A constant thorn in the side of almost every website is the persistence of trolls and flamers, who are always on the lookout for opportunities to pester, wind up or otherwise aggravate others online.
As trolls have slowly drifted into the public consciousness, companies have to think about how they will approach and react to them.
The uninitiated may be wondering what a troll is exactly. At its most basic level, trolls exist entirely to frustrate other users online. This can manifest as ridiculous or contentious questions, abstract complaints, mocking or veiled sarcasm or any number of admittedly innovate ways of winding people up.
They can be found anywhere however, and will usually be trying to provoke a response or debate from other members of the community , whether this is saying man never landed on the moon (they did), vaccinations cause autism (they doesn’t) or homeopathy is anything more than water (it isn’t).
Different members will react in different ways, but what if you are the moderator or owner of that community? What if it’s on your company’s Facebook page, for example?
Doin’ it for the lulz
The oft-repeated mantra is ‘DO NOT FEED THE TROLLS’, proudly displayed on many a forum thread. This is the thought process that all trolls want is attention, so by ignoring them you will be depriving them of what they want.
When you’re managing a community however, many other members may be fuelling the troll, leaving you in a powerless, seemingly apathetic position overseeing your community.
Here are a few nuggets of advice when compiling your company policy for handling trolls:
1/ Establish an internal policy:
Bad situations are made much worse when there is poor communication amongst staff. Make sure there is a company (or at least department) wide protocol in place so that the business remains consistent in its handling of trolls.
2/ Be cautious:
You never know the severity of the troll, or who you might be talking to. The anonymity of the internet and not knowing who you might offend can have catastrophic results.
3/ Assume good faith:
Some people really are that stupid and misinformed. Don’t always assume malicious intent until you’re absolutely sure.
4/ Context is everything:
Your site may be very different from others. Sports, videogames and religious websites suffer from a scourge of trolls, whereas other sites may have a different type and volume of trolling comments. Tailor your response to the type of site you have, and even to the medium. A tweet is far easier to ignore than a Facebook post is, for example.
5/ Deleting posts:
Deleting posts can remove the damage, but censorship and hiding your blemishes can often do far more damage than the original troll piece ever could. Be very certain that you want to remove the material and consider the repercussions before you take the plunge and remove it.
6/ Wise up:
You should take your corporate hat off and use your common sense. When Gary Glitter (alleged paedophile) was asked if he had a PDF file of his latest book on Twitter, surely he (or his PR team) could work out that the question was golden troll material?
7/ Have a written policy:
Whether it’s hidden in the terms and conditions, or openly displayed on your site, inscribing the rules of the community are useful for justifying bans and establishing the tone of the conversation you are hosting and engaging in.
Unfortunately the nature and variety of the troll species is such that there can never be a universal system for dealing with all of them. Try to remember these tips and deal with each troll on a case-by-case basis, and you’ll soon get the knack of it.