Most of us will end up using online communities like social media or Web forums to interact with others who share our interests, passions and desires. But a problem that makes this less enjoyable are the people who make a habit of posting stupid or caustic remarks about what is said on these online communities.
It is facilitated by the perceived distance that online services provide between their users even if they are local to each other. As well, there is a negligible cost in money and time associated with posting content to the various online communities thanks to the rise of affordable Internet services.
This problem has been made worse with the rise of social media like Facebook and Twitter because these platforms simplify the process of engaging with the various online communities that they facilitate. It also happens very frequently with online communities supporting common interests like news / public-affairs, popular TV shows, celebrities and the like, whether the communities are totally facilitated by the publisher / celebrity, or depend on other resources like social-media platforms. But it can also happen in other areas like computer gaming which also includes the various “party lines” set up in the many online multiplayer games for players to chat with each other.
The behaviour manifests as unreasonable criticism of a personality or business including what they do and how they interact with other stakeholders. It manifests either in text or image form, with the latter being in the form of memes or emoji sequences.
In some situations, it becomes worse where sexual innuendo is implied in the disgusting comments. This is typically targeted at a woman or an LGBTQ+ person and others who interact with them, something that was highlighted with the GamerGate saga. But it can also be anyone who stands their ground on particular issues, especially if they are a leader in government or business.
I have seen this behaviour for myself while following the Facebook-based online activity during a previous MasterChef Australia season when George Calombaris was asked by a female contestant to taste an item of food she was to prepare for a Service Challenge. Here, the contestant wanted him to check that the “trial sample” was OK to serve before preparing it in quantity as part of the challenge but the online chatter went towards sexual innuendo about him and the contestant, something that wouldn’t be out of place in a high-school playground or American college frat-house.
Similarly I have seen it with a small cafe I was visiting frequently and participating with their online presence where an online storm took place. At the time, a controversial fast-food joint was being built in a town near where the cafe was located was and this upset and divided the whole neighbourhood. What happened was that I stood up for the cafe maintaining its space by not allowing “every man and his dog” to place campaign flyers beside their cash register. It was in response to a protest group offering to place a stack of flyers near the till but the cafe had turned that offer down as a way of avoiding being overrun with all sorts of campaign material.
What can you do?
But when we participate in an online community, we need to have various approaches to deal with disruptive behaviour on that community. One of these approaches is to “hit it out with the facts” about the situation. In the MasterChef scenario, I was putting out the facts regarding the concept of the feedback loop that took place during the taste-test, something very similar to practices like showing rough-drafts of documents to teachers and employers as part of creating them or the computer software we use being subjected to beta testing before it is released. But I was stating the facts in a simple matter-of-fact manner without appearing to take sides and defend anyone.
As well you will have to simply call out the cyber-bullying in the forum for what it is. This may be as simple as writing a post to tell the trolls to “cut it out”. This will be the job of either the moderator and/or one or more forum participants.
This is in conjunction with defending the person or entity who is being vilified. For example, if the online activity is to do with a talent-quest show that uses audience-driven voting, use this voting mechanism to up-vote the personality who is being subjected to the online vilification especially if they demonstrate their prowess as a talent. This worked with a Dancing With The Stars talent-quest contestant who was deemed not to “fit the mould” for a TV talent-show contest and was subjected to a lot of online bullying.
Or simply many people on the forum can simply post commentary that supports that person or entity. It is more of effect when you simply mention their positive attributes or what they have done for you or your community.
For businesses, an army of regular patrons can continue to give them their business and encourage their online and offline social circle to visit them. As well, these regular patrons can also defend the business through its own social-media presence, whatever the platform.
You may find that the online community will offer to its users a mechanism to vote up or down comments or threads or even to “like” or “react to” a post or comment. Then the online community will have a view of its activity with all threads ranked by how they are voted or have the most positive reactions. Here, exploit these comment-voting or similar mechanisms to give more value to the sensible comments. But you may find that the trolls are gaming these systems in order to raise their foul comments or bury the good-quality material.
You may also need to know how to report trolls to the online community’s moderators or the online platform that the community is using. This can lead to the trolls being subject to disciplinary action by the online community or social-media platform, including being banned.
That same reporting can also be used as a path to allow the online community or the affected persons to instigate legal action against the trolls. It is due to the ability or requirement for the online community or social-media platform to keep these reports and related correspondence on record.
For that matter, an increasing number of jurisdictions like the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Germany have various forms of “online-harms” legislation or regulations in place that allow you to report trolling and similar harmful behaviour to their authorities. This allows these jurisdictions to, for example, prosecute the perpetrators or facilitators of trolling or other harmful behaviours in the online space through the criminal courts or seek injunctive relief against such behaviour. In such cases, you may be able to contact your jurisdiction’s online-safety government department or police force to report such activity under these laws.
Think carefully and thoughtfully about that post before you put it online
You also can lead by example through thinking hard about what you intend to contribute to those online communities you participate in before you post to them. You can also encourage your children who participate in online communities to think carefully about what they post or say in these communities. This approach can help with raising the tone of all online communities you are part of.
Leading by example and thinking carefully about what you publish can mean that you gain more social respect from your peers within and beyond the online communities that you participate in. To the same extent, those people who look up to you as an example like your kids or the people you mentor see you as a valid example of proper online behaviour.
Being familiar with the online platforms you use and what they are associated with is valuable in dealing with trolls and other online nuisances. This includes post and comment management tools like voting mechanisms or reporting mechanisms.
Be aware of those people or other entities who are being subjected to a poor experience on the online platforms you use and do whatever is in your power to protect and defend them. It also includes calling out any cyber-bullying activity that is going on in the online platform.
As well, think before you post or leave comments on an online platform – you are effectively publishing something for all to see on that platform. This can affect how others inside and outside the online community perceive you and doing the right thing can cause you to be respected by others in that community.