It’s true that social media gives an element of ‘power’ to the previously powerless. In the majority of cases, this power is used for good, such as furthering community or social causes, or raising awareness of important issues. There are those however, that use their new found power in a disruptive and sometimes dangerous manner. Enter the Trolls.
The term ‘troll’, or ‘internet troll’ refers to a person who intentionally posts inflammatory messages for the sole purpose of eliciting a response (usually an emotive one) from others. The term is derived from the fishing term ‘troll’, which is a technique whereby a baited hook is dragged along in the hope of getting a bite.
Whilst most trolls are largely harmless, there is a more insidious element whose sole purpose appears to be to inflict harm on others, be it emotional or even physical. In Australia for example, various media celebrities and sports people have been the targets of malicious trolls in recent times. Television personality Charlotte Dawson was subjected to such hatred and vitriol that she suffered a breakdown and was forced to seek medical treatment.
The apparent surge in internet troll activity has led to calls for greater regulation in the online world, including prosecution in some cases. In the UK for example, calls have been made to prosecute trolls showing support for the alleged killer of two female police officers in Manchester. In addition to legal action, calls are also being made to the operators or social networks (Facebook, Twitter et al) to be more responsive in moderating content on their platforms. In effect, removing content that is deemed offensive, inappropriate or even illegal.
As discussed in this blog only a short time ago, there are also implications for brands that have a presence in social media. As a ‘publisher’ of content, brands are obligated to ensure that content is appropriate and does not contravene any legal boundaries. For example, if you were a community manager and a troll used your platform to racially vilify another community member, how would you respond? What guidelines would you have in place to refer to? What would you do if then accused of stifling free speech, a frequent pseudo-defence used by internet trolls.
As individuals, it is generally acknowledged that the best way to deal with an internet troll is not to take the bait; simply ignore them. If they persist, up the ante by blocking them and then reporting them to Twitter, Facebook, or whatever platform they are using. As a brand, the best course of action is to have a clear policy on dealing with antisocial, inappropriate or illegal behavior on the social media platforms you control and are responsible for.
Have you ever come across a troll, or even been targeted yourself? We’d love to hear about your experiences and how you managed the situation, either personally or professionally.