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Gini Dietrich

Seven Tips for Dealing with Online Trolls

By: Gini Dietrich | May 1, 2013 | 
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Seven Tips for Dealing with Online TrollsYesterday afternoon, I took a break and went out for a bike ride.

It went from winter to summer in Chicago and it’s supposed to go back to winter tomorrow so it’s important I take advantage of the warm weather when I can!

As I turned onto our tree-lined street that has four-way stops at every other block, an SUV behind me honked. Apparently she didn’t like where I was riding in the road. So I moved over and let her pass.

But at the next stop sign, she got stuck waiting on a turning car and, after a stop, I got in front of her again. She pulled up as close as she could behind me and honked her horn again.

As a side note: When you honk your horn behind a cyclist, it scares the poop out of them. If you do it to an inexperienced cyclist, it’s pretty realistic you’d scare them enough they’d fall off their bike.

This time, instead of moving to the side of the road, I stayed in the middle, which is legal on the side streets that don’t have bike lanes. She got stopped at another stop sign and I got a few blocks ahead of her. As I pulled into the alley on the side of our house, she slowed her car.

She rolled her window down, yelled an expletive at me, and flipped me off. Her kids were in the car.

I tell you this story not so you’ll get all worked up on my behalf at what a terrible influence she must be for her children (though go ahead and side with me, if you’d like!), but because it’s a good example of what happens online all the time.

Trolls and Online Bullies

People get behind their computer screens and say things to other human beings they’d never say in person.

Like “real life” bullies, trolls need to get a rise out of their victims if they are to enjoy the interaction.

If you spend any time online, you will eventually have trolls and anonymous people attack you.

They will make you angry and emotional.

They will get a rise out of you.

But it’s how you handle them that makes the difference between taking your focus completely away from doing your job and them feeling like a mosquito bite in the middle of summer.

The best way to stop trolls is to create an unfriendly environment. We’ve done that on Spin Sucks by carefully cultivating a community that is professional, kind, and smart. We painstakingly review all comments and determine their validity.

If we remove someone, we explain to everyone else why we did that, citing something in our policy the person violated. Today, the community does the rest of the work.

Handle Online Trolls

Of course, it wasn’t always that way. It took many years to get there. So what do you do when you have anonymous attackers or trolls without the benefit of a community?

  1. Create an unfriendly environment. I’ve already mentioned this, but it’s here so you’ll have all your tips in one spot.
  2. Have a policy. Make sure it clearly spells out what you won’t allow. We don’t allow swearing, calling names, or acting unprofessionally. Sometimes online trolls will call our guest bloggers names and make them feel stupid. That kind of stuff is against our rules and will get you banned.
  3. Delete when appropriate. If the online troll violates your policy, you can delete the comment. Make sure you leave a comment saying why you did it so anyone visiting can see the history.
  4. Ban people. I’m getting good at banning people here. Livefyre makes it really easy to do it. First you ban them and then you delete their comment. I typically only do this to spammers, but did it to an online troll a couple of weeks ago when they lambasted me with very poor vocabulary.
  5. Listen. If the online troll is really just a customer complaining, know the difference and listen. Sometimes people just want to be heard. Hear them, try to help, and they’ll almost always thank you publicly.
  6. Ignore. I had a situation last July: I wrote about something near and dear to my heart, but it brought out some serious attacks. I happened to be on stage and then at a conference for most of that day so I had no choice but to ignore the comments. It ended up being the best thing for the situation, even if it didn’t make me feel all warm and fuzzy.
  7. Don’t waste your time. Online trolls want the attention. They crave the defensiveness. They want you to get upset. Don’t give them the pleasure.

In my situation with the angry mom, I just turned around on my bike, gave her a friendly wave, and turned into my driveway. She flipped me off a second time and drove off.

Now it’s your turn. How do you handle the online trolls?

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, a Chicago-based integrated marketing communications firm. She is the lead blogger here at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. She is the co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Her second book, Spin Sucks, is available now.

99 comments
THINK_Lyndon
THINK_Lyndon

I think the most important part of dealing with trolls is to understand what is a troll and what is somebody that doesn't agree with your point of view.  Too many people classify everybody that disagrees with their perspective a troll - which isn't right... it's just easier to adopt the 'don't feed the trolls' defence and ignore them.

svilardo2
svilardo2

"If we remove someone, we explain to everyone else why we did that, citing something in our policy the person violated. Today, the community does the rest of the work."

Great example of being "transparent" (I don't know why, but that word always seemed a bit out of place for me...I'm not a projector sheet). Once a community understands how you operate and why you make certain decisions, you will find that your community actually begins to take ownership of the work for you. They become the best ally in your fight against online trolls.

5 and 7 are mu two big ones. Usually it is someone who has a genuine problem or they just want to rile you up. Either listen and respond or just ignore them. I haven't had to ban anyone,but I guess I would if they were persistent at the insults or begin attacking everyone else in the community.

KevinVandever
KevinVandever

I have used numbers six and seven in the past. I especially think you nailed it with number seven. The more you engage, the more you feed the troll. Starve the troll by ignoring him/her. Also, it's fun to fantasize shoving the keyboard up his...never mind. You get the point. Same goes for automobile trolls. I usually just ignore and pity them. A guy honked at me yesterday because I was a bit slow turning right on a green light. He didn't see that there were people crossing the street. When he honked a second time, I looked in my rear view mirror, made eye contact with him, and smiled. I'm not sure if he ever figured it out, or even saw me smile at him, because as we turned, he aggressively passed me on the left. I told my daughter that he probably needed a hug and left it at that. 

Johnny40T
Johnny40T

"Online trolls want the attention. They crave the defensiveness. They want you to get upset. Don’t give them the pleasure."  I really think this is the best advice because there are so many trolls out there wanting attention and they'll do whatever they need to get it.  Silence is the best response I find. 

Adam | Customer Experience
Adam | Customer Experience

I always make sure to lambaste you with proper vocabulary. Don't want to give you a reason to ban me.

3HatsComm
3HatsComm

Like @lauraclick I'm lucky in not having much trolling on my blog. (Spammers, keyword names are different.. delete and move on. BTW @ElissaFreeman that's part of my comment policy, it's a real name or social profile to post. Does block some b.s.) I also don't write on many hot button topics, and am careful to discuss the issues, never attack the people (also on my comment policy). Of course, it's the trolls that don't give a rodent's posterior about the comment policy, but for everyone else it shows you're not randomly blocking views that don't greek chorus your own.

I've been accused of trolling when making legitimate arguments, they just weren't popular or warm and fuzzy praise for the rest of the club. The key is #5 - Listen and read. Is this a real commenter? Is it a valid complaint or criticism? Is there something of value to readers? I'll let someone comment 'this is so bleeping dumb!' and give them ONE shot w/ a reply of "much appreciated - please tell us oh sage guru, explain WHY this argument or this tip is dumb." Usual response: *crickets*. After than it's some hybrid delete, ignore, bad if necessary - then move on. FWIW.

Raymond Alvarez
Raymond Alvarez

I find the countless minions amusing. As you know, my wife and I direct attention to numerous articles found in various media. We wear the label of "spotters." I pass along a lot of links to news and information without commentary. So, I found it interesting that a legion of organized Tweeters decided in their court that I was to be summarily "unfollowed" by a dozen of these protectors of Chesapeake Bay. The offending story was about placing windmills there. Four years later, we're still posting stories. Some of them focus on alternative energy. This was an ineffective and meaningless snub. I don't care a lot about what happens in the bay. My view is it was trashed when they or their ancestors decided this "free" land belonged to them. It does point to the increasing vitriol that is common and a digital world that for all its greatness can't spare the time for actual discussion. My wife sells real estate. It's actually ironic. My activities increasingly are focused on my art which reflects my own feelings of reverence for this land. How we preserve it will be subject to debate from time to time. Slamming the door in someone's face hardly seems like discussion.

briantudor
briantudor

I had an instance where I wrote a review of a book online, and the troll was leaving comments from different accounts from the same IP Address. Then I found him doing it on other sites and did my comment board duty and notified the moderator. Ah good times, with silly trolls.

susancellura
susancellura

My question is, "How do we instill good manners again?'". For example, we have taught our daughter to say "please" and "thank you", etc. She addresses adults as "Mr. Jeff" or Ms. Susan". (She is 7.) Yet, the other day, a neighbor and my hubby got into a discussion about manners. The neighbor's child is 2. In summary, the neighbor would not teach his daughter to address adults as "Mr./Ms.", we would be called "Susan and Jeff". Hubby said, "Not in my house". As you said, the same thing happens online. If it continues, will we be inviting even more litigation rulings? Where has common decency gone? (And, now you have spurred me to write a post about social manners.)  :)

DwayneAlicie
DwayneAlicie

When someone heckles or honks at me on my bike, I wave and smile wildly like I just saw my best friend! Series of 4-way stops create tense situations here in SF as well.

Online trolls -- I love the above procedures! I did have a sort of troll situation earlier this year -- but the account name included "shroom," so I assumed s/he was on them and did #6.

Jake Meador
Jake Meador

I had one troll that I tolerated at my personal blog for about a month and a half. I gave him a couple warnings, kept asking him to stop, etc. and he just didn't get it (or so he claimed). Finally, I had three different people in one week ask me what was wrong with him. And at that point I knew I needed to do something, so I banned him. He then created a new account and kept posting, so I banned that account to. Never heard from him again. I will give him credit for being persistent though...

DebraCaplick
DebraCaplick

The one thing online and in person trolls can't stand is to be not taken seriously - they want their anger to impact you emotionally. I use calm responses or none at all initially, but if they press the issue I have resorted to blocking/banning. In the situation you describe, I've been known to blow kisses - the resulting responses are hilarious.

biggreenpen
biggreenpen

Oh, angry driver mom with the horrible approach and even more horrible example she's setting for her kids: tsk tsk tsk with a bullet. Ugh. // I know the internet makes "local" things immediately worldwide at times but here in a state capital the trolling can get thick, ugly, and personal. I know I felt completely unable to say anything soothing to my husband when we both knew a troll was talking about him in a series of political blogs. Even the thickest of skins finds it hard to ignore sometimes (although as you pointed out, that's one of the best ways to dilute the effect of the troll). Fabulous tips.

MattLaCasse
MattLaCasse

Trolls are the worst. My preferred method of dealing with them is public shaming, but the advice @ginidietrich gives is far more practical. If much less fun. Best to have the mindset of, "Move along. Nothing to see here."

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@THINK_Lyndon Totally agree. I don't see someone who disagrees with me as a troll. I love debate and disagreements make you open your mind. I see trolls as those who attack you personally or continue to attack even after you've fixed the issue they're complaining about.

CommProSuzi
CommProSuzi

@susancellura GOOD FOR YOU & "Hubby"! When did showing respect for elders become a bad thing? 

@ginidietrich I'm also glad psycho driver didn't run over you with her SUV.  I'm sure her duties as Secretary of Defense beckoned, and she was late for a Cabinet meeting. 


TaraGeissinger
TaraGeissinger

@susancellura I am right there with you with the manners, Susan. My kids (age 10) are often complimented on their manners. We've always used please and thank you in our house and always Mr. and Mrs. when addressing adults. Is this truly a lost art? What a shame! 

As for @ginidietrich's post, trolls and bullies suck. I can't imagine saying what some of these people feel comfortable typing! And, for the record, if I am ever riding my bike and a large SUV honks directly behind me, there is a 99.9% chance I am falling off and getting run over.

Word Ninja
Word Ninja

@sydcon_mktg Agree. A bully is a bully whether online or on the playground. I have found that a smart and gentle answer works well. Not always in halting the tirades but always in proving your class and credibility to the readers who matter.

JoeCardillo
JoeCardillo

@dwaynealicie Huh, totally escaped my brain that you are in San Francisco. We should hang out! I'm doing some work here 

JoeCardillo
JoeCardillo

@DebraCaplick Ha yeah! That is a good solution. Nothing makes a troll more made then when you do the Polite Troll routine back at them. 

CommProSuzi
CommProSuzi

@MattLaCasse @ginidietrich I had to do that with someone on a personal page. I gave him multiple chances to find the boundaries on his own, then called him out. He can deal with my "Hockey Family."

3HatsComm
3HatsComm

@ginidietrich People don't like being called on their b.s. either, even when they say they're open to different perspectives. Doesn't matter if it's biz or politics or crazy theories on LOST... It's as if - "you don't like X or disagree w/ Y, then why do you bother to read, watch, have an opinion? Oh, you're a troll." All b/c you're saying maybe there's another side. *shrugs*

susancellura
susancellura

@CommProSuzi Thank you! I don't know, really. I also got spanked. Once. It only took one time. And your comment re: Cabinet meeting made me laugh!

DwayneAlicie
DwayneAlicie

You know what they say about me.  They say, "Fear the D-Train, cause he will wreck you before he checks you!" That's why I was an alternate to join the Jersey Shore cast but never acceded.

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  1. [...] have been reading many posts about bullying online. The most recent post was Gini Dietrich‘s “Seven Tips for Dealing with Online Trolls”. She gives great advice on how to deal with them while weaving in a story about her encounter with [...]

  2. [...] You develop thick skin. An online presence brings disagreement, debate and constructive (and not so constructive) [...]