Spend even a little time reading comments posted online and you are likely to come across the work of a Troll. Typically hiding behind an anonymous online account, Trolls make provocative or offensive comments to incite anger and upset. Put-downs, name-calling, insults and emotional rants are just some of the ways Trolls operate. They divert discussions down non-productive or off-topic paths, they bully and they harass people who dare to express an opinion, they take pleasure in posting inaccurate “facts”.
Trolls act with intent; they mean to be disruptive and are well aware of the impact they have. Some are motivated by political, financial, or ideological gain whereas others are simply driven by the perverse sense of pleasure they get from upsetting other people. Attention seeking, emotional venting, power, vandalism, sabotage, immaturity and simply the thrill of breaking social conventions are among the drivers behind trolling behaviour.
The rapid rise of electronic communication and social media has brought with it this growing problem of anti social behaviour online. The risk of experiencing cyber bullying while at work has grown along with the prevalence of companies adopting social media marketing strategies. The Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest pages of companies have become a playground for Trolls intent on attacking staff and undermining a brands reputation.
While social media provides a great vehicle through which a business can communicate with its customers and target market, in turns it allows anyone to communicate with the business. What this means is that people are free to post comments often with anonymity and without censor. People can now direct harsh criticism toward individuals, teams and businesses whenever they choose to. While some steps can be taken to restrict or remove inappropriate remarks the level of control anyone has of information posted online is limited.
Trolls have little regard for the reputation of either the business or the mental health and wellbeing of the people they criticize. The death of TV personality Charlotte Dawson last year drew much needed attention to this very serious issue and the devastating consequences of cyber bullying. Depression and anxiety are common mental health challenges among people who have been cyber bullied. Loss of self-esteem and confidence are also commonly reported.
A team’s morale and company’s reputation can be profoundly impacted by a Troll’s behaviour. Through social media policy and training, organisations are wise to educate their staff about the dangers of trolling and how to avoid it. Just as important is building awareness of the risk of inadvertently participating in trolling behaviour. People need to understand not to jump on the online bully bandwagon by joining in a conversation to have fun at someone else’s expense.
Irrespective of why someone chooses to be a Troll, the destructive consequences of their behaviour make it inexcusable. We all need to take steps to protect ourselves from the harmful impacts Trolls can have. Six steps we can all take include:
1. Have selective hearing: choose carefully whose views you listen to and allow to influence how you feel, think and act.
2. Don’t engage: it’s difficult to argue with someone who isn’t listening let alone contributing. Simply stay out of it. Choose not to read nor respond to nasty comments.
3. Learn quickly: be alert and recognise when you are interacting with a Troll. Step away from the conversation even if it means letting them have the final word.
4. Be discerning: understand the difference between a Troll who spreads hateful messages and someone who simply holds an opposing view.
5. Keep things in perspective: Close to 90 percent of Trolls are between the ages of 14 to 21. If comments seem childish they probably are. They often have a short attention span and if ignored will go away.
6. Take action: never hesitate to report Trolls to administrators of sites and pages. It’s likely they are also targeting other people and a series of complaints is more likely to inspire action.