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Have You Been Trolled? 7 Steps for Dealing With Online Trolls

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Have You Been Trolled? 7 Steps for Dealing With Online Trolls

If you are in Small Business, you will have an online presence.

At some stage, you will be in the line of fire of online trolls. And if you are committed to authenticity, decency and honesty, and promote what you stand for in your business and your life online, just one encounter with the trolls can be devastating.

Don’t let the trolls get to you. If they win, you lose; simple.

The other day I got hit by the trolls, and it wasn’t pretty. I had made a comment on a controversial matter and suggested that those who didn’t like what a particular politician had done could let him know by calling his office as I had, in a dignified way. I provided the (easily searchable) contact details for the politician.

Within seconds the trolls had descended on my post like vultures, not attacking my stand, but me as a person. There were comments about my intelligence, my sensitivity, and even my family (yes, they searched my online profiles). Almost every comment reeked of the tell-tale signs of trolling.

Suddenly I was responsible for everyone on the other side of whichever divide the trolls were shooting from. They mockingly thanked me for providing the politician’s (publicly available) contact details so they could ‘congratulate’ him. In short, I had turned from citizen to victim within seconds and was on the receiving end of a barrage of ugly, vicious attacks.

The trolls have won when they goad you to defend yourself.

The comments went on and on, all through the day. At some stage, I stopped following. In the safety of my own Facebook timeline, I told my friends what had happened. One after the next they told of their own stories of being attacked online. I lost count of the number of stories I heard.

I thought of what I had heard Mia Freedman of Mamamia say in a recent public address. She spoke of the trend on social media of people retreating into groups for safety, and not engaging on public pages. She commented that the short affair the public had with trying to get out of our ‘echo chambers’ has ended and people are closing ranks in small bubbles of similar-minded people.

I can understand that. But the conundrum is this: social media provides so much opportunity for good; to connect, to keep contact with people who live far away, to promote our businesses and our good causes, and to speed up advocacy campaigns. And yet at the same time, it is an unsafe place (ask Clementine Ford who eventually got one of her trolls to apologise or almost any female public figure).

So, what do you, as a Small Business owner with a social media profile, need to do?

Trolls often flame businesses, aiming to bring the business and the individuals who run it into disrepute. They might be organised and working in pairs or teams, and their acts are not as random as they seem. (See the article, How Trolls Work, if you would like to know more.)

Here are seven steps you need to take if you are trolled:

1. Recognise the trolls.

Their profiles are often fake; if they are real their profiles are often full of ‘isms’ that show prejudice of various kinds. Their comments:

  • Aim to elicit a defensive reaction.
  • Attack the person, not the viewpoint, referring to ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation; anything that will get a rise out of the victim.
  • Put the person in a political box and assign affiliations to him or her without knowing where they stand politically.
  • Include other inflammatory issues that have nothing to do with the original comment.

2. Don’t feed the trolls.

This was the best advice I received when I was first attacked online. Don’t answer. Don’t defend. Don’t engage. Think of it like a pack of wolves; when they get the scent, they go for the kill. I wanted to prove myself innocent, and I wanted to let everyone know the real story. But it would have fed the trolls, as any titbits are bait.

3. Record their comments.

In case things escalate, screenshot the comments. This helps if you call on the help of the group admins or even the police. File the screenshots somewhere where you don’t have to see them again. If you don’t want to know what’s happening in the thread, ask a friend or colleague to screenshot anything that is personally threatening.

4. Block the bad ones.

For your own safety and peace of mind, block the bad ones, if you can.

5. Wait for balance to restore.

Someone, somewhere, will usually see what has happened and step in. Be grateful, and let it happen. In most groups, online and offline, order will eventually be restored, and if you step out of the way, it will happen.

6. Contextualise both the damage and the gains.

There are many business stories about attacks online leading to good publicity in the end where those who love what you do become more vocal. Whether it’s the ‘likes’ (in my experience of being trolled more than 100 people ‘liked’ my comment as opposed to a few trolls having a field day) or those who send messages of support, one needs to recognise there are real people out there who might voice support you hadn’t known about before the trolling incident.

7. Don’t become a troll.

The trolls are bad. You are not. Don’t imitate their behaviour, and don’t sink to their level, however angry and hurt you are. Put on your big girl or big boy pants and carry on with your authentic, diplomatic, dignified online presence. And if it gets too bad, just leave the group, the platform or the space where you can be found.

Trolling is bullying. But it shouldn’t stop us doing what we need to do as Small Business people. Hopefully, you won’t be a victim, but if you are, remember to recognise the trolls but not to feed them, record their comments and block the bad ones, wait for balance to restore and contextualise both the damage and the gains, and most importantly, don’t become a troll.

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