Tackling Trolls

Tips for Managing Social Negativity

Frequently I use Twitter to reach out to people or organizations with whom I have no existing relationship.  I contacted a local television news reporter to thank him for a story he had recently filed.  The reporter and I corresponded on the story topic, and soon, we were a party of three: our Twitter conversation was rudely interrupted by another user who spewed irrational conspiracy theories relating to our topic of discussion.  Clearly, this individual was trying to provoke and engage us in a tangential dialog: his/her motivation unknown.

This was my first direct and personal experience with an internet troll.  Over the years, I had read reports of their antics and have borne witness to some bad behavior online.  This troll had very few followers and a bizarre account description.  The account was devoid of any identifiable features – including a headshot or website address – making it even more difficult to pinpoint the source of the troll’s motivation.  The nature of the troll’s interruption was equally bizarre, and while not particularly threatening, I found it disturbing and frankly distressing, just the same.  Cognizant that any assertion I chose to make in response would be scrutinized by others – and not just the troll – I contemplated an appropriate reply for some time.  In the end, I chose not to engage the troll who was trying to provoke me, and he unhappily went on his way.

Online “trolling” activities can range from angry and unsolicited remarks to outright nasty and antagonistic comments.  Trolls lurk in the recesses of the internet and on most social media networks:  not just on Twitter.  Social media channels were founded and designed to engage and connect readers, but unfortunately the reality is that some harness the power of these networks to demean and denigrate fellow users.  Common trolling behavior includes two traits harbored by the troll whom I encountered on Twitter:  no traceable personal information, and no identifiable characteristics.  The troll had purposefully and knowingly designed an online personality that he/she can hide behind without personal consequence or retribution.

Social media has enabled people to reconnect in ways we never thought possible.  Without a doubt, social media platforms have fostered many great societal outcomes: families have been reunited with lost pets, funds have been raised for worthy causes, information has been shared at nearly the speed of light.  At the same time, however, social media has somehow empowered some individuals to behave in a manner that they would not have the courage to act on were their true identities revealed.  Like the trolls of childhood fables, internet trolls lead secretive and reclusive online lives, waiting to strike out at the next vulnerable and unsuspecting victim to cross their paths.

I’ll offer some tips for handling trolls in my next post!

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