How should content moderators deal with Internet trolls?

Faith Ocampo Published on February 28, 2017

man holding smartphone with evil laugh

We’ve all encountered Internet trolls. They thrive in any virtual space where conversations take place—online forums, review websites, and social media threads, to name a few.

The Internet is one of the most revolutionary innovations we’ve seen in the past few decades. Its biggest triumph, perhaps, is granting us the freedom to express our opinions and ideas.

evil laughing man with laptop chalk drawn devil horns

This kind of freedom, however, also has a dark side. As the web allows for anonymity and—to an extent—invisibility, it has created an environment where trolls can thrive. You’ll see them everywhere, disrupting online conversations by provoking others. They may use offensive language, say something inappropriate, spew out lies, harass other users, and defame people and organizations. Their goals may include eliciting angry responses and creating online discord. Sometimes, all they just to do is seek attention.

Internet trolls can be a big pain for brands that want to build and maintain a sleek reputation. That’s why most businesses employ content moderators as part of their social media management approach. These professionals review and manage all the content that goes into a brand’s social media pages, online accounts, and website. But how should moderators deal with trolls?

Trolls vs angry customers

businessman using laptop with nasty grin

There are times when it’s hard to distinguish angry customers from trolls. Both may use an angry tone in their comments, so moderators must pay attention to the substance of their messages. Although their comments may have been written in poor taste, it’s still worth reading them thoroughly. That way, you can determine whether there are real issues that must be addressed. If a user has legitimate concerns, you may direct them to your online support team.

On the other hand, if a person simply aims to incite unhealthy arguments and arouse negative responses from other users, they’re most probably just Internet trolls. Here’s how to deal with them.

  1. Respond in a professional way.

    Usually, trolls use hate speech and profanity to get to your nerves, and they do so deliberately. Content moderators, therefore, must never descend to their level. You should always respond calmly and in a professional manner, adopting the same tone of voice your brand uses when interacting with other customers.

    If a troll spreads lies or tries to destroy your image, be sure to respond with facts and back these with evidence. This way, anybody who will see the troll’s comments will be less likely to get swayed by misinformation.

  2. Avoid being defensive.

    It can be tempting to respond with sarcasm when trolls smear your online presence, but moderators should avoid this at all costs. Adopting a defensive or sarcastic tone, or even one that shows your impatience and annoyance, can make you look unprofessional. Instead, approach the situation objectively. You may even lighten the conversation’s atmosphere by injecting some humor into your replies. However, make sure to use your wit in a way that doesn’t sound condescending or rude.

  3. Don’t delete their comments.

    Unless you have a solid reason to do so—such as when posts contain violent or explicit images or those that breach your policies—never delete a troll’s comments. Doing so can only exacerbate the troll’s behavior. They may resort to cyberbullying other users, leaving long trails of indecent messages, and defacing your profile.

  4. Review your content moderation policies.

    As trolling can escalate into worrisome situations, such as online harassment and bullying, it’s important for brands to establish policies on how to deal with Internet trolls. Be as specific as you can be, so that your moderators will know what they must do to effectively handle these instances. As part of your social media management approach, developing moderation policies is a good way to standardize the way you interact with customers.

  5. As a last resort, block or ban the troll.

    Most of the time, Internet trolls are just a nuisance. They can be irritating, but they don’t often present a real threat to your customers or your brand. But when they take things too far, consider blocking or banning them from your online forum or social media page. You may also report them to the social site’s support unit.

Faith is a digital media enthusiast aiming to become an active part of the tech world by sharing her insights. She likes to blog about everything digimarketing, technology, and social media.
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