Internet trolling best can be described as an adult version of cyberbullying. The practice employs posting curt comments, rude remarks and sarcastic snippets on others’ professional blog, social-media and Web sites.
In many cases, Internet trolls don’t bother to hide their identities and publish their statements along with their names. The attacks take place around the clock and impact business owners, corporations, professional organizations, writers. Etc.
“In some circles the act of trolling is considered somewhat of an art form but sadly this has become hijacked by difficult angry people with few social skills and a hatred for anything and everything in their path,” writes information-technology specialist Neil Hughes in an article titled “Is Jail Time the Answer for Internet Trolls?”
The headline refers to a plan in the United Kingdom to imprison Internet trolls for up to two years.
“Will these Internet trolls be deterred by long prison sentences when they are unable to see how being so impassioned about a cause had led to behaviour that had escalated out of control in a world that puts popularity and follower accounts over doing the right thing?” Hughes asks.
Cyberbullying can – and frequently does – result in dire consequences for those being bullied; we’ve all heard stories about teenagers who have committed suicide after being victims. The same possibilities can hold true for Internet trolling.
“Their comments can be sarcastic, painful to read, cynical or it might take the message in the post out of context,” Sofie Sandell, author of Digital Leadership: How Creativity in Business Can Propel Your Brand and Boost Your Results, writes in a LinkedIn blog. “This kind of mini-hate can be both hurtful and harmful, and I’ve seen people who are acquaintances, friends of friends and people outside my networks doing it many times. It seems to be a pretty big problem online.”
Sandell offers five consumer-protection tips when taking on the trolls. First, she reminds readers that comments are merely comments, and vile ones say more about those who wrote it than it does about those for whom it’s aimed.
“Their aim is to gain a higher status by making other people feel low,” she writes.
Lastly, Sandell gives the sage advice of ignoring such comments and not egging on more.
“This is a powerful way to show that you are above these kinds of comments and won’t stoop to the same low level of communication,” she writes.
Bringing a contrary point of view to the Internet-troll debate is content marketer Sean Kopel. Kopel believes business owners, corporations, professional organizations, writers, etc., should react in a positive way to negative comments, thereby taking control of the conversation and turning it around.
“If somebody is willing to go out of their way and complain, that’s actually a good thing,” he writes in an article titled Don’t Fear the Trolls! Embracing criticism on social media. “People who complain are giving you a chance to save them and improve your business. Give them a deal and they might come back.”
Among Kopel’s suggestions are to ask the commenter to continue the dialogue offline. Why not set up a meeting or a phone call or start an email thread to get them to open up?
“Smart companies should take this openness as an opportunity to get better, not fear the criticism that already exists that we just weren’t hearing before,” he writes. “Businesses should embrace criticism.”