The Taming of Trolls

Last week I made an experience that showed me there is always something more to learn in social media: I got attacked on twitter with a bunch of false accusations and realized I had no idea how best to cope with the situation.

The Taming of Trolls image The Taming of Trolls

The Incident

It started late Friday night German time (best social media time in US-timezones). I checked my twitter conversations and found the following tweet (please excuse the confusing timestamps of the screenshots as the conversation got deleted as expected and I took the screenshots at different times):

The Taming of Trolls image Tweet 14The Taming of Trolls

I have to admit this took me totally off guard. I have no clue and have not really figured it out in the following conversation where these 3 months came up. I registered on twitter in 2010 just after we went public with the German version of our startup.

This said, I think my response was fairly moderate:

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This was obviously not convincing:

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Maybe I should have stopped at this, but I was really taken aback by his insistence on denouncing me:

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He then again came with the three months, this time accusing me and my company exploreB2B of being “fake”:

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While I am probably guilty of sending him a Direct Message at some point (if he followed me) inviting him to exploreB2B and to publish an article, my account already had a large following at that time.

This time I tried to give proof of me being active and growing a following for a much longer time span and me and my project being legit by giving a reference:

The Taming of Trolls image Tweet 52The Taming of Trolls

Now it started to get really weird:

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The truth is, I signed up on Twitter in 2010 with exactly this pic of my dog (a brown Newfoundland Dog), it refers to my Twitter handle which translated to English means something like „The lady with the dirty bear“, the dirty bear being the dog in the pic. When I signed up I had no clue about Twitter, I actually had no great plans of being active – I signed up to give our newly created company account @exploreB2B a first follower and did not give my choice of Twitter handle and pic much thought.

The Taming of Trolls image Tweet 72The Taming of Trolls

By this time my co-founder/brother had noticed what was going on and tried to tweet some peace into the discussion:

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Obviously my opponent was not willing to let other people join in the discussion:The Taming of Trolls image Tweet J31The Taming of Trolls

Back to my dispute.

I admit to having had many discussions about my profile pic, still this pic stands out and started so many great conversations on Twitter that I am going to keep it – at least for now.

The Taming of Trolls image Tweet 81The Taming of Trolls

So now, it were my tweets that were offensive, which from my point of view is fairly crazy, since no one is forced to follow me on twitter, I am not insulting or spamming anyone and many people like my tweets.

The Taming of Trolls image Tweet 91The Taming of Trolls

Ok, I was becoming angry. Sorry.

Now comes what I consider the best tweet so far:

The Taming of Trolls image Tweet 101The Taming of Trolls

I am still not so sure, when the conversation turned from him falsely accusing me of one thing after the other into me attacking him, maybe someone can explain it to me:

The Taming of Trolls image Tweet 112The Taming of Trolls

Next he accused me of humiliating him and blocked me.

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What actually shocks me most about this episode, is that this guy actually claims he is a social media consultant. That being so, he might actually be more impudent than I ever suspected and been doing this on purpose to gain attention from a Twitter account with a large following…

The Taming of Trolls image Profile K1The Taming of Trolls

Also remarkable is that by the time I am writing this article he is still following my proposedly fake project and a while ago he asked me to be his contact on LinkedIn …

Lessons learned:

In social media especially if you have a large following you will never make everybody happy. There will always be some people who do not like you and what you are doing.

When this episode took place, I was surprised to realize that I had no clue how to react on such an attack. I needed advice to be better prepared if any similar situation should arise in the future.

I asked around in my social networks. I got some really good advice (see a collection underneath the article) the prevailing one being: Don’t feed the trolls, take discussions out of the public into the private and consider the effect on you personally and your company.

My conclusion from all answers and tips is: There is not one answer to this question which applies to all situations: Not all trolls are equal, not all accusations should be left uncommented and sometimes ignoring hurts your reputation more than making a public statement.

The bottom line – or the lack of one

We have had numerous discussions about this inside our company. My brother and cofounder Jonathan offered me two different and controversial approaches to this:

  1. Ignore the troll completely (not offering him any publicity at all).
  2. Attack indirectly. Retweet anything he tweets, ask followers to comment on this, show the troll you have full support. Refrain from defending yourself and instead have your followers defend you.

He admits that the second approach is risky, and he himself probably would not have the guts for this. The point is that this can bring you into the powerful position of not being an active participant in the conversation but more of a moderator – but you will also bring yourself into the risky position of giving the troll enough publicity for the accusations to reach more people. Would that be worth it?

To me personally the second one sounded great – at first. After careful consideration I tend to believe with the usual loose connection to ones following I think it risky. And what is even worse: You are giving a troll a huge stage, offering him the opportunity to step into the role of a martyr.

It seems that this situation has no perfect solution. Ignoring the troll means leaving accusations against you uncommented. Reacting puts you in the risk of feeding him.

Even though I find it hard not to respond to blatant lies, I will try to follow the advice in the future and ignore this kind of provocation as often as possible.

According to J. R. R. Tolkien’s fantasy books, Trolls turn to stone when the sunlight catches them. In reality, sunlight just makes them more visible. Probably the best way of dealing with this is:

“Don’t feed the trolls.”

Feel free to comment on this. Was this something I need to get used to? Maybe even a fairly mild case? Or a tough one? Maybe even worth of legal action?

I asked for advice and guidance on social networks, and I want to highlight some of the great answers I got here – thanks again to all of you for sharing your thoughts!

Doug Kessler, Velocity Partners: “Hard to make the call without knowing the details.  In general I try to rise above the trolls and ignore. But if you can contact them directly (and diplomatically) it can help. Doing it in public often goes wrong…”

“When we’ve got bog-standard abuse on our blog, I tend to email the person saying, ‘Sorry you feel that way…etc’ and 99% of the time they back right down.  But that’s for decent folk who got a bit heated up.  Real trolls will just enjoy the attention.”

AcquireB2B“When it comes to trolls, I’d say ignore. There’s a difference between targeting a person and targeting a company. I believe individuals can ignore with fewer repercussions than a company.”

Katherine Kotaw, Kotaw Content Marketing: “If the accusations are personal, I’d probably ignore.  If the accusations affect your business, I would most likely take action but outside of social media. But remember that what you say in a private note, per Doug’s suggestion, could be made public.  So diplomacy is critical.  Let any response sit for a while before hitting the “send” button. 

Also, consider the accuser.  A person who spreads lies via social media may have already garnered a bad reputation (chances are the offender has done this before.)  So some of the “clean up” may be done for you.  People will disregard rants of constant complainers.  

My advice is somewhat generic because not all lies are equal.“

Nick Allen, Vodafone New Zealand,  “Difficult one. @mercerdiversity and @mercerinsights have a disgruntled employee who has sent 10s of thousands of tweets to their account, many of them slander and attacking them as being homophobic and untrustworthy. The funny thing is you would only see the tweets if you followed him. Or we’re scrolling for brand mentions of Mercer. Quite quickly you would see that his comments are far too frequent and extreme to be reality. You could report the account, but unless others are listening/retweeting I would monitor but not respond.”

“If they’re already spreading lies their reputation will proceed them. People will know its not true. And yes, any response to serious accusations should be approached offline after consulting with your team.”

And here are some more tips from Twitter:

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This article was originally published on exploreB2B:, where you can also find some great comments!

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