Dealing with Trolls – anonymous or otherwise

I stumbled on an old article Dealing with Trolls in The Guardian whilst browsing my Twitter feed recently. It’s a good read and provides sound advice on dealing with internet Trolls, but that’s not why it sparked my interest.

The article dates back to 2012.

Yes – 2012, and is still no less relevant in 2020.

Eight years is a long time in the world of social media. We’ve seen social media sites rise and fall in that time (remember Jaiku, Bebo, Google+ anyone?), but trolling still remains as widespread as ever.

I can’t help but feel that we should be dealing with this kind of thing much better than we are, so why aren’t we?

Social media in the news

This has been brought into sharp focus today in the news with the Harry Miller case. It does make you question whether many of our laws, such as the Malicious Communications Act 1988 and the Communications Act 2003, have kept apace with the times. Furthermore, that blurring between freedom of expression and “hate incidents” can be incredibly subjective, which perhaps explains why trolling has been allowed to endure.

Where do you draw that line between trolling and freedom of expression?

Now I don’t pretend to have the answer to that question any more than you do, but like you (I suspect), I have fallen foul to trolling in my time. And, like you, I have also wrestled with how to deal with it.

Picture of a man wearing a mask.

(Image available on Pixabay under a CC0 licence).

Dealing with the trolls we know

We know that trolls often gain their bravado from anonymity, but sometimes the trolls are those we know too. Without wanting to sound alarmist (or paranoid), how do you deal with trolling from the people you know? Those people who are in your ‘friends’ circle on your social networks, or even members of your family?

That question of where the line lies between freedom of speech and trolling becomes a little more personal when it involves the people you know. In some ways we are in a good position if we know the people, because we have more insight into their foibles and quirks and can make allowances accordingly. Yet on the other hand they can also cause a unique sense of anxiety – because we know them and have to deal with them regularly in real life.

To complicate things further there’s the issue of intent. What could innocently be intended as banter may unintentionally come across as trolling. The more I use social media the more sensitive I feel (some of us) have become. Sensitive in the sense of being mindful about what we say to others and how we say it, but also sensitive in the sense of how we perceive what others say about us.

My approach

First of all, I’m not advocating that my approach is the right approach for you. Let’s get that clear from the start. I am not a preacher.

However, my approach does work for me (usually).

I’ve tried to clarify my approach into a simple flowchart (at this point, you are allowed to laugh). I say simple with my tongue firmly in my cheek, because we all know that human relationships are anything but. The flowchart adopts a practical and consistent way of approaching potential abusive posts from trolls (known or otherwise).

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