Dealing with Trolls Part 2

In our previous post, Dealing with Trolls, we continued our series with a discussion on how to handle negative commenters in your communities. In this post, we take a look at how to handle trolls, who are persistently negative users.

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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 Kirsten 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. 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, 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.

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.

Dealing with Trolls Part 2 is the 69th in a series of excerpts from our book, Be a Person: the Social Operating Manual for Enterprises (itself part of a series for different audiences). We’re just past page 215. At this rate it’ll be a long time before we get through all 430 pages, but luckily, if you’re impatient, the book is available in paper form at and you can save $5 using Coupon Code 62YTRFCV

See the previous posts What is Social Media?Social Sites DefinedWhy Social Media? How is Social Media Relevant to Business? First Steps Toward a Social Media Strategy, and Decide What Your Business Will Do About Social Computing, pt. 1

Next up: Social Media Optimization

[1] Sanford’s Dealing with Trolls: