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How to Respond to Internet Trolls

Jun 30, 2016 9:00:00 AM

How_to_Respond_to_Internet_Trolls.pngI like Twitter for many, many reasons. I follow some really famous people on it because, well, that is the point of social media – to connect us together. But, one of the people I follow is probably one of the most famous if not the most famous single man on the planet: The Pope.

I know, I know, a Lutheran pastor following the Pope?! What in the world is going on? But, he is a very powerful voice in Christianity and represents the single largest group within Christianity. It is good for me as a pastor to be aware of what he says because many people take him to be speaking for all Christianity. Now, many times what the Pope posts is not very controversial. For example:

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Nothing very controversial at all. He is not talking about politics. No super Roman Catholic doctrine spewing forth. Just a comment of getting to know people is a good thing. However, I seriously cannot post many of the responses here. Why? Because of the “trolls” that follow him. Frankly, the language that they use is NSFW (Not Safe For Work). It is rude, vile, and extremely graphic. Seriously, do not go look.

So, why do they do it? Because they know it will rile up the hard-core Catholics that follow the Pope. It is like a child throwing a temper tantrum so that they can get attention. Or, a better analogy, it is the internet version of Westboro Baptist picketers (we have such lovely neighbors here in Topeka).

Now, I am guessing that many of you do not have that level of trolling on your personal or organizational social media accounts. But, that does not mean you will never encounter it. So, how will you respond? Do you have a plan? In your church’s social media policy do you even address the possibility of internet trolls?

If you do not, you should. Why? Because it can happen to anybody and it will eventually happen to you. I know. I have dealt with it. It can take you by surprise if you have no plan for it. Lucky for you, I will discuss a very good plan below!

What is Internet Trolling?

But first, let us start with looking at what is the point of internet trolling. “Troll” and “Trolling” are really great terms to use here because it so accurately describes who they are and what they are doing. A “troll” is a mythical, cave-dwelling being typically having an extremely ugly appearance. And “trolling” traditionally is a method of fishing where a boat pulls a baited line or lines behind it hoping for fish to bite. And from Wikipedia:

In Internet slang, a troll is a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a newsgroup, forum, chat room, or blog) with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion, often for their own amusement.

So, in layman’s terms a troll is somebody who posts ugly comments (usually anonymously or under a pseudonym) in the hopes that somebody will “bite” be reacting to it for their own amusement. Or, the exact opposite of the meaning of the 8th Commandment.

What is the Goal of Internet Trolls?

Trolls want far more than just an emotional reaction. What they want is to control the conversation. Their hope is to either suppress, misinform, or distract from the original post. They want people to stop talking about whatever is the issue and be more concerned or enraged by their comment.

They can do this in a number of ways. The most common, however, is appealing to the basest emotions usually by making comments that attack specific people groups – a.k.a. bigotry. Studies have shown that the anonymity that comes with the internet brings out the worst in people. Not a new phenomenon, CNN ran a story on it back in 2010.

What to Do If Getting Trolled

Ok, plan time! So, what should you do if you are getting “trolled”? If you are the moderator/curator of a website or social media the simplest answer is to delete the comments and if possible, ban or block the person making them. I am all for constructive conversations, but a troll is not.

The second best option, if you can do it, is to ignore it. This is easiest on social media like Twitter where people only see the original tweet but not any of the replies unless the click on the specific tweet.

If you cannot delete it or cannot ignore it then I recommend taking a page from the Air Force:

US_Air_Force_Web_Posting_Response_Assessment.png

I am the type of guy that does not believe in reinventing the wheel if somebody else has already done it. While this deals with finding blogs about the United States Air Force the thought process can be easily adapted and applied to dealing with comments.

I want to draw your attention to two sections. The first is the “Evaluate” section. Notice that two of the negative postings are advised as to “avoid responding”. “Troll” and “Rager” posts are not concerned with having a coherent discussion. They want to provoke and/or vent. Do not get drawn in, trust me from personal experience, nothing good comes from this.

The second section to look at is the “Response Considerations”. Those five guidelines are really, really, really good. My favorite of them all is the “Timeliness” one. Take your time. Do not feel like you need to rush a response. A well thought out and proof-read response is better than something hastily typed out with spelling errors and typos. Remember, you are representing yourself and/or your organization/church.

And the best advice I can ever give anybody? If possible, never read the comments section.


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Rev. Daniel Ross

Written by Rev. Daniel Ross

Rev. Daniel Ross is the pastor of Christ Lutheran Church in Topeka, Kansas. A graduate of the University of Central Oklahoma and Concordia Seminary, Daniel is passionate about bringing God’s love to people. Originally technologically ignorant and averse, Daniel has embraced and come to enjoy the opportunities that technology has opened up in spreading the Gospel to all nations throughout the world. He is married and just welcomed his first child into the world. He enjoys fishing, reading, and spending time with his family. If you follow him on Twitter, you will come to realize that he is an avid Oklahoma Sooner fan.

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