Trolls and Trolling

Dealing with trolls and addressing our troll behavior

TrollDefinitionDon’t feed the trolls!

We’ve heard this over and over again.  It is a phrase that tells us not to engage with people online that are intentionally inflicting harm and cruelty towards others.

In today’s culture of digital cruelty and online shaming, no one is immune to online harassment.  For years we have read about the research of youth and cyberbullying – finally in 2017 PEW Research Center revealed that 66% of adults have witnessed online harassment and 41% have been a victim of it.  These are not small numbers considering adults should know better.

So who are these trolls online?  The late John Dozier, co-author of Google Bomb, had given them excellent labels of what possibly motivated these cyber-animals.  He referred to them as ‘scofflaw personas‘.

Trolls and why they are trolling:

1.  Pick-pocket

This is the guy who used to wait on street corners for elderly ladies to pass. He enjoys attacking defenseless people and stealing covertly using deception. This type of blogger will steal your copyright protected content, have the search engines push your prospective clients to his site, and then run ads and otherwise direct the traffic to your competitors. He could be an affiliate marketer for a competitor getting a share of the revenue, or he could simply be running Google or Yahoo ads on his site. Pickpockets also take great pleasure in stealing your trademarks…surreptitiously using your mark in hidden tags, meta tags, hidden redirect pages, or through a myriad of search engine optimization techniques you can easily learn more about by looking online, all in the hopes of re-directing your prospects to a competitor and taking money from you.

2. Wacko

We usually identify a wacko situation quickly. There are distinctive characteristics of his communications. The wacko is usually a “follower,” someone looking to gain attention and recognition, but escalates what may have started as fair criticism into more and more outrageous claims. Most sophisticated business people immediately view the poster as a “nut case,” particularly when an excessive amount of time or energy disproportionate to the merits of the subject is expended. But it is not easy for the typical browser on the web to see the pattern, usually spread over multiple web properties.

3. Druggie

Or, maybe “liquid courage” would be more appropriate. This guy is exactly what comes to mind. During the day this blogger is a normal guy, but at night he returns to the sanctity of his home, gets drunk or high, and goes out on the web looking for “hook-ups” and blogging on his “hang-ups.” This guy is hard to detect as a fraudster, and sometimes won’t recall what he said online the next day while under the influence. He posts aggressive, false and arbitrary attacks on whatever issue of the day (or night) catches his fancy.

4. Alien

No, not from another world. But from overseas. In a far, far away place, without any treaty with the US, in a country without an effective legal system and no notion of business or personal property ownership rights. Many of these types operate out of certain Russian provinces, but the blogs, postings and communications appear to be from the customer down the street. This individual usually has an ulterior motive, often working with the criminal discussed below. He has no fear, until he takes a vacation to Turkey and US federal agents grab him for extradition, which is exactly what happened on a case in the not so distant past.

5. Nerd

This is the guy who is scared to talk with a girl, but behind the keyboard, all alone, morphs into a Casanova. This empowerment of anonymity creates an omnipotent persona, and for the first time the nerd feels the effect of power and control, gets an adrenaline buzz when he exercises it, and he exercises it often, usually creating or perpetuating a volatile situation in which he feels he can outsmart the “opposition.” There is no principle involved. His blog postings are all about the adrenaline. It is hard to know if you are dealing with this type online…his posts are intelligent and on their face credible. But, once you identify the nerd blogger, he cowers and goes away, usually forever.

6. Rookie

Enjoy debating a thirteen year old? They are out on the net acting like adults, posting statements and play-acting like a grown-up. The challenge, of course, is that most people reading the posts have no idea these are coming from a kid. The tip off can be the utter immaturity of the posts, but most often the kids can sound credible criticizing, for instance, a CPA’s method of calculating ROI for REIT holdings, because they can mimic earlier posts. There is no insidious motive here; just kids having fun as the hormones kick in. But the readers of the blog posting don’t know that.

7. Sadist

This person attacks others, causes pain, and revels in the results in ways not worthy of mention. He loves to create, direct, control, and unleash a firestorm of criticism about you or your company just to create pain and damage. This type of person may often be the prime instigator of the online attacks, and tightens the noose by escalating the attack rapidly, almost as if in an obsessive state. You will find a sadist going to many sites and blogging, and he usually lets you know it was him because he uses his real moniker. He has characteristics of a stalker, and he is most likely to be the one that starts recommending direct physical violence against individuals. This person is not motivated by money, but by the pure enjoyment of pain being visited upon innocent parties.

8.  Bankrupt

No, not morally bankrupt. Actually bankrupt…no money, no assets, no prospects for work, and nothing to lose. These bloggers post without fear of the consequences or any regard for the truth because you “can’t get blood out of a turnip,” you “can’t get water from a rock,” and all these other sayings handed down, I surmise, through his generations. This is usually not a smart guy, but his postings are damaging and inflammatory. Many will own and control blogs without any concern about the consequences of liabilities that might arise through the perpetuation and “enhancement” of posts, and sometimes will post to their own blog and act like it was from a third party.

9. Criminal

Career criminals, no less. Like the convicted felon running a sophisticated extortion scheme against a very prominent business. Or the owner of an open blog avoiding service of process with guard dogs protecting his compound. The thieves and crooks of the world are online today, and the criminals often have both an organization and a highly effective and surprisingly coordinated operational plan in place to target a business. Rumors of $500,000 a year payoffs seem to promote this problem, which emanates from more of a “mobosphere” (the mob effect arising from a blogger attack) than the blogosphere.

10. Mis-Leader

This person is in no manner a leader. This blogger has a hidden agenda, but he just makes it sound like he is a totally objective commentator. He can create an appearance of authority and the casual visitor to his blog does not question the legitimacy. This type of persona is hard to figure out. One of the most pervasive practices is to control a blog and allow negative posts against all except his generous advertisers. Another common technique involves omission; not disclosing conflicts of interest or the existence of a business or personal relationship because the readers of the blog will totally discount the commentator’s posts as unreliable and biased.

Dealing with Internet trolls

Don’t wait for cyber-combat to happen, have your army ready. Building your online reputation is being proactive. Creating your digital presence through social media, your website and blog — then maintaining it by engaging with your followers will help you if you are ever attacked.

The fact is, no one is perfect, the chance you may end up with a hater someday is very possible. If you build your strong support system, they will likely understand when you have that one troll that is unhappy.

But never underestimate the damage that some trolls can do.  Know that 85% of people rely on reviews as much as they do personal recommendations so it’s imperative you keep your online reviews current.

  1. Respond cordially and promptly to online reviews.
  2. If they get combative, take them offline as quickly as possible.
  3. Be pragmatic with refunds and other ways to “make it right” with the customer, even if they’re wrong.
  4. Encourage (generate) more customer reviews.

In Shame Nation book, attorney Mitch Jackson offers some methods (if you’re mentally prepared to engage in your cyber-thrashers) — but remember, some of them will see this as entertainment:

• Call attention to them without specifically engaging them.
• Ask the troll to fully identity himself or herself, and share his or her full name, email, or website.
• Avoid emotional arguments, and only use facts.

Preventing our troll behavior

Stanford research revealed that anyone is capable of becoming an Internet troll under the right circumstances.

Especially in times of tragedy, it’s important to realize that our emotional stress can be misconstrued online.

1. Be mindful with what you share: Check in with yourself. Your emotions at that time will live forever online. Think twice, post once.

2. Never assume you’re among friends: Be aware of your audience. People are quick to take your words and twist them, especially if they are posted with haste.

3. Be constructive with your comments, not combative.

4. Write as if the world is watching. In many ways, it is.

5. Give yourself permission to sign off if you don’t feel you can post responsibly. You won’t regret it.

Your online behavior is an extension of your online reputation.

Steps to take if you’re being harassed online

As someone that won an internet defamation case, there are steps you need to take if you believe you are being defamed, stalked or bullied online and may potentially have a lawsuit.

  1. Document the attacks. Take screenshots of all the evidence. You might want to just push delete, delete, delete. But if things escalate, you’ll need to have some
    documentation. Print it out, keep it in an online folder, put it on a thumb drive, download any videos to an external hard drive—but do save it.
  2. Block the offenders. Blocking functionality is available on social media platforms, as well as phone calls, texts, apps, and email. Once you block them, be sure you have a friend monitoring them for you.
  3. Report the offenders. Review the website’s or platform’s Terms of Service (TOS) or Code of Conduct, to identify what actions are considered violations, then politely ask the service to remove offensive comments, in accordance with its guidelines, and to ban the violator from the platform. Beware—some sites, especially those that seem to foster harassment and revenge porn, have been known to thumb their noses at victims and reprint emotional take down requests, so don’t get overwrought in your tone. Stick to boilerplate legalese.
  4. Try to identify the attackers. Are you being harassed or stalked, and it’s escalating? Maybe you are fed up with the cyberslime an anonymous user is posting about you. To identify that person’s IP address, you will need to file
    a crime report with law enforcement, says California Senior Officer Mike Bires.
  5. Cut the criminals off. If you ever find yourself being extorted for money over explicit materials, treat it like you would any other form of blackmail. Report it to the appropriate authorities.

Tips if you are a victim of an Internet troll:

  • Never engage or encourage any of your friends to engage with the trolls.
  • Report the abuse and harassment to the service provider.  Most social media platforms have set up reporting sections that make this process easier.  Always review the “TOS” (terms of service) or “Code of Conduct” to determine how your troll is violating their policies.  It help the website to quicker remove the content.
  • If you fear for your life, report it to the authorities.

What is the difference between defamation, libel and slander?

  1. Defamation: An unprivileged false statement of fact which tends to harm the reputation of a person or company. This is a catch-all term for both libel and slander.
  2. Libel: Defamation which is written such as on a web site. Most on-line defamation occurs through libel by posting a web page, comment, bulletin board post, review, rating or blog post.
  3. Slander: Defamation that is spoken such as through an transcribed video, podcast or audio file.

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Contact Sue Scheff for media interviews.

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