Internet trolls are a hot topic these days. For those who have not had the pleasure of experiencing them, trolls are social media users who spend their time disrupting the spaces they visit. They do this by launching targeted personal attacks (flaming) or through obstructive practices, such as posting obscene and irrelevant content or jamming a page with repeat posts (post bombing).
Trolls have been around for as long as there were computers linked together and that online anonmity was possible. As more and more people adopt social media, encounters with these seedy denizens of the web rise in frequency, tainting many a person’s first forays into online spaces. It is therefore no coincidence that the library of online troll literature has grown rapidly of late. This past February, Mashable.com released an interesting Infographic exploring the question: “Why do Trolls Exist”. Around the same time, author Andrea Weckerle released: Civility in the Digital Age: How Companies and People Can Triumph over Haters, Trolls, Bullies and Other Jerks, a book I can’t wait to read and review.
As someone who has designed and executed online debates on controversial topics, I have seen a lot of trolls in my time and, let me tell you, they can be a real … nuisance! I feel, as Weckerle does, that if we don’t learn how to manage trolls, the (great) potential of social media as a space for public debate will be compromised. And so, to help move things along, I will begin sharing some of the troll-management tactics that I have employed with success in the past.
Tactic 1: The Hall of Shame.
The Hall of Shame is a great way to calm down troll activity without running into accusations of censorship. This applies especially when moderating ‘open’ spaces where different points of view are invited. Typically, in such spaces, a troll will claim that their hateful comments, obscenities and the like are expressions of free speech. Personal attacks, threats and obscenities poison a public space and should never be left up for long. Instead, take screenshots of the offending comments and remove them. Then, crop out most of the author’s name and avatar to respect their privacy (but leave just enough so that they can self-identify). Finally, create an online Hall of Shame picture gallery and invite all users to go and have a look at what kind of content gets removed. Trolls are often repeat offenders and there are good chances that a prolific troll will have a ‘gallery’ all to themselves.
When the extent of a troll’s excesses is mirrored back to them and their peers, it creates pause for consideration and self-searching. You look good, because you transparently defend your moderation choices, trolls look bad because their displayed work speaks for them and users win because this stuff is kept tidily away from center stage.
Have any good tips of your own to share? Be my guest in the comments section below.