Troll fighting tips and tricks: The Passionless Voice.

Tom Liacas —  April 14, 2013 — 8 Comments

Got troll trouble sometimes or often? Want to keep the conversation productive on your blog or social networks? If you haven’t already, please see my previous post with more background on the rise of Internet trolls, cyber-bullying and my first proposed tactic: The Hall of Shame. This time around, I will be focusing on a second essential practice when managing unruly and disruptive online visitors: The Passionless Voice.

The Passionless Voice.

This practice was learned the hard way when moderating controversial debate spaces for corporate clients. People hostile to some of the ideas being discussed on these sites would lurk day and night baiting the moderators and other participants with irritating or insulting content and generally try to make life difficult for everyone. Sometimes, it all blew up and several staff had to monitor and ‘clean’ the threads at all hours when a troll and his or her buddies decided to launch concerted attacks.

After analyzing the many occasions on which disruptive participants managed to escalate conflict to a major headache level, we concluded that the catalyst was always an instance in which the Moderator had let his or her guard down by giving the troll an emotional response. This always fueled the fire and gave the troll something to latch on to allowing momentum to build towards an all out explosion of negativity.

In a nutshell:

In and of itself, the “Passionless Voice” is a rather straightforward proposition: When online behavior gets out of hand, the Moderators of the space should revert to a clinical, almost robotic tone in their replies. With polite but firm statements, they should reiterate the space’s Terms of Use (assuming these have been written) or simply warn that unacceptable behavior will result in deletion of content and/or banishment. Never, I repeat, never should one try to shout down a troll or silence them through sarcasm or wit, no matter good you judge your repartee. You will lose endless hours of your time feeding a black hole of negativity that seemingly never sleeps.

You may be reading this and find it all commonsensical and unnecessary to dwell upon. Still, there are a couple reasons why the “Passionless Voice” needs to be enshrined as a strategy.

The Passionless Voice is counter-intuitive:

Social media is, after all, a space of humans talking to humans. When Moderators get personally insulted online, it is very hard to remain dispassionate. Some trolls are especially good at getting under your skin and pushing you to the limit. In such cases, there is nothing more natural than meeting anger with anger, sarcasm with more sarcasm etc. And that is where it all comes apart. Resisting the lure of engaging trolls becomes all the more complicated when a space is overseen by a team of junior Moderators, who cannot be expected to be Zen masters day in and day out. This is when a thorough briefing on the Passionless Voice is well worth it, as those interacting online need to understand why the practice is so important and what the risks are of deviating from the protocol.

Clients don’t get the Passionless Voice:

Trust me on this, I am speaking from experience! When a corporate client on a social media project looks over your shoulder from time to time, they may see your responses to troublesome guests and comment on the repetitive or robotic tone employed. Often, clients can be like backseat drivers and feel that they have come up with exactly the right statement for putting a troll in their place and ask you to publish it. While this is understandable, it must be resisted as the ecology of an online space is a complex thing and it is the moderators who will have to live with the consequences of a space that goes toxic. This is why the Passionless Voice must be hard-coded into a Moderation Protocol, which should be presented for client signoff as early in the life of the project as possible. Clients are generally reassured to see that there is reasoning behind the moderation and will then tend to back off, leaving you to defend yourself against troll freak outs as best you can.

More troll tips to come soon. Have any of yours to share?

Tom Liacas

Tom Liacas

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An M.A. graduate in Media Studies, Tom Liacas is an experienced Social Network Strategist who first cut his teeth creating and managing advocacy campaigns as an activist.
  • Wow, that post reminded me of so many occurences. You’re really describing the problem well. As the “Passionless Voice” (I love that name, makes it sound like a superhero) became second nature to me, I sometimes questionned if it was the right thing to do and your arguments give me good confirmation on that.

    But I would add something: another difficulty that often occurs in moderation is that the animateur of a forum/social media community is often the moderator too… So, whereas a moderator must keep a neutral voice, the animator is asked to have a more personal and engaging one. Off you go, Passionless voice ! While one can always find solace in creating 2 separate users on a forum (one for the animator, one for the moderator), I don’t see any workarounds that can be found on other social media…

    Any thoughts on that?

    • TomLiacas

      Glad to hear your voice on this, Claudia, as you are an expert practitioner of The Passionless Voice! Oh, how much practice we had with these tactics 🙂 Your idea of two separate ‘personalities’ is interesting. Good cop and bad cop. I have seen this happen on some social accounts. The Moderator only coming out when things get ugly. The rest of the time it is the cheerful ‘have a great day’ CM talking… Might be a good way to go as the mood switching does get weird sometimes as you say.

  • Well done! I enjoyed your post.

    I’ve dealt with trolls as well. It’s never been that big a deal until recently. This past week, there was an onslaught on my facebook page, which supports my blog. Apparently, these trolls were not appreciative of my stance on gun legislation and background checks.

    After some discussion over a few days, they were each warned. Each individual in the trio were eventually banned. The last straw was making comments disparaging those who have died since Newtown. There’s just some sick people out there.

  • Definitely becomes easier with experience but it’s so damn hard. When you get fired up and want to come unglued, responding with monotony seems so stuffy… but seems like the only way to get your a$$ out of the fire. I wonder what to do about a troll who has an affinity to my business. We’re likely the only one’s who haven’t told him to beat it.

    We use passionless responses so he doesn’t spread the good word about us. The fear is being aligned with him in any way… thoughts? He just doesn’t go away…

    • Hi Mitch, if you want to lay down some limits, you have to have a Code of Conduct published somewhere with clear guidelines and do’s and don’ts. If the troll is overstepping, a three-strikes-you’re-out policy is fair. Otherwise, see the other deterrent I covered here: The Hall of Shame.

      • Thanks Tom, good thinking. Unfortunately, he likes us and we never get into troll tussles with him.

        We’re a small city of about 250,000 people and he’s a very well known public disruption. He calls everyone out (few expceptions) and is a complete fool, our problem is he likes us and that scares the crap out of me. I have to hope people see us as active and simply placating him but you never know… this guy is poison and belongs in so many Hall of Shame’s.

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