Trolls: How to Deal with Trouble in Social Paradise

By Alan Eggleston

Troubled by trolls? They permeate the social spaces like raisins in a cookie. But if you post adequate guidelines and moderate your space judiciously, they needn’t be a big problem.

First, you need to know what a “troll” is. It isn’t simply someone who disagrees with you. A troll is someone who comes to your social space to disrupt and offend. He or she craves attention, and when you respond to his distractions, you simply encourage him to continue.

Second, you need to know that how you respond to a troll will totally affect your relationship with him or her thereafter. What you should do depends on the basis of your relationship and the form of his messages.

Usually, a true troll says something inflammatory or controversial meant to incite a reaction, either from you or other readers. That’s true of any troll. (Another form of troll comes to your social space with an agenda, including complaining and spamming with messages or links.)

But keep in mind, both as a keeper of the social space and as a reader, you don’t have to put up with trolls. There are steps you can take.

Here are some examples.

Guidelines

First, where you can, post guidelines on using your site, especially about making comments (such as on blogs) and posting (such as in forums). Here are the guidelines that I post on my business blog as an example. Once you post them, enforce them fairly and equally. You may want to consult a Netiquette site for ideas.

Blogs

As web editor you own the blog space and you should set the rules. Post guidelines and make sure everyone follows them, including you. Respond respectfully to everyone who comments, but don’t be afraid to put someone in his place if he is disruptive.

Most blogs allow you to moderate your comments, which many bloggers don’t like to do, but if you have a problem with a troll this becomes an option that allows you to check him before he can take charge of your social space. You can refuse to post a comment that doesn’t meet your guidelines, and if a troll provides a valid e-mail address (a requirement in my guidelines), I will open a dialog with the troll through e-mail giving him a second chance to re-post with a less offensive comment.

Some trolls, including spammers, are frequent visitors who don’t take no for an answer. You can permanently block them through your blog settings. You can usually block by keywords, e-mail address, username, IP address, and other means. Spammers are a constant battle and they use devious tricks to mask their spam.

Some trolls may be former stakeholders with a stake to grind or grudge to hold. If your site is a commercial enterprise, you may need to address a troll in a social space in which others will see the exchange. In this case, it not only affects your relationship with that stakeholder but many others. Your best effort is to be respectful but try to take the conversation to another venue, such as e-mail or phone, or get him to the right person to help him address the issue. Blocking him in this particular space may force him to show up in other spaces. If he is simply an unmollifiable disgruntled stakeholder who just wants to hurt you in your social space, blocking him and alerting legal resources for damages may be your only other option.

Twitter

With Twitter, you don’t own the space as much as you often own the conversation (trolls like to descend uninvited into the conversation or onto your comment). And trolls are easy to block on Twitter (just go to their profile, look for the silhouetted icon and arrow next to “Follow”, click on that arrow and choose “Block”. If they’re spamming, choose “Report for spam.”).  Don’t be afraid to command the conversation – after all, they dropped in on you uninvited. You have a right to suspend the conversation.

You may also find that through interaction he or she becomes a troll in a conversation that you then both own.  You can always try to ameliorate the relationship, “agree to disagree” (usually the first to say that is showing defeat), or simply let the fool go on his way. Again, you can always block him.

My best advice on Twitter trolls, however, is:  Don’t Feed The Trolls (DFTT). What they usually want is attention. If you engage them, you are giving them the attention they seek and they will just come back for more.  If you ignore them, they often lose interest and drift away.

If you swoop down on someone else’s conversation and they become abusive, although their behavior is trollish, they own the conversation. Back out gracefully and, if they won’t leave you alone, block them.

Facebook

On Facebook, you own your personal page and your fan page plus any group page that you administrate. You have the ability to remove comments and block users as well as filter who reads the pages.  If you run into a troll on someone else’s page, you can only block them.

To block someone on Facebook, click on their name (which takes you to their profile page), look for the “Message” “Call” button next to the “Friends” button under the cover photo, and click the down arrow and at the bottom of the dropdown list click on “Report/Block”.

If your fan page is for a business or organization, treat them as an interested stakeholder until it’s apparent they aren’t interested in working things out. You have a duty to them, but you also have a duty to other users, so don’t wait too long to mollify a potential troll before deciding they are a lost cause.

Google+

I have honestly not run into anyone trolling on Google+ although I am not yet an avid user. I love Google+ as an interface, but most of my friends are on Facebook, so I gravitate toward it. Still, a lot of other people do use Google+ and as more and more people use it, trolls will find it useful for getting attention (if they don’t already).

The ownership rules should apply to Google+ that apply to Facebook.

To block on Google+, just click on someone’s name or photo. If they’re in your circles, a small profile “card” will pop up with an “x” in the upper right-hand corner – click the “x” and they will drop out of your circles. If they aren’t in your circles, you will go to their profile page and beneath the photos of people in their circles, in the middle column, is a link for “Block (name)” and for real abuse, “Report this profile.”

Forums

Whoever administrates the forum discussion owns the page and the conversation, so if you host a forum, make sure your administrators are aware of trolls and your policies on treating them. Post guidelines and apply them to everyone. If someone routinely breaks the rules, you would be well within your rights to kick them out. Check with your software for the process to block users and remove offensive comments.

More Reading

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One thought on “Trolls: How to Deal with Trouble in Social Paradise

  1. Pingback: Meeting “Trolls” Head-On | Penman

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