An internet troll is someone that adds posts to your community with the deliberate intention of starting arguments. The aim is generally to emotionally provoke, although this is not always the sole motivation.
Internet trolls often verbally attack community members by deliberately posting digressive and inflammatory messages. They can also continuously divert the subject, making the post irrelevant.
It can be argued that any troll is simply someone posting a different opinion on a specific subject, which they have the right to do. However, internet trolls can easily savage several social media channels at the same time, potentially damaging the reputation of your online community.
This can be done by making multiple posts across channels or one post that is inflammatory enough to get others reposting it. As the developer responsible for community management it’s essential that you discover how to identify and deal with internet trolls in your community.
What makes a community troll behave this way?
It can be difficult to identify the reasons why an internet troll behaves in a specific way. Being able to work out why will help you to deal with the issue successfully.
Of course, the internet troll may simply have an issue with you personally and simply be trying to damage your reputation or your ability to share and learn information from your peers. When a troll problem gets out of hand the community is likely to disband. This is because it becomes difficult to get anything useful out of the discussions.
Alternatively, internet trolls may behave like this because of one of the following reasons.
In the modern digital world, it has become easier than ever to be famous. You don’t need a brilliant business idea or to become a famous actor. Instead, you can be famous simply for being famous. All you need to do is find a way to get your name, and perhaps image, in front of as many other people as possible.
If you don’t mind being controversial or disliked then trolling a respectable online community is the perfect way to get started. You may not be liked but all the members but it’s sure to get you noticed by others, especially if you start re-tweeting posts with slight amendments to make others laugh.
It’s not pretty but notoriety is a surprisingly common reason for internet trolls to target your online community.
Other trolls simply delight in being annoying and starting fights, especially from the safety of their computer. The more you and your community respond to the troll the more annoying they’ll become, simply because you are responding. This can even be a cry for help as these trolls are seeking attention, and finding it through negativity.
Some trolls are jealous and that’s a good enough reason to damage your community and reputation as a developer. They may have had the same idea as you and fell you stole it, or they may be jealous that your life appears to be going well and there’s does not.
Whatever the reason for their jealousy, this type of troll can be exceptionally dangerous as they are driven against you personally.
Identifying trolls in your community
In order to deal with internet trolls in your community, you need to be able to identify the troll. One of the most obvious signs is a member that goes off-topic, a lot. Everyone goes off-topic from time to time, that’s the nature of a real conversation. You probably know the rush of excitement when you connect the dots and solve an issue that has been puzzling you. It’s likely to divert the conversation to a related, but different, subject.
However, if you notice a member is doing this all the time then they are likely to be an internet troll. Their aim is not to help the community learn from each other, instead they want to disrupt things and hope that other members become annoyed.
Other signs that a member is actually an internet troll include the following ones.
You can present hard evidence regarding why the troll opinion is incorrect on a specific occasion. But, even if you keep the tone civil and relaxed, the troll will fail to acknowledge the evidence. Instead, they will continue to ascertain they are right. This is simply a way to antagonize people further and a classic sign of a troll.
Trolls make other users angry, they are happy when they achieve this. But, that’s just the starting point. To really disrupt the community they need to feed the anger. The easiest way of doing this is to post again, after an angry community member has posted a response. The troll will simply ask something like “why you mad?” This effectively dismisses the member’s argument and will wind the up further.
Another clear sign of a troll I when they suddenly post a meme or an image that has nothing to do with the topic in hand. This is a particularly effective approach when someone has created a long post, perhaps explaining a difficult concept. The unrelated image distracts the flow of thought, damaging the opportunity for the community to build on the discussion.
Oblivious to other feelings
You won’t be surprised to find that internet trolls are oblivious to other people’s feelings. They will seem unflappable. That’s because they have no interest in the topic while genuine members are passionate about it. All the internet troll wants is to cause disruption and pain.
You should also be aware that some people are paid to be trolls! In fact, there are approximately 2 million paid trolls on the internet.
These trolls can work for governments, China is known to pay a small amount every time a paid troll posts a pro-China comment. Other trolls are paid by businesses or community management teams that want to damage your reputation for their own gain. These people are simply being trolls for financial gain.
Steps to take to deal with community trolls
Identifying internet trolls is the first step to dealing with them properly. While everyone goes off-topic occasionally, not all of these people are trolls. You don’t want to damage your community by taking action against a genuine member. That’s why it’s essential you monitor carefully before deciding someone is a troll and taking action.
If you allow anonymous members into your online community then it will be virtually impossible to trace the troll. All the information they provide will be fake. However, you should insist all members sign in before they can post and demand they confirm the authenticity of the information they use when creating an account. This ensures you’ll be able to trace and identify the person trolling you and your community.
If you can identify your troll you can cancel their membership or gently persuade them to leave your community by following some of the following steps to deal with trolls.
Don’t feed community trolls
This is one of the most common pieces of advice when dealing with online trolls and its true. The troll wants you to be provoked and respond, engaging with them gives them amusement and satisfaction.
If you and your members can ignore the troll they will quickly give up and go somewhere else where they will get the response they desire. If it becomes obvious that someone is a troll simply refuse to take their comments seriously.
To aid in this, release material to your members to help them identify internet trolls. You can even use Codemotion to organize an event that discusses trolls. Specifically, it will highlight how to identify them and to ignore them when they post anything.
Remove the thread
As the developer and leader of the community management team, you have the right to remove any thread that fails to provide useful material. In other words, if your troll has turned a specific discussion into spam, simply remove the thread and start a new one. It will make it harder for the troll to incite everyone.
Suspend community trolls’ accounts
Responding to a troll is never going to be productive as you will be feeding the fire and making a bad situation worse. Instead, as the leader of your community, you should talk directly to the troll and ask them why they are part of your community.
If you are convinced that they are an online troll and of no benefit to your community then suspend their account. They won’t like it and may make comments on other social media platforms outside of your control. You’ll have to accept and ignore this fallout. Again, without a response, they will quickly move on to a new target.
It is important not to advertise the fact they are a troll but to quietly remove them. If the community already recognizes them as a potential troll they will be glad they have gone. Equally, if this isn’t the case you can always reinstate their account and continue to monitor them.
The secret is to suspend their account because they are not adhering to the terms and conditions associated with your online community.
Trolls are adept at returning. If you suspend or delete an account they will return with a new one. Although insisting on ID when joining the community would avoid this, it is unlikely to be a practical approach as you build your community.
You need to beat the troll at their own game by using software that marks the troll as a troll. The beauty of this approach is that the troll continues to see everything and make posts. To them, nothing looks different. However, to everyone else they are invisible. This means they are ignored.
The likely result is that they will get bored and move onto a new target.
Look for patterns
It may be possible to work out why internet trolls are trying to damage your online community. They may have a personal issue with you or another member, or they may despise the subject you are talking about. Perhaps your community is flourishing and they are on the community management team for another site that isn’t doing so well.
In many cases, internet trolls have a pattern that they follow. This could be posting at certain times of the day or only on certain subjects. Identifying the pattern will allow you to monitor relevant conversations and intervene when necessary to ensure inflammatory comments are removed and the conversation stays on track.
Again, this will induce boredom into internet trolls, encouraging them to leave you alone. Leaving of their own free will is generally much more effective than telling them to leave.
Lead by example
Never underestimate the importance of leading by example. If you suspect someone is a troll and are looking into them then don’t interact with them. Instead, keep switching the conversation back to the topic in hand and stay polite. Ignoring them is the most effective way of dealing with internet trolls. If you adopt this attitude your community will do the same, dramatically reducing the effectiveness of any troll.
The Bottom Line
Dealing with internet trolls successfully means developing an understanding of the risk they present to you and your community. By monitoring, being aware, and using the software you already have to hand, you can reduce the effectiveness of trolls and even entice them to leave your community alone.
Equally, the key to beating them at their own game is to share information with other online communities. There are many ways in which you can achieve this goal, as highlighted above. However, you should remember that communication is always the best solution.