Social media can be fun, but some people are less fun than others, and such people are often referred to as trolls.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines trolling as “antagonizing others online by deliberately posting inflammatory, irrelevant, or offensive comments or other disruptive content.” In my view, a person is trolling if they are both trying to solicit a reaction, and doing so in a manner that is disrespectful, insulting, obscene, or just plain dumb.
A troll is not necessarily a bot (a computer program that automates a repetitive task), although most bots are trolls. A troll can be a living, breathing human being, and may be your co-worker, neighbor, or relative. Regardless of who or what a troll is, they’re annoying, and if you spend any time on them they win! So your goal in dealing with trolls should be simply to get rid of them as quickly and effortlessly as possible, ideally in such a way that you’ll never have to deal with that particular troll again.
One of the things that gives trolls power on social media is the longstanding notion that we owe people a response if they take the time and effort to communicate with us. This flimsy premise applies reasonably well to, say, conversation with a person you’ve invited to join you for lunch. But when a random stranger accosts you online, the lunch analogy just doesn’t fit. It’s more like walking down the street and having a drooling angry pervert leap out of the bushes and start screaming nonsense, and the appropriate response is simply to avoid eye contact and keep moving.
Of course, if the drooling pervert is somebody you know, the social dynamics can get complicated. And the details of dealing with trolls online can be a bit complicated as well, if you’ve not done it before. For what it’s worth, I’ve summarized here my approach to dealing with trolls on Twitter and Facebook. (I also post on Instagram and Flickr and a few other places, but haven’t dealt with many trolls in those places.)
I post about politics quite a bit on Twitter, and trolls love that stuff. Consequently, I block trolls pretty much every day on Twitter. Sometimes I just go seek out a few to block, because there’s something satisfying about eliminating even just one of the millions of angry idiots who might try to waste my time in the future.
There are three tools you can use to deal with trolls on Twitter: mute, block, or report. The details of how to do this vary slightly between various Twitter apps, but the general concept is that you click on the options for a tweet (usually a small down-arrow in the top right of the tweet) as shown here:
Mute means you won’t ever see their tweets again. They won’t know you did this, which can be good (you won’t trigger a reaction) or bad (they can insult you freely, and others will see that but you won’t). But for a stranger whom you find slight annoying, this can be a good solution.
Block means they won’t see your tweets any longer. And they’ll get a notification that you’ve blocked them. Now, this isn’t rock-solid: if your tweets are public, they can still see them as long as they aren’t logged in under their own account. Which can be handy to know, when somebody blocks you. Oh, and if you’re following them, blocking makes you un-follow them as well.
Report is the nuclear option, for reporting to Twitter a person who is threatening you or others. I’ve never actually used that one.
Some people like to torture trolls before finishing them off, by retweeting and ridiculing them with taunts such as “bye, Felicia!” But I feel like the troll is winning if I spend any time on them, so I’m more a fan of the “block and keep moving” approach.
Facebook can be more complicated, because it’s more likely that you actually know the person involved. And there are a different set of tools available for managing trolls on Facebook.
The nearest Facebook equivalent to Twitter’s mute option is unfollow. For example, on the web browser interface, go to the person’s page, then click the “Following” button on their cover image, and click on the “unfollow <name>” option. Now you’ll never see their posts in your feed again. You can still go to their page to see their posts, and unlike Twitter’s mute, you’ll still see their comments on your posts.
If you don’t want a person to see your posts on Facebook, but feel a need to continue being Facebook friends (because it’s your boss, or your crazy uncle), you want to put them on the restricted list. Click on the “Friends” button on their page, then click on “Add to another list” as shown here:
Then you’ll see a list of your lists, and you can click on the list named Restricted. After that, this person will not see any of your posts that are shared with Friends only. If you set a post to Public, they’ll see that one. So, for example, when you post a photo of Thanksgiving dinner at your crazy uncle’s house, you can set that one to Public and he’ll see it, but he’ll never see your political posts that he so vehemently disagrees with.
Dealing with trolls should be quick and effortless, and should require no more thinking or emotion than swatting a mosquito. Hope that helps!