts and souls into building it like you have), but there’s a way to diffuse the situation. 

After reading a particularly nasty comment, take a few minutes to cool down. Come back and do your best to respond politely and factually to a troll attack on your website or business’ social media account. You’re not likely to solve their issue or sufficiently address their complaint because a troll is not seeking a resolution. There sole aim is to try to publicly damage your company’s reputation or brand.

Taking a cool-headed approach may not seem like a strong enough response to a false charge or accusation. Just remember that others (including your customers) are watching.  When they witness your level-headed, professional response to a troll’s antagonistic behavior, they’ll more readily dismiss the troll because you didn’t legitimize what they were saying by getting into a blow-for-blow argument.

3. Unmasking Motive Behind Trolling

Perhaps one of the most frustrating things about trolls is that they tend to lurk in the shadows of anonymity, and anonymity is “power” to those who seek to attack and disrupt in the world of social media. 

There have been suggestions on more than a few fronts that unmasking trolls will take away both their power and ability to harm someone’s online reputation or brand. 

Unmasking options include everything from troll hunters to proposed legislative measures requiring identity verification for social media platform members. There is even a reverse email search tool that can help with the process.

While it’s a logical step towards stopping trolls, not everyone shares the belief it will eradicate trolling online. Some studies suggest that depending on their motivations, unmasking could further fuel rather than extinguish a troll’s acerbic attacks.

In the end, if you’re dealing with someone who wants to hide in anonymity you can use online search tools like Spokeo to try to expose them.

4. Find a New Perspective On Dealing With Trolls

It was always just a matter of time before Artificial Intelligence would become a tool to combat trolls.

Jigsaw’s Perspective API uses a combination of human input and machine learning to identify the nature of a comment to determine its toxicity. If the tool determines that a submission is mean or threatening, the author receives a warning message telling them to change their wording if they want to post their comment.

It’s a brilliant solution that is also free. Besides lowering the number of unwanted comments, the sites that have used Perspective API report that there has been a noticeable uptick in overall “legitimate” comment activity. The reason is obvious; eliminate the trolls and people will no longer be afraid to share their opinions.  

5. Trolling: A Social Issue

While you can’t passively allow yourself to be berated and bullied online, the fight against trolls is not yours alone. It is a larger social issue that requires platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to step and take preventative measures. 

Taking a cue from Jigsaw’s Perspective API, these social platforms are at various stages of introducing algorithm-based solutions and comment screening to identify trolls and remove their accounts.

It will take time; however, it’s yet another indication of how collectively just about everyone recognizes the problem and is moving in the right direction towards a resolution. 

6. Removing the Trolls’ Soapbox  

The best way to stop trolls in their tracks is to remove their soapbox. Although perhaps extreme disabling the comment feature on your blog, for example, is one option. You can do the same on your social media sites such as YouTube or Instagram.  

While it may seem counterintuitive to turn off comments as the whole idea of social media is to be sociable and therefore engage people, it is a feature that is not an absolute necessity. 

As an interim measure, and until the social platforms fully develop their anti-trolling AI capabilities, you can moderate comments before they become public so that you are the only one who sees them. 

You can even delete and report offensive comments on social sites. Facebook is one platform that makes it easy to remove offensive material while offering a reporting mechanism that can help to block or even remove the offending party’s account.

Final Thought On How to Deal With Trolls

Like Mark Twain said, “Never argue with stupid people, they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience.”

While the above suggestions should prove helpful in fending off the trolls that vex so many people online, the best defense is to recognize them for what they are and to stay true to yourself. You don’t need to legitimize, rationalize or explain your opinions to anyone who calls them into question online.