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Trolls on social media

Neeraj Chaturvedi, Group CMO, Housing.com, PropTiger.com and Makaan.com takes up the topic of trolling and evaluates the reasons behind it. He gives tips on how not to become a victim in the virtual world

Neeraj Chaturvedi

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”. While some credit this line to Voltaire, others disagree and like everything else – 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 let’s examine why we suddenly see this trolling phenomenon. I mean it wasn’t too long ago that the only place one got heckled at was doing a poor stand-up in a rough bar! What changed?

Using Occam’s razor to answer complex questions as I usually do, I find that the answer is simple (but between you and me that’s what the razor is supposed to do). So the answer is that trolls have been always there in our midst, but we couldn’t 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 Voltaire’s (or whosesoever’s) 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.

  1. If you are being trolled for something which you put out that was wrong or sounded wrong, simply accept the mistake and apologise. Do it quickly. There are enough and more examples of brands doing just that e.g. Dove put out an ad in social media, which showed a black woman changing into a white woman and the product description said “for dark to normal skin” (as if dark skin is not normal). They got trolled for racism but the brand was quick to take responsibility for their mistake and apologised for it.
  2. If you are being targeted and trolled by fake news or being quoted out of context, just ignore the troll if you can do so. If it is not possible to ignore and is causing damage to the reputation then deal with it with facts and not emotions. Keep your response factual and logical, so that the troll’s mistruths are exposed.
  3. If on your social media feeds a fan/follower is getting trolled immediately, put a stop to it, the onus of protecting your fans/followers is on you.
  4. If a troll is a witty and intelligent, respond with humour; it usually disarms the troll and gets you your own fans. In fact, use humour to point 2 if you can.
  5. Do not get baited into discussions and always remember you have the right to remain silent.

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of BestMediaInfo.com and we do not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)

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