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Tips for Academics: Managing Trolls

Harassment is a major problem online, especially for women. It manifests itself when people, referred to as trolls, attack or harass individuals and businesses. Their attacks tend to be cruel, relentless and very personal. If poorly managed, they can hijack your account, destroy the good vibes in your community or escalate to physical threats.

How to manage trolls

Although it can be emotionally tolling, we hope that trolls will not deter you from building a community of science lovers. Here are a few tips that you can use to manage online trolls:

24 hours rule

Gini Dietrich explains that “online trolls want the attention. They crave the defensiveness. They want you to get upset. Don’t give them that pleasure”. Instead, our most important suggestion is immediately writing a respectful response to each comment. But send that response 24 hours later, after reviewing it. This delay will allow emotions to simmer since your first reaction will probably be an emotional and incorrect one. It will also discourage trolls who typically look for instant gratification.

Be transparent

When they rear their ugly head, don’t hide the problem. Instead, write a post to acknowledge that trolling is happening and identify steps that you plan to take to address the issue. If it escalates to the point that you must delete comments and block users, let your followers know why you are doing it. You can even ask them to identify abusive posters and be there to support you.

Three strikes system

Although it can be hard, listen to what detractors have to say and, if you are comfortable, reply to their comments. We suggest having a three strikes system where you politely and briefly respond twice. After the third comment, suggest a private conversation, ignore or block them. The last thing that you want is to give them a platform.

Private conversations

Sometimes trolls want a genuine discussion, but do not have the social tact to express themselves in a polite manner. If you feel comfortable, you can suggest a private conversation where you ask them to break down their argument. Just remember to keep a professional tone and that you can end it at any moment. Having a heated back and forth discussions in public will only create an awkward environment in your online community.

Block trolls

Being an individual, instead of a business, gives you the leeway to block trolls without having to respond to their comments. To stop further harassment, remember to also report them.

Differentiate between a troll and a threat

While some comments can be hurtful, others could be threats. If you receive a threat, contact the police and seek counsel from your institution.

Keep records

If a user habitually abuses you and your peers, keep a record of what they say. Having this information is helpful when filing a police report.

Tools to fight harassement

Although they can be found on every social media platform, a disproportionately high percentage of online abuse occurs on Twitter because of the anonymity of the platform. To clear its reputation, the company has come up with a number of tolls to fight online bullying.

  • Mute: By muting a user you will no longer see their tweets in your feed. This feature is helpful against spammers.
  • Block: Blocking users prevents them from viewing your account, tagging you in a tweet or sending you a direct message. The only downside is that they can still mention you in tweets.
  • Report: You can report abusive users to Twitter. This can result in a warning, suspension or removal of their account.

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