How to handle an Internet troll
Nothing brings out the worst in folks quite like anonymity. Under the misguided belief that the Internet was created to catalog negative comments and painfully poor grammar, Internet trolls rant and pillage the Web–and leave in their wake you, with a helpless, panicky feeling.
Every public relations person has a different theory on how to handle ridiculous, demeaning and downright false comments; here’s mine:
Don’t delete: folks have the right to disagree with you–even they are snarky and mean-spirited. As long as the comment isn’t a threat, patently offensive, spam, bigoted, libelous or keeping you awake at night, leave it be. These are comments from trolls, not statements from the Pope.
Count to 4,567: as bad as the troll’s comment is and despite how angry/hurt/sad it makes you, it’s not the end of the world. Take a deep breath, step away from the computer and think before you respond.
Just the facts, ma’am: should you decide to respond to the the troll in a comment of your own, do so with a level head, refuting the troll point-by-point using factual statements with as little emotion as possible (Trolls hate that). Under no circumstances are you to fight with the troll or engage in it in sarcastic comm-versation.
Use your real name: transparency is key when responding to an Internet troll. When you respond, it should be under your real name. In my book, if your comment is anonymous it doesn’t count–and you’ve become a troll, too.
Don’t expect to win: you have a life, Internet trolls do not. This means they will always have the last word. That’s okay. You should only respond to a troll’s comment to clear your name, clarify a statement, defend your belief or correct a fact on the record. You aren’t in this to win an argument; say only what you need to say and move on.
Think about the Google: there are some PR folks who’d tell you not to respond to comments on the Internet no matter what. But if the commenter has said a statement like “and since I heard that YOUR NAME hates children and kicks puppies” that means that when you Google your name, you’ll find this blog comment. This is why you should have a comment under your name that factually refutes that statement, such as “Hi, there. Actually, I have three kids and volunteer at the humane society.”
Bottom line: clear your name, but don’t play their game. Trolls feed off of confrontation, sarcasm and adrenalin; if you’re denying them those essentials, the troll will eventually move on to more abundant corner of the Web.
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