Maybe you’ve seen them in some of the membership groups you belong to on Facebook or LinkedIn or have just seen these random comments show up in your feed that appall and send emotional shock waves that suddenly take over your feed.

In your mind, it’s just some idiot who clearly got on the wrong side of the bed and is using the internet as their way to vent.

Maybe.

In reality, it might actually be something way more insidious. It might be an Internet Troll trying to take over your feed just to get a reaction or worse yet – a self-serving, sneaky way to highlight their business while using your feed.

What exactly is an internet troll?

An internet troll is a member of an online social community who deliberately tries to disrupt, attack, offend, or generally cause chaos within the community by posting offensive or controversial comments, photos, videos, GIFs or some other form of online content.

Their comments are designed to elicit an emotional response and then put you down in some way for actually having a response. I recently had an encounter with one of these so-called trolls in a group I was in.

A colleague and friend posted a serious question and then the troll took the feed over with a sexist comment. And of course, many of us took the bait. I suspected the individual might be trolling and almost put a little wink emoticon to stop the insanity, but it was too late – the flood gates were open.

And after receiving the criticism, here’s what the troll said? “I was just joking,”

Yeah right, sure you were. What happened then is a sort of “us” and “them” kind of conversation. Those who defended the troll and those who found him to be insulting. The troll also decided to seize upon the moment (which is what they do) and notified those in his camp that he was available to help them and work with them. The rest of us – well, we were too “stupid” to get his joke so forget us.

That exchange was pretty typical from what I’ve seen – plus, the original question that my colleague asked got completely lost and now a community page that was designed to support and give real answers was hijacked and rendered useless.

Maybe you think that can’t happen to your business.

But the truth is that if you run an online business that has a Facebook Page, Facebook Group, Membership Page, LinkedIn Community or somewhere people converge together – it can happen to you.

Internet trolling is on the rise and, the reality is that some use it as a strategic method to get noticed and grow their business. It’s effective because the strategy plays upon our most basic emotions.

As humans, we’re designed to react to things that play upon our emotions. Most of us don’t automatically think that people are trying to goad us, we merely think that we’re doing some good in the world by informing others that they’re being offensive.

But, trolls love that. And they love making you feel stupid for having emotions.

The divisive nature of trolling can be incredibly detrimental if you run groups in your business.

I’ve seen people who feel demeaned or offended by these trolls leave the online groups because they can’t take it anymore.

And if you the person running one of these groups, you have a real problem. So, what do you do?

Now, I’ll admit I don’t have all the answers when it comes to dealing with this kind of thing. But, from what I’ve learned there are a few things you can do to combat this kind of nonsense from interfering with the work you do.

(1) Have A Solid Anti-Trolling Group Policy

When you’re forming an online group or membership, don’t just copy and paste someone else’s group policy without thought.

Make sure that you create a policy that focuses specifically on these trolls, letting them know ahead of time that this kind of behavior won’t be tolerated.

For example, you might want to say that your group page will not tolerate harassment, profanity, comments designed to incite or insult others. Make it clear, that there will be zero tolerance and that violating this policy can result in being banned from comments or from the group in its entirety.

Setting the stage can help you from having to get into lengthy conversations with trolls about whether they were merely expressing their thoughts versus purposefully antagonizing others.

(2) Monitor the Comments on Your Page

If your group is small, it probably is easier for you to do this. But, what do you do if you have a group page that numbers in the hundreds or thousands?

Well, it’s time to hire someone whose job it is to monitor your page.

You might think this is a part-time gig or something you only have to do on occasion, but the reality is that internet trolls take advantage of the sleepy hours and holidays to take over your feed and cause mayhem.  

Having a person or team whose job it is to monitor your page for trolls can help cut down on some of the divisiveness that can occur. If they notice comments that are disruptive, they can immediately delete them and contact the individual requesting they stop – or be removed from the group as a consequence.

If the behavior doesn’t stop, then you can refer to the group policy and boot them from the group.

One thing to note is that trolls can be very persuasive. They might promise they’ll never do it again or that they now understand how wrong they were just so they can stay in the group. And maybe you’ll believe them.

My experience has been that once a troll, always a troll. Giving trolls a second chance can cost you money – because if one person who might be a potential customer feels you haven’t taken adequate remedy, it can be bad for business (remember, that one person probably has friends within the group).

(3) Ignore Them (Remember: Don’t Feed the Animals)

If you personally find yourself entangled with an internet troll, ignore them. Even if you’ve momentarily found yourself in their trap – back away.

There is no point to engaging with a troll because they don’t want discourse. They want drama.

Standing up to them feels like a good idea, but if you’re part of a group that you love, your best bet is to just talk to the administrator and get help from them.

If you are the administrator, it’s also a good idea not to engage. Point them to your policy and say adios!

Engaging will do nothing other than create fear for you. They might even threaten that they’ll bad mouth your group or say horrible things about the way you’ve handled the situation.

It’s the way they maintain control over you. I would personally ignore them and get them out. Thank them for their contribution, but your hands are really tied.

Remember, other group members are watching and as the administrator or owner of the group, it’s up to you to set and control the tone.

(3) Just the Facts Ma’am

Whether you’ve found yourself in the troll’s lair or they’ve walked into yours, the key to staying above water is focusing on facts.

As I said earlier, trolls thrive on emotional responses. It’s where they can poke holes and tell you that you’re just a flat-out moron (which hurts).

When you stick to the facts, a troll has nowhere to go. They lose the momentum they’re looking for and will move on to other pastures. Sticking to the facts is boring for a troll – and in this case boring is good.

A real troll will walk away from the facts so you can be sure that it will deflate the conversation.

(4) Avoid Meeting them Where They’re At

Now, I know it might be tempting to call the troll out or fight back with equally demeaning or demoralizing words. After all, should we just let insulting people go about insulting others?

When dealing with a troll, the answer is yes (and then get rid of them).

Trolls feeds on confrontation and shaming. And if you publicly denounce them or insult them back, they’ll turn the tables on you.

Suddenly, they’re the victim being attacked (remember, after all, they were just joking). They’ll rally those who side with them and then all of the sudden – your nice friendly, supportive online community has gone haywire.

Trolls are trained at turning the tables and if you find yourself on the receiving end of their tirade, it can be a nightmare for business.

Just imagine a new hashtag gone viral that calls you out for bullying people for free-speech? Yikes. It’s happened – so beware of going after a troll. It won’t be pretty.

Instead, remember the simple steps above and stay away from anything that might feed the frenzy.

Overall, being aware that trolls exist is an important first step to minimizing the damage they can bring to your business.

Certainly, bullying and inciting divisiveness is not a new thing in our culture – but it is one that has taken rise. None of our businesses is immune to the impact, but we can lessen what happens if we’re prepared.

What do you think about combatting internet trolls in your business? Have you come across this problem and if so, how did you solve it? Share below.

Linda

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