In light of recent events, I felt it pertinent to write a few words on internet trolling, especially for those who are in the public eye like celebrities, influencers and bloggers.
What is ‘trolling’?
Often confused with cyber bullying, internet trolling is the indiscriminate posting of hateful comments (and other material) online. Cyberbullying is targeted at a specific victim, where the bully personally knows the victim.
Why do people do it?
Insecurity and attention. Trolls, without exception, have some pretty significant psychological issues going on which manifest in a need to be seen, be heard and make an impact (for good or for bad). Trolls are there to provoke a reaction. They often say things purely because they know they will be inflammatory, not necessarily because they believe what they’re saying. Their sole purpose is to shock and get a reaction out of people. It validates them in a way and makes them feel less vulnerable and alone by doing so. They can also do so behind a veil of anonymity – they never have to meet their victims and are able to setup anonymous accounts online, detached from their real life identity.
As the targeting is completely indiscriminate, celebrities tend to be those who are impacted most. It is where trolls can get maximum visibility of their comments, creating maximum collateral damage and there is always the possibility the celebrity themselves will directly engage with them. This cocktail of reach, visibility and potential notoriety unfortunately makes those in the public eye, and their social media profiles, particularly vulnerable to this kind of online attack.
Why is it an issue?
Celebrities are humans just like everyone else. To quote Shakespeare; “If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die?”. People in the public eye are just people like you and I. Whilst undoubtedly impressive professionally, they are not these superhuman devoid of feelings and emotions, unable to be hurt or upset by what other people say.
People posting horrible comments online can really affect people, particularly those in the limelight. It can lead to social anxiety, depression and even suicide thoughts. Not only do they have to worry about the troll’s intentions but they also worry about who else is going to see that post and agree with it. They worry about horrible posts going viral due to the level of their audience too. It is therefore incredibly important that we all, as good digital citizens, know how to deal with them so we can collectively, as a society, clamp down on them. It’s important for individuals mental as well as their physical health.
How to spot a troll?
Firstly, how can a celebrities social media management team spot a troll? How do you distinguish them between a genuinely aggrieved customer or follower, and someone who is intent on being an internet troll? It’s important to make this distinction because the way to deal with them is drastically different. Here are 3 pointers to help you identify for sure that it is an internet troll you’re dealing with;
- Motive – they are clearly trying to antagonise and get a rise out of you. Do they keep pushing the same point over and over again, irrespective of what you say? As a trolls primary purpose is to try and get a reaction then they are most likely a troll.
- Personal Remarks – do they attack you personally (despite being someone who doesn’t know you or has never met you)? If they’re posting on a business Facebook page but attacking the owner directly this would be a common tactic used by trolls.
- Exaggeration – do they use words like “always” or “never”? One trait of trolls is that because they are trying to invoke a response from people they rarely provide a balanced view on whatever it is that they’re arguing for or against. It is always at one end of the scale or the other. They don’t show empathy and as a result, end up drastically exaggerating their side of the story.
How to deal with internet trolls?
The good news is that it is pretty straight forward to manage an internet troll. Follow the steps below to live a troll-free life!
- Agree a ‘Trolling Response Procedure’ With Your Team - research has shown that actually deleting comments can make matters worse. Ensure your social media management are onboard with your policy not to delete comments. You don’t want a bad situation being make much worse. Actually leaving horrible messages up, that your team clearly haven’t responded to (but positive comments are clearly responded to surrounding it) demonstrates a degree of maturity and security when it comes to unsavoury material online. You’re almost publicly (albeit silently) demonstrating that you’re OK with it and that you’ve handled it in the best way possible, by simply ignoring it. For this tactic to work, just make sure that your responding to the positive comments in the thread (to emphasise the fact you’ve ignore the troll’s comment).
- If you mucked up, admit it – if a troll has jumped on something you’ve done or said wrong online, just admit it. By demonstrating that you listened and you responded personally, you will make them feel heard which is extremely disarming. Not for the troll – they’re a troll so they’re don’t give two hoots! But everyone else that sees how you dealt with it will really ‘see’ what’s going on and often rally behind you.
- Use humour – using humour, particularly for those in the public eye, has time and again shown its power when disarming internet trolls. It demonstrates you’re not afraid at dealing with the issue head on but you also publicly show how light hearted and trivial you find the whole matter.
- Look After Yourself, Be Kind Online – most importantly, make sure you look after yourself. Seeing hateful comments about yourself online is hurtful. Don’t feel like your ‘weird’ because you’ve been hurt by them – it’d be weird if you weren’t! You’re normal. But do take responsibility for the level of attention you allow yourself to give to the trolls’ comments. Don’t allow yourself to become the victim. Instead, take it upon yourself to be unexpectantly kind to others online. Message your followers individually out of the blue thanking them for their support. Applaud someone’s awesome blog post. Congratulate a stranger on their beautiful outfit. Teach yourself (and your followers) to be ambassadors of kindness online – this is the ultimate revenge for trolls.
- Don’t Over-Share – lastly, it can be really hard for celebrities and those generate a lot of their revenue via social media to draw the line between sharing enough and sharing too much online. Posting a lot of your personal data online not online is a physical danger (e.g. harassment, cyber stalkers or physical stalkers) but it can open you up to significant financial fraud or identity theft. Here are some tips to prevent yourself sharing too much online. Here is a common scenario below which brings to life how even something as seemingly innocuous as a birthday party can, if not done correctly, can put us at undue risk;
Your write a blog and have a little avatar picture of who you are and your name (like most blogs). it features in search engine results. The fraudster now has your name and what you look like. In one post about your birthday, you’re having a BBQ in your front garden with some pals to through back a few cold ones. Your daughter posts a couple photos from her iPhone of your other half bringing out the cake and you blowing all 43 candles out. The fraudster now has your date of birth. Naturally she tags you and everyone else who are in the photo. The fraudster now has your residential address.
From only an open profile and a couple of innocent snaps, the fraudster now has your name, your date of birth and your home address – key information needed to apply for loans or credit cards, helping them commit identity fraud against you. So, what can we do about over-sharing?
- Never post any of the following information online; date of birth, mobile/landline telephone numbers, home town, relationship status, school/work locations, graduation dates, pet names and other interests and hobbies (these can be used to guess security questions or passwords).
- Photos taken from smart phones give away much more information than you’d think, like the GPS coordinates of where the photo was taken. Try the tool at this link http://exif.regex.info/exif.cgi - it extracts the metadata (hidden information) that’s captured by your smart phone or camera every time you snap a shot. Go to the settings on your phone and turn this functionality off.
- When completing the ‘My Details’ sections of the registration forms, think – does this site really need this information? Just because there is a space asking for your DOB doesn’t mean, necessarily, you have to complete it! Only fill in mandatory fields marked by a red asterisk.