Internet Trolls are emboldened by anonymity on social media platforms and lack of consequence for bad behavior. Ignoring a troll’s malicious and antisocial behavior can actually make this problem worse. Ignoring troll abuse often silences the victim and makes the web a much less safe place to be.
Since 1994, I believed and perpetuated the conventional wisdom that claimed the best way to respond to an Internet troll is not to respond at all. The pretzel logic of troll-avoidance is predicated on an incorrect assumption that if you deprive trolls of attention (content) they’ll get bored and eventually go away.
In reality, this troll-avoidance tactic does not usually work. It often results in destructive, defamatory content being left unanswered or challenged, and allowed to pollute social media platforms and the Web for who knows how long.
We have over two and a half decades of experience following the conventional wisdom of surrendering the Internet and social media platforms to trolls. What have we learned? Appeasing Internet trolls’ malevolent behavior rewards and encourages the trolls to continue harassing and maligning their targets.
Our collective troll problem is getting worse and is not going away until social media platforms clean house and stop optimizing for conflict and hate.
Anonymity Online Breeds Contempt And Rewards Bad Behaviors
With little oversight and even less restraint, social media platforms are incentivized and optimized for end-user engagement. No surprise they often look the other way at harmful behaviors that, if reduced, would cut into advertising revenue.
Media platforms are exploited by bad actors intent on spreading misinformation, disinformation, grievances and conspiracy theories. Facebook is the worst offender for coddling trolls and facilitating global social engineering. Facebook’s primary business model is to foment hate in order to sell more advertising around the content its socially-manipulated users generate. If Facebook were a country, it would be considered openly hostile to world peace and a threat to all nations.
It is not possible to secure a network, app or web service without first confirming user identity. One positive change that could quickly transform Facebook and other social media platforms, making them far less toxic and dangerous, would be to implement processes similar to the anti-money laundering (AML) and know your customer (KYC) protocols used in banking.
The technology required to implement and operate a secure identity management system at scale already exists. The will, on Facebook’s part, to implement these measures does not. Facebook leadership has demonstrated time and again they have no intention to fix this threat to society on their own. Facebook must be responsibly regulated. Now!
All media platforms can and must do a much better job protecting their customers, advertisers and the public from harm. As customers and advertisers we should demand it.
How To Respond To Internet Trolls
If you are being stalked or harassed on Facebook, Twitter or on other social media platforms or websites, there are specific steps you can take to protect yourself, your reputation and your business. Resist! Don’t be a passive or silent victim. And most important, don’t get personal. Focus your attention and responses on the troll’s statements and behaviors, not on the troll personally. It’s a normal human reaction to want to defend yourself and to strike back when you feel you’re being attacked. Resist the urge to get personal. You won’t regret it.
Eight additional steps for dealing with Internet trolls
- Let those close to you know what’s happening;
- Document in detail all abusive behavior. Take screenshots of everything;
- Create and maintain a troll (incident) diary, including a detailed timeline;
- Contact authorities immediately when a troll’s post(s) contemplate or incite violence, physical harm or other illegal activity;
- Notify website(s) or app(s) facilitating abuse and request all offending content be removed immediately;
- Send a cease and desist letter explaining what happens next if they persist;
- Hire an attorney;
- When all else fails, file a civil lawsuit and/or criminal complaint.
Hopefully you’ll never find yourself on the receiving end of a troll’s destructive attention. If you are trolled, resist.