Don’t feed the trolls.

How to handle trolls

Online trolls are individuals (or sometimes groups) who aim to create chaos and discord. Muck like the Daleks of Dr Who they aim to ‘exterminate’ their prey by targeted retorts, attacks or more, in order to justify their perspective. But in handling trolls, should you be like the billy goats gruff, or dance with them?

In our increasing online world and the availability that social media has created it is an increasing problem not just limited to public figures but also the average individual. Doctors can also fall victim to trolling when tackling health myths, action groups or as the result of vexatious patients.

The Centre for Countering Digital Hate has released its ‘Don’t feed the Trolls’ document which aims to support individuals with tackling online trolling. You can download the full report here.

How to handle internet trolls

An important factor to remember that most trolls do so because they are speaking from a place of pain. This may be to do with the topic matter, either a negative experience leading to a fixed belief. Trolls in this sense may change in time as shown in this podcast by Pat Flynn on why people really hate us online.

Some advocate negotiating with trolls like the first billy goat-gruff in the children’s fable. To try and convince the troll that you are not worthy of their ire and focus on what really is causing them pain. This can be effective with patients but only if supported with signposting to relevant services.

Others advocate negotiating with trolls like the second billy goat-gruff. To try bring them over to your perspective with evidence and reason. However caution of real trolls who will ignore reason in place of fixed beliefs.

Some advocate standing up to the trolls like the third billy goat gruff and hope to heroically send them into the river. Unfortunately this is rarely effective as most trolls; like the Daleks are near indestructible, and can multiply rapidly when provoked.

The guidance above recommends a different tactic. Switch off the trolls much like the Doctor would often do with the Daleks. This may not always be possible so it is important to use the method best suited to the reason for the trolling .

The guidance explains the troll playbook: as it outlines that trolls gain pleasure in hurting people. Trolls may bait you into defending yourself, particularly with the challenge of limited characters like on Twitter (280 characters), and they may often gang up on individuals to attack as a pack and aim to create a troll storm.

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Below is a summary of the actions of the guidance with added elements relevant to doctors:

During a troll storm:

  • Resist the urge to respond: replying in anger or fear is never sensible and against true trolls it will only stoke them further.
  • Block them immediately: If you are targeted, this can help to stop the onslaught.
  • Switch off app notifications for a while comfortable to you (a few hours at least): This prevents the urge to check and feed the storm further.
  • Take a break from social media and show yourself some compassion
  • If a health issue is involved, direct people to relevant services and your practice social media policy for ongoing contact.

After a troll storm:

  • Record the incident: screenshot offending posts with time, date and sender
  • Report: to the social media platform. If potentially criminal contact the police on 101 or if relevant a lawyer
  • Recruit help: there are several groups to support people who have been trolled, share anti-hate material or contact the CCDH at @CCDHate
  • As a doctor: contact your medical defence union and/or your local medical committee over next steps if this attack has come from patients. They can give you guidance particularly when tackling vexatious comments.

The document also includes advice for media outlets and social media companies.

If you have ever been targeted by online trolling or even find yourself edging into troll like behaviour then read the document and let’s see if we can continue to make the Internet a safer place for all.

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