We live in an age where virtually everyone has a life online. This could be a website, a blog, or a social media presence. Unfortunately, this increased visibility can come with a price: trolling. This form of online abuse can be directed at anyone, and often comes from anonymous accounts set up simply for this purpose.
Nowadays, you see trolling everywhere. At the less-harmful end of the trolling spectrum, people engage in playful “spats” with each other, where no real harm is meant. Sometimes you’ll see people “trolling” email scammers to waste their time. These can often be funny (and lead to increased brand engagement if done right). At the other end of the spectrum, things get nasty. People can receive outright abuse and even death threats. Although those in the public eye often find themselves victims of this, the problem is by no means confined to them.
What Does Trolling mean?
If you’re sat there scratching your head, asking yourself “what is an internet troll?”, then you’re not the only one. Urban Dictionary provides a simple trolling definition. Trolling is: “The deliberate act of making random unsolicited and/or controversial comments on various internet forums, with the intent to provoke an emotional knee jerk reaction from unsuspecting readers to engage in a fight or argument”.
Where Did the Term “Internet Trolling” Come From?
If you’re wondering how trolling started in an internet context, it first appeared back in chat rooms in the 1980s. You might be surprised to learn that the term does not actually come from the ugly, under-bridge-dwelling characters from Norse mythology! It is more likely based on a fishing term. The troll sends out their bait (in the form of a comment) and waits for people to bite. Trolling online can happen all over the internet. However, there are some areas that are particularly well-known for it. Forums, social media sites and comments sections on blogs and websites are some of the most common.
Trolling on Social Media
Any kind of social media site is a hotspot for online trolls. This is because pretty much everyone can comment and converse with others anonymously. It’s easy for them to “switch off” and ignore the damage their comments are causing. In fact, the online trolling stats are shocking. It’s reported that, 9 people a day are arrested for posting offensive messages online, and over 3,300 people were detained and questioned in 2016 for online abuse and trolling.
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube – even personal blogs – are all places where you can easily find nasty comments from people trolling online. Comments on Instagram in particular, can have particularly devastating effects for victims, with one survey citing Instagram as the most damaging social network for young people’s self-esteem. On this network, trolls are commenting on people’s personal images – usually their physical appearance. Whilst anyone can be a victim of online trolls, young people are hit particularly hard, with one third of them reporting having been a victim of harassment.
Reporting Online Trolling
If you’re a victim of trolling on social media – or you’re a witness – then you can report the trolls. You can report profiles, posts, messages, pages, photos, videos and more on Facebook, and it’s a similar situation on Twitter. Over the last few months, Twitter has taken further measures in dealing with internet trolls. It monitors suspicious accounts, particularly focusing on ones that aren’t linked to email addresses, or that repeatedly mention accounts that don’t follow them. These are both common actions of an internet troll. It has also introduced a “mute” feature, which allows users to block certain keywords or phrases.
Is trolling online bullying? The answer is yes, and it can cause huge distress to the victim(s). That’s why it must be stopped, and one way to stop online trolling is to report it – as we would if we saw someone bullying someone else in real life.
However, reporting it may not be the end of the matter, as there is no real legislation in place. Some victims of trolling who have reported it to the social sites or even to the police have been told to simply delete or ignore the comments, or shut down their accounts. As such, many victims think that both social networks and the police should be doing more.
This is where technology and brands can do their bit…
How to Prevent Internet Trolling: New Technology
Many websites (like Twitter) are starting to take more responsibility for preventing trolling. For example, Facebook has introduced artificial intelligence algorithms to stop online abuse and trolling. This algorithm now flags around 1/3 of content that used to be reported by individuals. Whilst Facebook understands it will be years before these systems are fully developed, it’s certainly a step in the right direction.
Google is also committed to ending trolling online. They have released an anti-troll tool called ‘Perspective’. This AI tool is able to identify potentially abusive comments, as it’s been trained to understand what offensive language looks like. ‘Perspective’ rates a comment almost instantaneously based on its “toxicity”. Whilst it’s only available to publishers, there are experiments taking place on news websites to remove offensive posts, which is one way of dealing with internet trolls.
Of course, online trolling statistics show just how upsetting it can be for victims. It’s important to remember that victims aren’t always individuals, but businesses too. Businesses and publications can be “defeated” by internet trolls if they shut down their messaging or comments system. This is common, because dealing with internet trolls can get seriously overwhelming.
NRKbeta – a subsidiary of Norwegian media and technology company NRK, have tried to stop trolling on their website. They ask people to answer three questions on their article, to ensure they’ve read it. But rather than stopping online abuse and trolling, the only thing it stops is people skim-reading an article before commenting on it.
One company has created a system to stop online trolling, and it might just work. Icelandic-based Authenteq’s anti-troll system named Trollteq uses the NFC feature in a user’s smartphone to scan their passport. This allows them to access their name and photo. The user must then take a selfie to confirm it’s them, and once they’ve passed, they can use the Trollteq system. Ultimately, this will stop trolling online. Once a user has been banned for trolling on the system, they can’t post anymore or create a second profile, because it will be tied to their identity. The only issue found so far is that some people won’t have passports. However, this kind of technology should inspire competitors to build and develop their own versions. Developments in this field will play a major part in dealing with internet trolls.
How Businesses Can Tackle Trolling
As previously mentioned, the best way to tackle trolling is to avoid engaging with the trolls. But what if trolls are putting off those people who actually want to visit your social media profiles and your website to make use of your services or buy your products?
As a business, it can be tricky to manage channels where users can comment. Often businesses simply don’t have the time or resources. However, it’s vital that your business has a system in place to deal with feedback, otherwise you may find that customers stay away.
You need to do the following:
– Make sure you’ve got a policy for user comments. This should detail exactly what kinds of comments are allowed and not allowed.
– Know (or learn to tell) the difference between a troll and a customer who’s got a legitimate complaint. When online, angry people don’t moderate their language. With no tone of voice, it can be easy to dismiss a legitimate complaint as someone trolling. So, listen to what’s being said about your business, and then try to help where necessary.
– Don’t get into arguments. Trolls won’t listen to logic or reason, so the best thing to do is flag any comments as inappropriate and monitor responses. Issue a response that’s clear and unemotional and that makes it plain that such behaviour won’t be tolerated.
– Protect your followers. If trolls start directing abuse at your followers, once again, you need to take a firm stand against such behaviour.
To draw people back to your social profiles and your website, you need to give them a reason for being there. Use your existing customer base and get them to advocate for you. Reward loyalty by sending out emails or direct mail to repeat or long-term customers offering them an exclusive offer or a free gift. Direct mail can work with your other marketing channels to make customers feel valued and deliver results, so make use of it here to foster loyalty.
Long term, this can help you build a community of die-hard fans and customers who will help you in the fight against trolls, by defending your brand. This will often be self-policing. However, you may still need to check in to make sure that things are not getting out of hand!
Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like trolling is going anywhere. However, there are plenty of brands and organisations who want to tackle this problem head on. Technology is just one way that they’re doing this.
Most importantly, however companies and brands need to be seen to be making a stand against trolls. Where positive actions are not taken, negative publicity is sure to follow.