CIOs: Techniques for Handling Trolls

Part 7 of our series, What CIOs Need to Know About Social Media.

A post on Mashable from a year and a half ago is still relevant to enterprise CIOs grappling with the impact of social media on the enterprise. In the post, Lon S. Cohen lists seven things CIOs should be considering. We’re taking a closer look at each of the item in Cohen’s framework. In this post, we continue our look at Cohen’s third item.

  • Web 2.0 Content and Presentation Standards
  • Review and Approval Processes
  • Managing Corporate Reputation
  • Versions and Update Controls
  • Impact On Operating Environment
  • Establishing Project Priority
  • Compliance

General Approaches to Trolls

So how do you deal with trolls? Well, first you need to determine that the person is really a troll, not just a clueless newbie uninitiated in the norms of your community. This can be a difficult process, and so you should refrain from taking any action until the troll has established a body of work that has annoyed your community. Of course, that means letting a potential troll stir things up a bit first.

In the following we consider various strategies for dealing with trolls. When we refer to community below, think your Facebook page, your blog, or perhaps your proprietary community space.

Antisocial Networking - By planeta Ron Mader

Ignore Trolls

Many online pundits recommend ignoring trolls. This, however, is easier said than done, although it can be a very effective approach. The problem is, everyone has to ignore the troll. If even one community member engages the troll, the chase is on. However, the community manager should respond to trollish posts with a gentle reminder of the community guidelines for behavior. You may want to repeat this a few times, after which you should counsel the community to ignore the troll.

Ignoring trolls works because the main need a troll has is to be recognized, and responded to. If the troll’s posts are ignored, their behavior is not reinforced, and they may go elsewhere or fall silent.

But universally ignoring a troll is very hard to do. While long-time community members may recognize the troll’s posts for what they are — cries for attention — new members may respond to the outrageous or off-topic troll posts and give the troll the recognition they crave.

Others recommend responding to troll posts with love and understanding. We think that any response is likely to reinforce the behavior. While it may be effective to take the discussion offline, where possible, and try to convince the troll that their behavior is self-defeating, this is an approach with a low likelihood of success. Remember, the troll is probably a troll in real life as well. You’re not likely to be able to change a troll’s personality (at least, without years of psychotherapy).

OK, here’s a bit of troll humor:

  • How many trolls does it take to change a light bulb?
    Three. One to change the bulb; one to severely criticize the bulb for going out; and one to insult your parentage for complaining about the dark.

Do Not Confront and Out Trolls

There’s a school of thought that confronting and shaming trolls will be effective in discouraging them. For example, blogger Kirsten Sanford recounted[1] how she dealt with a troll who personally insulted her: She exposed his email address and his network address:

Everyone, say hi to Paul! [email address and IP address redacted] Paul left this wonderful comment for me recently. It left me feeling confused as to why someone / anyone would take the time to spew so much vitriol. It really makes no sense.

We do not recommend this approach. Sanford is not likely to change Paul’s mind, and also not likely to convince him to stop harassing her. What is more likely is that Paul will change identities and network addresses, and step up his harassment.

But even more important, confronting Paul as Sanford did runs the risk of making her look petty and vindictive. As Abraham Lincoln said, it’s better to say nothing and be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.

Ban Trolls and Troll Posts

If you’re in charge of your community, you may have the power to delete troll posts and to ban members who are trolls. In fact, there are probably lots of things you can do about trolls:

  • Delete the post — This can be a controversial move, and could harm the trust you have build with your community members. We recommend that before you delete troll posts, you ask your community to weigh in on the move. Of course, you should only take this step after ignoring the troll has not worked, or if you’re unwilling to try that approach.
  • Ban the troll — This can also be controversial. If you have control over the membership of your community, you may have the ability to ban a troll for a period of time, or to remove them from the community altogether. If your community requires new registrations to be approved, you may even be able to prevent the troll from coming back. Be sure you have community support before taking this action.
  • Moderate all posts — Once again, if you have control, you may be able to require that all posts and comments in the community be approved before being published. This affects your entire community, and puts a big burden on your community manager. You are essentially saying that you don’t trust potential and existing community members, and that’s not a good way to start off or maintain a relationship. We recommend that this be a temporary solution at most. Requiring moderation for all posts will definitely affect community trust, and may cause defections.
  • First post moderation — Moderate every member’s first post. Once approved, the member is free to post anywhere. Depending on the level of control you have on your community software, you may be able to require moderation for the first post in each forum the user posts in. This technique can help blunt the effect of trollbots,[2] and it probably won’t bother your community members as long as they understand its intent. But it will do nothing to prevent the chronic troll.
  • Let trolls become part of the conversation — If your community can handle it, then let them handle it. It’s probably the next best solution if ignoring doesn’t work.

No matter how you want to deal with trolls, you need to create a troll policy as part of your community guidelines and make sure all community members understand it.

Next we’ll consider the fourth point in Cohen’s list: CIOs: Versions and Update Controls – Social Media Optimization.

For soup-to-nuts, strategy to execution processes, procedures and how-to advice, see our book, Be a Person: the Social Media Operating Manual for Enterprises. The book (itself part of a series for different audiences), is available in paper form at save $5 using Coupon Code 62YTRFCV

[1] Sanford’s Dealing with Trolls:

[2] Trollbots are automated programs that cruise sites looking for open comment boxes that they can paste in advertising or other obnoxious material. There’s a hilarious automated troll simulator on Alex Kigerl ‘s site: