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?

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

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