âI disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say itâ. While some credit this line to Voltaire, others disagree and like everything else â today there is a social media debate on this quote attribution as well.
It is however not relevant to this topic as to who really said this other than the fact that I want to state that those words echo my world view, and that my world view is quivering in its boot with petty debates and trolling, which is now rampant on social media. And whether it is Facebook, News, Twitter and even to my horror LinkedIn, there are trolls waiting to bait, trap or heckle persons or brands. As a marketer, I struggle with dealing with this as I am sure many of you do too. So how can one manage this onslaught of trolls?
In order to handle the trolls better one needs to understand their world view and motivations. But firstly letâs examine why we suddenly see this trolling phenomenon. I mean it wasnât too long ago that the only place one got heckled at was doing a poor stand-up in a rough bar! What changed?
Using Occamâs razor to answer complex questions as I usually do, I find that the answer is simple (but between you and me thatâs what the razor is supposed to do). So the answer is that trolls have been always there in our midst, but we couldnât spot them because they were hiding in plain sight. When I look at my personal social network, I find that the friends or mostly acquaintances who have morphed into trolls were surprisingly the quiet ones and the boisterous ones are getting trolled. Perhaps this is a coincidence but it neatly fits into my little theory on trolls which I will propound disregarding my obvious confirmation bias.
I believe that three great discoveries were responsible for the rise of the trolls. With the advent of social media, trolls discovered a voice they did not think they previously had and more importantly, they discovered that anonymity has great power and no responsibility. And while they were celebrating these two discoveries, they made a third big discovery that they were not alone in this universe. There were other trolls who thought like them, but were invisible too, because they had been silent all this while.
With regards to the world view of this new tribe, one can make the assumption that Voltaireâs (or whosesoeverâs) words have little relevance and that a troll does what a troll does just to get the attention. Secondly, trolls in essence behave like mobs, i.e. you cannot reason with them.
One could very reluctantly say that they are a fight club of sorts, and I realise that I am making this reference to a cult movie with a higher social goal just to get on the good side of any trolls who might read this article. But quickly I realise, as should you, that there is really no good or bad side for a troll because the motivation is only to get attention and too at any cost. The only cost I see them incur is time, and they seem to have an abundance of it.
So one could summarise all the above and define a troll as someone trying to get unreasonable attention by being unreasonable and having an unreasonable amount of free time to be unreasonable.
I have been intentionally tautological in my definition to impress upon you the near impossibility of having a meaningful exchange with a troll, so given that how should a brand or a person handle being trolled?
Firstly, for brands, it is important that they distinguish a troll from a genuinely dissatisfied customer. They are sometimes eerily similar, but one can determine their intent by simply asking to have an offline conversation on their grievance, as most genuine customers are interested in getting their problems resolved such customers will readily engage with you. The ones who refuse to do so are probably trolls. My suggestion is to continue asking for a private conversation to resolve the issue till it is clear whether the person is a genuine customer or a troll.
And if you are dealing with a troll, always remember that the intention of the troll is only to get attention by annoying you and getting a misstep out of you. Your best bet is to control your emotion and deny the attention.
My mantra for trolls is as follows.
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