Don’t Feed The Trolls — 8 Ways to Deal With Online Harassment in 2023
If you’ve spent much time on social media or in the comments section, you have likely seen or been the victim of trolling.
Modern trolls don’t hide under bridges — they typically hide behind a keyboard with a fake name. They harass us, spread misinformation, and say all kinds of nasty things about our campaign, cause, business — or us personally.
We aren’t going to eliminate trolls from the internet. Trolls can be a minor annoyance, or they can escalate to the point where the police need to be involved. If you’re creating content online, you should have a plan to deal with different types of trolling.
To be clear, not everyone who disagrees with you or says something negative online is a troll. If they have legitimate issues you can deal with, you should. But for those real trolls, let’s discuss some possible responses.
How should you handle trolls?
- Ignore and move on: This sounds simple, but it’s not necessarily. Remember that it’s impossible to reason with someone who is arguing with made up ‘facts’, and they might just be trying to get a rise out of you.
- Step away for a minute: If you feel like you need to respond to a troll, step away from your device for a minute and cool down before you respond. You are likely to respond more calmly, or you may decide it’s better not to respond at all.
- Block or Mute them: This is sometimes the quickest and easiest way to silence a troll, but even though blocking the troll account is an option, it doesn’t stop a troll from trolling you from another account.
It can be tricky to know whether you should be blocking or muting someone. In politics, for example, people get upset if elected officials block them, even if it’s completely justified. A politician’s job is to represent voters, no matter who they voted for, and blocking someone can give the troll ammunition to attack you.
If you mute someone, they won’t know that their account has been muted. This can be effective if you simply don’t want to see their posts, but they will still be able to post to you and about you. You just won’t see it — this does wonders for your mental health, and makes ignoring them much easier.
- Report it: Social media platforms have tools for reporting trolling. While reporting systems aren’t perfect, this is the right course of action if what they’re saying crosses the line into hate-speech or threats. If it is that serious, consider contacting the police and documenting their posts with screenshots. Reporting their posts may get their accounts suspended or removed, and they may think twice before targeting you again.
- Moderate your comments: Approving comments before they are posted is great for keeping trolls away from the comment sections of your website, Facebook group, or discussion forum, but isn’t an option on most other social media platforms.
If you don’t have the time to moderate a busy message forum or the comments on your social media page, some internet platforms have tools to help you.
For instance, YouTube and WordPress have included comment settings that will automatically moderate comments, and Facebook allows certain words to be blocked. They might not catch everything, nor have the same decision making that a human uses, but they’re useful if you don’t have the time to do it yourself.
- Kill them with kindness: No matter how nasty the troll, don’t stoop to their level. Avoid personal attacks, even through private messages. Remember that your private messaging or email are a quick screenshot from being public, and a troll won’t think twice about going there.
- Create Guidelines: Create a clear and visible policy for your profile about respectful posting and commenting rules that must be followed. Make it clear that you don’t respond to trolling posts and that where possible they will be removed. If a troll complains that their comment was removed, direct them to your clearly posted guidelines.
On Twitter, you can now specify who can respond to your posts. You can leave it wide open, or limit it to people you follow and those accounts who are mentioned in the post.
- Legal action: Does the troll make false claims about you or your employer? If you don’t respond to false claims, some people may think they are true. In the worst cases, you may want to consider legal action for defamation.
Trolls are likely here to stay.
Remember, your time and mental health has value.
These people enjoy causing trouble online, and by ignoring them you’re probably taking most of their enjoyment away. Ignoring, muting, and blocking the trolls is your best and first line of defence.
If you are going to respond, our best advice is to keep it positive and honest. Model the behaviour you want to see online.
Lastly, never ignore comments that cross the line into violence. Report those to the police and the platform immediately.