Dealing With Social Media Trolls


One of the unpleasant things that comes up periodically when skinny-dipping in the great social media sea is dealing with trolls. You know, the people who fling inflammatory or unkind things around, or – not to put too fine a point on it – are just jerks. They are generally few and far between in the greater social media population, but you eventually will encounter them. Here’s how I handle these beasties.

The first thing NOT to do is engage them. Don’t get into a pissing contest with these people, because you’re just wasting your time, and at worst you can become a troll yourself. Unless you’re a social worker doing some pro-bono work, just…don’t…do it.

Instead, if somebody starts flinging poo in your direction on Twitter, for example, don’t hesitate to just block them (blocking means that you can no longer see their tweets, and they can no longer see yours). I don’t even bother engaging folks like that before I hit the block button. A lot of folks seem reluctant to do that, and instead feel compelled to spend valuable time trying to win the troll to their point of view or engage them in a substantive discussion. If that’s what you want to do, that’s fine. Good luck.

As for me, I don’t have the time or patience for people who are negative, vengeful, foul-mouthed, etc. For me, Twitter is both a business tool and a social forum where I’ve made quite a few real friends, but I value my time and the time of those with whom I interact. Trolls don’t. Simply put, I’d rather spend my time with nice people than someone who wants to drag me down.

The principle is the same on other platforms like Facebook. You can unfriend people who are driving you nuts (although there are other reasons you might choose to unfriend people that aren’t “negative”) or, if they’re really obnoxious, block them.

Trolls aren’t always overtly or initially obnoxious. Some are probably nice people (maybe), but are what I would characterize as “unacceptably high maintenance.” I hooked up with someone on Twitter and Google+ who seemed nice at first, but after a while became a real nuisance “know it all” who was really driving up my blood pressure. After putting up with this for a while, I came to the realization that I’d had to put up with people like that now and again during my career at the National Security Agency because I didn’t have a choice. In social media, I do. Block. Block. Block. My relief was palpable.

If you’re using Twitter (or Facebook) for business, as I do, you’ll also encounter folks who aren’t necessarily trolls, but can sometimes come across that way. For example, some get frustrated with promotional tweets and are happy to flame you, either nicely or not. If the person brings this up in a civil manner, I’ll take the time to explain that it’s an essential part of marketing for my business, and nicely point out that if it really bothers them, I won’t be at all offended if they unfollow me. I also maintain a separate “promo-free” Twitter account that they can follow instead. But if someone just flames me about it…I just push the block button. Better for me, better for them.

Now, some folks will point out legitimate concerns that you should consider, so don’t just blow off anybody and everybody who has something critical to say. And always, always be nice in your responses, even if the person has tossed a real fireball at you. You can never go wrong by sticking to the moral high ground in your public discussions, and these discussions can be very public!

And that brings me to the real bottom line. As you’re reaching out to other folks on social media, be it for business or to make friends, stick with people who are looking “forward and upward” and giving out positive vibes to their social media circle, and do the same for them. Leave the trolls behind.


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8 thoughts on “Dealing With Social Media Trolls

  • Brian Randleas

    Well said. I make this my motto in real life also. At my age I needn’t waste minutes that I cannot get back if I have not enjoyed the process of wasting them. -Brian Randleas

  • Travis Hill

    Unfortunately trolls are a way of life with this new internet thing. In the fifteen years I’ve worked on the web (legit jobs like running tech support for a computer mainboard mfg that catered to ‘enthusiasts’ (think the same types who will try to make a 400hp engine into a 750hp engine)), I’ve come across enough sub-types that I could write an entire non-fiction book on the subject.

    I’ve found the best way to deal with them is to either ignore them, or present a rebuttal that has zero insults, zero insinuations (that the troll is an idiot or misinformed), and takes into account what the troll is crying about. Trolls and the parasites that feed from troll excrement find niceness, kindness, and understanding toxic, and cannot survive in such a well-reasoned environment for long.

    Some trolls, like any hardy virus or bacteria, have a much stronger constitution and can survive where no others can, but eventually they all succumb to the toxicity of your unwillingness to engage them back in trollish behavior.

    Ignoring them is akin to ‘bleaching’ or ‘disinfecting’, while engaging them is like using a weaker form of the disease to create an immunity (remember, sometimes the vaccine can make you ill, and can sometimes lead to infection for a little while).

    Usually best to simply expunge them quickly.

  • Aisling Hurley

    This just happened to me today by email. Am ignoring now but very difficult. Cant shake the horrible feeling of being let down. Amazing your post came in just when I needed to hear it.