Roughly four-in-ten Americans have personally experienced online harassment, and 62% consider it a major problem, according to a 2017 poll by Pew Research Center of over 4,000 Americans. This harassment doesn’t just affect personal social media accounts, but public sector social media pages too. As discussed during our “Trolls and their Tolls on Social Media Communicators” webinar with Brandi Bates, Public Information Officer at Santa Rosa County Board of Commissioners, we discovered that these public agencies experience more than their fair share of online trolling.

A Platform that Never Sleeps

Social media is a great resource for efficient communication and getting important messages out to your community. It’s also a great tool to show some personality behind your agency and highlight all the amazing things you do. But with the good comes the ugly, and since the beginning of the web, online trolls have been the bane of rational, civil internet users.

Trolls enjoy denouncing a post or message and take pleasure in provoking individuals online. And with social media always on and accessible from just about anywhere, trolls are also always available. This can be especially troubling for government agencies who have an obligation to prevent misinformation from being spread but can’t delete comments or don’t want to feed the trolls.

The 6 People You Meet Online

However, not everyone that disagrees with a message is considered a troll. In the webinar, Brandi Bates broke down the six basic personalities you come across on the internet.

    • Supporters encourage their colleagues to follow and often like and share your posts
    • Critics point out your perceived mistakes or typos. You should always respond and thank your critics
    • Upset followers have a legitimate complaint that you may be able to turn around, so address them quickly
    • Complainers are annoying but ultimately harmless
    • Haters hate your organization, and possibly hate you
    • Trolls are off topic, attacking, and offensive

Push the Positive in a Crisis

When facing a crisis, you will have the attention of your community. When you have their attention, it’s time to be positive. Brandi noted that people need to feel protected during a crisis, and the most important message is for you to show them that your agency is working hard to keep them safe despite ongoing challenges. “People don’t care what you know until they know that you care,” said Bates. The last thing you want to deal with in a crisis is a troll and while you may be tempted to delete, block or hide comments, the first amendment still applies even in a crisis, and you have to abide by it and protect your community with clarifying correct information.

Tackling a Troll

Even when you have the best intentions with your messaging, sometimes it can attract an unexpected audience. That’s right, trolls. Now taking down a troll will be different for each agency, as there are no hard and fast rules. In general, Brandi suggested treating communication on your social platforms like you would a news conference, and to keep in mind that you’re there to provide the facts. “Don’t react emotionally, stay on topic, and steer any off-topic or negative comments offline,” said Bates.

If you don’t have the resources for moderators, there are tools out there provided by the platforms that you can leverage. For example, Facebook and YouTube have comment moderation tools for your page, and Facebook actually allows you to block words and set profanity filters. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram also have options to report posts and abusive behavior.

Why Not Let the Haters Hate

One in four public record requests specifically reference social media content, and that number is only growing. Social media is considered limited to public forums, one that governs acceptable use of comment moderation. That means that social media is a public record (in all 50 states) and you’re held to it, not the platform. To protect your public and agency, you’ll want to:
1. Establish a social media policy for “no trolling” for your platform that outlines the
consequences of abusive or off-topic comments
2. Create or follow a comment moderation guide that allows moderation of inappropriate and
irrelevant content, while still respecting relevant opinions and First Amendment concerns
3. Archive social media, as no policy or guide is foolproof. With ArchiveSocial, this will also allow you to archive any comments that may be deleted.

If you’re looking for more resources against trolls, we have you covered:
One-page cheat sheet for comment response
“Trolls and their Tolls on Social Media Communicators” webinar replay
FAQ “Trolls and their Tolls”

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