We live in a new era, one in which anyone can say anything online with often without consequences. Heck, even our “Commander in Chief” knows that.
But what do you do if YOU are the subject of an online attack?
I’ve managed social media for many brands, including BinderCon, a literary nonprofit which advocates for women and gender variant writers. Which, as you might have imagined, has brought its share of sticky troll situations.
Women and changemakers are more often the target of trolls because well, these jerks feel threatened by our very existence. As writers, or artists we often create things that challenge people’s preconceptions, values, or ways of life. Naturally, this breeds asinine responses from rage-mongers, perverts, and just plain nasty souls. And the internet provides the veil they need to hide behind in order to feel powerful.
I’m no lawyer, and I don’t have all the answers, but here are some methods I’ve learned for dealing with said asshats. But before we start, let’s define troll. I include the original meaning as well because I think it adds dimension and context.
1 : a lure or line with its lure and hook used in trolling
: a person who intentionally antagonizes others online by posting inflammatory, irrelevant, or offensive comments or other disruptive behavior
Now that we’ve got that covered, let’s begin.
First, ignore them
Most trolls are just jabbing you to get a reaction (see definition). Many of them aren’t even people, but bots. The reality is that they are doing what they are doing to get you to engage (and rage).
Think of them as the old school bully, but hiding behind an internet persona.
Tuning them out and refusing to respond often diffuses the situation. But if it doesn’t there are more steps you can take.
Block and report
Inasmuch as you ignore these jerks, block and report them too. Don’t let a fear of being a whiner keep you from handling these jerks like they deserve, in a matter of fact way.
The harder good people make it for trolls to attack, the less there will be.
Every social platform has a method for reporting, just Google it if you need to report someone.
Really, this should probably be the first rule but most of us encounter a troll and only then realize we should be better prepared for them.
Preemptively secure your social profiles and websites with complex passwords that are harder to guess or hack. This is a precautionary task designed to help keep a potentially nasty situation from escalating.
Decide ahead of time what kind of content you’ll post about, retweet, share. Sometimes, especially in today’s political climate, it’s tempting to post about things we’re angry about. And I’m not saying you shouldn’t. However, it’s worth asking yourself if the post will really make a difference, if it is in alignment with your brand and what you’re all about.
And then if it passes all those tests, is it something you’re willing to take flack for? If so, go for it. If not, maybe reevaluate.
As annoying as it is, you must decide if what you post is something worth fighting for. If not, if it’s just venting or inflammatory–what’s the point?
Create a reporting plan for situations where you feel it is necessary. It can be difficult to think like a troll, especially when you’re a good natured person who doesn’t appreciate online fights. But creating a few “what if” scenarios can be healthy and help you avoid some painful dealings in the future.
If you decide ahead of time, for instance, that you will report and block sexual harassment type posts, you’ll know what to do when or if that happens. This can take some of the emotional side-effects out of the equation.
This helps make the incident more of an annoying task, rather than a traumatic attack.
If someone is repeatedly attacking, or harassing you or your followers (or doing other nasty things), document everything.
Even if you just have a feeling like they might do something nefarious, take screenshots and save it in a folder. You’ll have the info, should you ever need it.
Make yourself less vulnerable online by using fake information whenever possible. Avoid using your real hometown, phone number, address. Make it harder for jerks to find you IRL.
I recall a nasty troll attack a few years ago where some asshole took a video from a mom-blogger’s site (of her children, mind you) and dubbed over it with horrifying racist material. That’s some next level shit that deserved a lawsuit. It made me realize just how easy it is to access anything you post online–even if you think it’s private.
So as you post, always ask yourself: Is this something I’m okay with being completely public?
Set boundaries for the kinds of content you want to share. Do you really need pictures of your kids online? Does that selfie have any identifying information in the background?
You don’t need to be paranoid but you don’t need to feed the trolls, either.
Don’t disappear (or do)
There’s no need (usually) for you to make your feed private in response to a mild attack. You’re online for goshsakes, it’s all public one way or the other anyway. Plus it makes you look like you have something to hide, which you don’t. This is a tactic many abusers use–making you feel like you’re unsafe in the world. Don’t let them.
However, don’t be afraid to shut down and go offline. Sometimes there is good reason to just leave the online platform for a while. Your brand will not fall apart if you decide you need a break from the chaos of the internet. You can still communicate in places where you feel safe.
In most cases you do not need to defend yourself against false claims or aggressive remarks. Listen, we’ve all been there and responded. I know I have. But it’s not worth it. Responding gives credence to their attack. So vent to your friends, report the trolls, block them, whatever, but don’t engage.
If for some reason you truly need to make an official statement on something, do so as an email to your subscribers and maybe as a well crafted closed-ended statement on social. Keep it general and professional, consult a lawyer if it’s a real sticky situation.
Do not make it a part of your profile. It should only be a post. A day is an eternity online so there’s no need to draw attention to a troll’s claims or aggression on your profile, when most people won’t have even noticed.
If you must respond, and especially if you’re angry give it 24 hours. Unless of course you feel like you or someone else is in danger.
If the attack warrants a response (and usually it doesn’t) give yourself some time to cool down. Unless you’re the president of the United States, your Twitter situation is likely not a national emergency. Ahahahahaha, but seriously.
Take it to the authorities
If things are really escalating, or if you ever feel genuinely threatened or in danger, err on the side of caution and get not only the social platform, but the police and legal authorities involved as well.
Remember who you are
Aside from the unfortunate reality of being attacked just for being a woman, or a person of color, or disabled, or liberal or conservative, or however you exist in the world, often if you’re being attacked you’re likely doing something different and worthwhile.
Some of the most hot button issues are things like human rights, equality, racism, climate change, etc. You know this. These issues are important and so they garner a lot of emotion, sometimes rage, and often troll behavior.
Remember why you’re doing what you’re doing in your work and your life, and stick to your truth. Be a good person; we sure could use more of them.
And remember the wise words from Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale: Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum (Don’t let the bastards grind you down)