It’s an unfortunate fact of life, as sure as death and taxes, that if you have an online community you may encounter trolls. In the broad sense, internet trolling is defined as someone who sows discontent, incites arguments, and generally tries to disrupt the normal course of the community. Often, the motivation for trolling is the sheer amusement on behalf of the instigator.
A Common Problem in All Shapes and Sizes
According to a recent study by YouGov.com, over one-quarter of Americans admitted to malicious online activity aimed at someone they did not know. This means trolling constitutes a significant portion of the online population and it’s bound to pop up in your community sooner rather than later.
“Trolling” or “Troll” really is a catch-all term and there are a variety of different types of trolls. Marketing guru Tom Hespos defines in this article the 6 types of trolls that can wreak havoc in an online community. They range from the playfully contrary to the downright malicious.
The reasons for trolling are likewise varied. Asking what makes a troll and what causes the behavior is a lot like asking the question “Why are there bad people in the world?” or “What motivates people to be mean?”
Since the answer to those questions have eluded offline society for a long time, we can safely say the answers to our internet trolling questions are likewise deep and difficult to determine.
The real question is: how do you deal with trolls in your online community?
Getting Your Community to Work Together
Often, the best way a community can deal with trolls is to police itself. True supporters and fans of the community have a vested interest in seeing it be a safe, productive environment. Amazon.com utilizes a peer review system for product reviews. Under Amazon, users can vote on reviews and whether or not they are helpful. Too many “no” votes on a review and it becomes hidden from view. Yelp utilizes a similar system for their reviews.
Your community can utilize a similar system for rating when a discussion goes off topic, doesn’t contribute, or crosses the line.
From a community management perspective, dealing with trolls and other troublemakers can be a bit of a tightrope walk. That is, at what point does earnest disagreement and energetic debate cross the line? Here’s a quick guide for community managers:
- Consider motivation: Ask yourself if the actions of the individual or individuals are contributing anything constructive to the discussion or community as a whole.
- Remember that disagreements can be beneficial: Your community may be a pretty boring place if everyone agrees on everything 100% of the time. While you want to keep things civil, be careful about being too quick to react to disruption as some of it is actually healthy for the community.
- Consider a warning system: Three strikes and you’re out? Temporary ban? When immediate expulsion seems harsh, devise a way to penalize perpetrators without jumping to exile. You do not want to create an environment where the entire community walks on eggshells so be prepared to be understanding and fair at times. After all, everyone loses their cool on the internet from time to time, right?
- ….But know where the line is: The blatantly violent, excessively vulgar, or hateful language has no place in any civil online community. When a member crosses the line, be prepared to take action to remove that individual from the community.
- Create community guidelines and enforce them: Every community needs a set of rules that govern what is and is not tolerated and accepted. As a community manager, be prepared to enforce them.
- Have a flagging system: Whether or not you utilize a peer review rating system, consider having a way for community members to flag specific posts or topics for review by a community manager or moderator. This is a good way to bring immediate attention to a potentially volatile situation.
There will always be disruptors in your online community. It is the duty of the community managers to enforce the rules of behavior governing that community and to take action where appropriate.
That is their job, but it is also the informal job of the community as a whole to ensure the community is a safe, productive environment where people want to participate without fear of hatred or harm.