Six Tips for Dealing With Trolls
If you build an online community of a certain population, you’ll inevitably come across those problematic, fun-killing individuals known as Trolls. There’s an old saying that says that “One bad apple spoils the bunch,” but you don’t have to let that happen for your community. While most would jump immediately to banning these ne’er-do-wells, I personally feel like banning is the worst possible option to use when you’re trying to build a community. First and foremost, since you’re building a community, you’re trying to be inclusive, rather than exclusive. Secondly, not all Trolls are intentionally problematic. Some are simply hyperactive, immature, overly-dramatic, or otherwise a bit off-center, but genuinely have an interest in being a part of your community. To that end, here are a few tips on how you can deal with the inevitable Trolls of your community.
1. Clearly Define Your Rules
Make sure that when you’re setting up your forums or comments you clearly define what the rules are. Make sure that you outline to your prospective members how you expect them to behave. It can be possible to be too stifling with your rules, killing any chance your community has of growing organically around your members’ personalities, but don’t let that scare you away from setting some very basic ground rules. Things like not attacking other members, respecting the moderators when they’re trying to enforce your rules, and keeping discussions on topic are all very simple rules that it’s perfectly reasonable to expect people to abide by. Once you’ve written your rules, post them somewhere very visible to new members. Your registration page and confirmation emails are a great start. Revisit your rules annually – or when your site has major feature upgrades – to ensure they are all current and cover conduct on all parts of your website. Putting all of this in place gives you strong footing should a Troll ever try to drag you into a fight on the boards about their conduct.
2. Take it Off the Boards
If a Troll does show up harassing other members or generally spamming your boards, lock the threads or posts quietly and take the matter up with the person via private messages or email. Like misbehaving high-school students, Trolls are often just looking to get some attention. Making a big deal of things on the boards gives them exactly what they want and only entices them to come back for more. Sending a private message with links to the rules and a request to post according to those rules is always my first move with a Troll.
3. Kill Them With Kindness
As I mentioned, Trolls are often looking for attention in the worst ways possible. The anonymity of the internet gives them a huge advantage over the class clown. They know this, and tend to go for broke when confronted by moderators. You can expect them to start mouthing-off about the site’s staff, the unfairness of the rules, or complaining about how other people are acting. They’re just doing it to get a rise out of you. For whatever reason, they often find it funny to get you upset. No matter what they do to provoke you, always take the high road. Close or delete posts as necessary (only delete if it’s openly offensive. Don’t delete simply because they “called you out”). Whatever you do, don’t start arguing with them. It’ll bring you down to their level. By being nothing but polite and calm with them, you affirming that you are, in fact, the one in charge around here. Power struggles are not worth getting into when you already know that you have all the power in the situtaion. It’s your site.
4. Let the Community Self Police
Generally speaking, if you’ve proven to your community that you’re looking out for their best interests, they’ll handle much of the Troll-policing on their own. Often times, loyal and active community members will quickly dismiss Trolls and other members will follow suit. As long as this happens quickly, and without turning into a fight, the Troll will generally just go away on their own. Remember, what these people want is to get attention. If they’re quickly written off by your board’s members, they’ll find fewer and fewer people to give them that attention, grow bored, and move to another site.
The thing to look out for, though, are those “Trolls” that aren’t malicious, but rather misguided. If you can identify that a poster is unintentionally causing people headaches, make sure that they aren’t attacked or chased away by your loyalists. In the case of someone who actually does want to just be part of the conversation, it’s ultimately your responsibility as a community leader to help show them how best to do that.
5. Give Them Lots of Rope
I’m a huge stickler for the rules, which is why my first item on this list is to clearly define those rules. If a Troll is bothering your site’s members and generally causing havoc, I always say give them lots of rope. Be nothing but professional with them, ensuring that you at no point violate your own rules. Going off and attacking them verbally does nothing but send the message to your community that you expect them to abide by rules that you yourself have no interest in adhering to. You don’t want that. That’s the kind of thing people hate about politicians, and they’ll hate it in a community leader as well. Play by the rules, and if your Troll is persistent they’ll easily put themselves into positions where action becomes clearly necessary. And then…
6. Yes. You Can Ban Them
I genuinely hate to ban people. I feel like kicking people out is completely antithetical to what community-building is supposed to be about. That said, there are times that you just have to. There are those very few people among even the Trolls who are online purely to harrass others. For whatever reason, they have designed their online experience to be focused on ruining the experience for others. If you’ve defined your rules, notified the Troll that they’re breaking them, and they persist in pestering your board’s members, then ultimately you will likely have to ban them from your site. And if you’re anything like me, you’ll feel bad about it every time, no matter how bad the Troll.
What about your site? How do you deal with Trolls? Do you have any great advice to share? What about your worst Troll experience? I’d love to hear your stories.