How to Deal with Trolls Now That You’ve Gone Viral

Image by Johnny Silvercloud via Flickr. Some rights reserved. https://bit.ly/2Gfznjz

Image by Johnny Silvercloud via Flickr. Some rights reserved. https://bit.ly/2Gfznjz

Some people prefer to stay private, and I can’t blame them; putting yourself out there makes you a target for hateful, argumentative people. And it’s 100x worse now to be visible and on social media than it was in the 2000s. The climate online can be downright toxic. That might legitimately stop you from using social media at all, let alone promoting yourself.

I know that I and probably many, many other branding experts and coaches are advising you to promote your thought leadership and expertise and to find ways to demonstrate your value online, but I also know that if you do that, the possibility exists that you may have to deal other people’s opinions about what you write, and that can be friendly and adult-like in nature or it can be downright uncivil.

Why would someone subject themselves to that?

Well, for any of the following reasons (and you may have your own – please share!):

1)     You have a mission. There is some big change you would like to contribute to and it requires sharing information that is new, in opposition to a dominant paradigm, and/or potentially scary, but the few that you reach are worth the potentially many who will protest and the high emotional fall-out.

2)     There is something you learned that can save many from pain and/or loss.

3)     You intend to be or are a speaker, thought leader, and expert who is sought out by others, and the desire to put your career on autopilot is worth dealing with others’ comments

4)     You are able to focus on the good that can come from it, and the people with whom you will resonate and connect. 

5)     The potential for income that can generate from online activity is worth it.

Like anything, the payoff has to exceed the pain or price.

If you have a friendly worldview, then the payoff is the people. You will love hearing from people and watching them engage in your content. You’ll naturally want to engage back with those who are friendly, but avoid those who are negative.

If you don’t, you will dread comments. You may be more apt to respond to and focus on the trolls than the people who were receptive to your content.

You could be in between, which is a balance worth achieving if you’re going to put yourself out there.

I have enjoyed several articles and a couple videos going viral, and have responded to various kinds of comments from grateful, to creepy, to friendly oppositions, to personal insults, to death threats.

Below are some policies I follow because they tend to enable me to continue enjoying sharing content with the world, even if it is a world divided:

  • Be intentional about what I want my audience to experience, and have it be something positive: Hope, relief, peace of mind, prevention, wisdom, fun, etc.
  • Stay in that emotional place when I write.
  • Re-read it from that same emotional place and edit anything that feels out of alignment.
  • Watch for immediate engagement, and thank, respond to each individual.
  • When the comments start pouring in, batch my time responding to them.
  • Thank those who have positive feedback or are sharing.
  • Engage those who left vague feedback – ask them to share more.
  • Engage those who left negative feedback – not from a confrontational place, but from a curious place – seek to understand before seeking to be understood.
    • If negative feedback includes personal insults, name calling, I either attempt to disarm the troll or I block the individual.
    • If the negative feedback includes threats or sexually-charged content, I report the content. I have even notified an individual’s hometown police department when one comment threatened suicide.
    • If engagement continues, aim to explain my point of view once in as few characters as possible.
    • Do not engage further. If there’s more to get off my chest, I write it down – only for me. I let it sit overnight and only consider sharing it if doing so supports my initial intention for sharing the content in the first place.
    • I don’t block or report individuals to be spiteful. I aim actually to avoid reacting emotionally to anyone’s negative posts. Bullies want an emotional reaction, because it gives them some sense of control/influence. I will weigh very carefully if I can disarm a troll.

You could say trolls are generally naysayers, small-minded thinkers, resistant and stubborn, miserable and just wanting to spread their misery to others.

Or you could accept that trolls are in some pain and need an outlet. Social media makes for easy targets. Hurt people hurt people.  One way to disarm a troll is actually to show them compassion.  I love the story of comedienne Sarah Silverman changing the worldview of the man who tried to troll her.

I may not always feel like I have the emotional fortitude to go down the rabbit hole with someone trying to spew negativity. I also haven’t got time for the pain. I could really let it get to me, but I spent far too many years letting what other people thought of me bring me down. I sometimes have to decide I’m better off not letting it in.

At other times, I feel invincible and impervious to letting other people bring me down. I’ll do what I can to help other people feel that good.

By all means, I resist the temptation to vilify someone else. Attempting to make someone else look bad doesn’t align with who I really want to be, and it just makes me look and feel worse. 

You may or may not be able to change some people’s minds, but you won’t change everyone’s mind. Know when to pull back your energy from the effort of defending who you are or what you think or feel. Consider re-applying that energy.

If you let trolls silence you, you are giving them that power. Far too many solutions are stifled by the fear of what others might think of them.  Nothing worth inventing was ever unanimously supported. You don’t need everyone to like you, and you don’t need everyone to “get it.”  If you’re going to leverage social media, it’s better to accept that not everyone will like you.

Social media may close the gap between you and people you wouldn’t want to know, but it also opens you up to the people and resources that can actually help you put your brilliance to work toward a meaningful contribution. 

Ultimately, if you choose to receive the benefits of the visibility a viral social media post or video can give you, there are ways to manage trolls.

Social media has the potential to make us or break us. Know what you want, and determine what you’re willing to endure to get it.  

If you do decide to share, you are taking on the responsibility of the responses it generates. Use these best practices:

  • Engagement is a good measure of good content, so welcome commentary and reward your audience with your acknowledgment. 
  • When you have a high volume of people respond, batch your time and prioritize comments to respond to based on your original intention.
  • If you have an emotional reaction, write out your feelings just for YOU first. Let that simmer for 24 hours and only include in your response what aligns with your original intention of what you want your audience to feel, learn or experience.
  • Do not engage with a troll past 2 responses – the first to understand, the second to be understood.
  • Digital responsibility means creating a safe space for people to share, so consider using blocking or reporting features if someone threatens the safety of your (or their) space.
  • Take the high road. Rarely does dropping the mic workout online. Someone always tends to pick up the mic right after you and keep the discussion going.
  • Leverage viral visibility by inviting people to engage offline.  

Peter Gabriel – Big Time

The official Big Time video. Directed by Stephen R. Johnson. The fourth single to be taken from Peter’s fifth studio album. The album was his first one to have a proper title and So was a watershed release in his career.

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