Troll Management 101

If you’ve hung around social media circles lately, it’s likely that you’ve encountered one: a troll.

These mythical creatures have become so prolific that they even have their own wikipedia entry:

In Internet slang, a troll (/ˈtrl//ˈtrɒl/) is a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people,[1] by posting inflammatory,[2] extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a forum, chat room, or blog), either accidentally[3][4] or with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotionalresponse[5] or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.[6]

While this sense of the word troll and its associated verb trolling are associated with Internet discourse, media attention in recent years has made such labels subjective, with trolling also used to describe intentionally provocative actions and harassment outside of an online context. For example, mass media has used troll to describe “a person who defaces Internet tribute sites with the aim of causing grief to families.”

In Catholic social media circles, I profoundly believe that trolls can actually lead us to sin. We toil venues like Twitter, Instagram or Vine with the stated objective of preaching the good news of the Gospel, but all too often are lead away from Christ by giving trolls treatment that is anything but Christian.

It’s probably sort of crazy for me to even mention — or have the audacity to try to blog about — troll management. I liken this to driving down the 405 freeway in LA and remarking that there is no traffic. That’s sure to induce a sig alert every time!

I run the risk today because the topic is fresh on my mind. I just finished delivering a social media webinar for Our Sunday Visitor on the topic of parishes using these tools. When I finished, I found I’d received a Twitter direct message from a friend alerting me to a particularly nasty troll and asking why I was following the person. In typical Lisa fashion, I had to admit that I had no idea I was following the troll in question, who was subsequently promptly unfollowed.

But it started me thinking about my approach to trolls.

Remarkably, I don’t think I actually encounter them all that often. What do they say, “Ignorance is bliss?” I tend to be so strategic in my use of these venues that I don’t give much time or energy to your garden variety troll. And I’ve definitely learned not to engage them, except in prayer. I’ve broken that personal rule in a few situations, but as a rule it’s one of my most consistent troll management tactics.

In general, when encountering a particularly nasty personality in social media I:

  • Note their presence
  • Read what they are saying (unless it becomes overly abusive, in which case they are quickly blocked)
  • Meet their trolly wisdom with silence
  • Pray silently and briefly for the troll in question

Perhaps I need to add “check to see if you’re friends with/following the troll” to this procedure. But that would mean clicking on their profile and being subjected to more of their abuse. I’ll have to think about that…

A question for you: What’s your “troll management policy”? Do you often encounter abusive or negative personalities in social media?

About Lisa M. Hendey

Lisa M. Hendey is the founder and editor of CatholicMom.com and the bestselling author of The Handbook for Catholic Moms and A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms.

  • http://www.jonathanfsullivan.com/ Jonathan F. Sullivan

    We’ve dealt with this issue many times on our diocesan Facebook page. The last page of this handout from Pilot New Media gives a great flowchart for dealing with internet trolls: http://www.pilotnewmedia.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/USCCB_Social-Media-Handouts_2011.pdf. It’s the basic pattern we use with our diocesan social media accounts.

    • lisahendey

      Phenomenal resource Jonathan! Thanks so much for sharing that here!

      • lisahendey

        And that flowchart is gold!

    • http://www.thepracticingcatholic.com/ Lisa Schmidt

      Wow. Excellent resource, Jonathan! Thanks for sharing it here.

  • Caroline Farrow

    Absolutely do not check to see whether or not anyone else is following them. That way lies madness.

    Ask yourself, how would you feel if you discovered that a friend or acquaintance of yours had interacted in a positive way with someone who perhaps had given you grief or abuse?

    They probably would have done so in all innocence, but it adds an extra layer of conflict and angst where none need to exist. We have enough to worry about without trying to police or warn others of those whom we perceive to be trolls. My experience is that most people figure out who to avoid without needing help or pointers, so I think the best thing to do is, as you say, block, ignore and pray, without worrying about who else they might be interacting with.

    We are called to be evangelisers, not internet policeman :-)

    • lisahendey

      Terrific advice Caroline!!

  • MenAreLikeWine

    It is amazing how many “trolls” spend a lot of time accusing others of being trolls.

    I hold to the traditional definition of “troll” in that intent is important. Someone who holds a different view to one isn’t a troll – even if it upsets one.

    In fact, I would go so far as to suggest that accusing someone of being a troll, simply because one disagree with them, is in fact trolling.


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