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The Top 5 Ways to Deal with Internet Trolls

At Smarter Searches, we frequently work alongside businesses and public figures with their social media presence and online reputations, something that is considerably more challenging than posting selfies and cat photos. When you heighten the visibility on social media to a celebrity or a brand, you seem to invite criticism and, to a certain extent, bullying. When you look up CyberBullying, nearly every resource sends you to sites focusing on children, but businesses and adults face these issues in just as much frequency.

Quick Rant Interruption: Parents, please talk to your kids about responsible social media usage. This is absolutely imperative! Inform yourself with the types of apps your kids are using, teach your kids how to use them responsibly, and don’t hide your head in the sand saying “my child would never do this” or “this would never happen to my child.” As a mom and a social media expert, I can tell you this is profoundly naïve and problematic. According to the Pew Research and Internet project, 88% of social media using teens (which is, like, all of them) have witnessed other people being mean or cruel on social networking sites. Teach them right from wrong, teach them common sense, and teach them that the internet doesn’t let things die. End Rant.

Now, back to working with businesses, public figures, and celebrities… Here are our Top 5 Ways to Deal with the (Inevitable) Hate on the Web.

  1. Don’t feed the Trolls. Never respond to angry messages with anger. By giving them ammunition, you’re sinking to their level. That never helps anything. Be neutral in your messages if you choose to respond, or simply, report and block. Feel free to be clever, but never angry. Take a deep breath, don’t act out, and it might make sense to bounce your planned response off someone who is not too close to the issue. Anytime I have an email to write and it’s coming from a place of anger, I have two different members of my staff review it and edit it before I send to make sure it doesn’t sound aggressive. If you’re a public figure or celebrity, let a marketing or PR company handle the hate mail. Engage with your fans, but let the experts manage the trolls.

How it works: Selena Gomez had to deal with some serious Instagram hate when someone decided that the hashtag #slutenahomez was even remotely funny or entertaining (it isn’t). Her response was sassy, tasteful, but reasonably effective. She simply said, “Aww God bless. You sweet child. Know there are less fortunate people in the world. And know that you’ll make your account prohibited in 5 min.” Simple, effective, but not angry or vicious.

  1. Avoid certain topics. If you think it will inspire serious hate and backlash, then you may want to consider avoiding that topic. Typically, religion and politics inspire the most vehement conversations, so be aware that if you start a dialogue about a sensitive issue, you may be invoking the wrath of the trolls.

How it works: I recently skimmed through an interesting paper on Sentiment Analysis of Polarizing Topics in Social Media that focused on the Trayvon Martin case. If you’re interested, read it here. But the key is understanding your audience. If you’re a business or a public figure and it matches your brand to talk about certain topics (i.e. a politician discussing abortion), then by all means, carry on. But if your claim to fame is a funny YouTube video and you release a treatise on Roe vs. Wade, it might not be the best choice for your reputation or your brand. Know your audience, stay on-brand, and avoid topics that are only going to cause problems for you.

  1. Let your tribe take the reins. Everyone has a tribe. Our tribes are our friends, fans, supporters, family members, the people who will spring to your defense when questioned online. Let them do the heavy lifting to defend you from the evil web trolls. Oftentimes, when you surround yourself with a tribe that provides unwavering support, they can vanquish the trolls before you even notice an attack.

How it works: Recently, Tarek and Christina of HGTV’s “Flip or Flop” shared Instagram photos of their brand new baby. It actually pains me to write the vileness of this particular Instagram commenter (especially as a mom), but it’s helpful to show the extremes of social commentary. She said: “Wow!! A c-section and bottle feeding?? You should have just got a cat you deadbeat fake. You are disgusting. This is why you had to struggle for a second one.” Whoa. Even if I choose to ignore the egregious assault on basic rules of style and English grammar, there are almost no words. How could someone think to put a response like that on a happy, innocuous family photo? It does not compute. Who responds that way? If you don’t agree with their parenting style, don’t follow them on Instagram. But alas, this isn’t how the world works, so things like this happen. But dozens and dozens of their other Instagram followers leapt to Christina’s defense, sharing their own stories, profoundly demonstrating support, and proudly defending their tribe. The evil from one vicious troll could not withstand the power and goodwill of dozens of supporters. Use your social media accounts as a way to spread goodwill: engage with your fans, share from a place of kindness, and give your audience what they want. When that happens, you will cultivate a passionate tribe of brand ambassadors. Read more about the story here.

  1. Warning: Your spouse may not be the best person to rescue you. Our spouses are meant to be our support system, the person who loves us almost unconditionally, and is willing to defend us against all threats – from the digital to the tangible. But, sometimes they can be too close to us and can end up doing more harm than good. If your spouse or significant other is one to turn into the Hulk when you’re attacked online, it might be best to keep them out of it and engage someone else to help with your social reputation management.

How it works: Famously, author Emily Giffin’s husband engaged in an Amazon review rant with someone leaving a 1-star review on one of his wife’s books. Last I checked, leaving a 1-star review was allowed; we are all allowed to have opinions on books after all. I mean, some people thought 50 Shades of Grey was good writing. And don’t get me started on Twilight. But when your husband launches into a debate that ends in him calling a reviewer a “Psycho” – that’s not really the best way to handle it. It’s best to leave things like that alone, or simply, agree to disagree.

 5. Report and Block the Trolls in the Dungeon. Don’t be afraid to report images, accounts, or posts you find to be in violation of the terms and conditions of the platform on which you are spending time. This does not mean if you disagree with a position that it should be automatically reported. Example: someone posts something anti-vaccine and it shows up on your Facebook wall. This is not a reportable offense. Though some will find it offensive, strictly speaking, it does not violate the guidelines. However, if you see someone post a meme filled with hate speech or promoting self-harm or threatening someone, THAT should be reported. Immediately. Report their post or message, block them as a user, and unfollow them from every platform.

How it works: In the next post in the series, I’ll go through Instagram’s Community Guidelines and explain the process of reporting, blocking, and when to escalate your issues to law enforcement.

It would be naive of me to say that it won’t happen to you, so the best plan is a pro-active reputation and social media plan in place to fix any problems that cross your path- Cheyenne has blogged about having a plan for Crisis Communication fairly recently, so check that out for more information. However, I sincerely hope that you never have to deal with the type of hatred we see in YouTube comments in your own social accounts.