Published: 16 July 2019

Practical tips for dealing with trolling online

Social media is largely beneficial for charities of any size, growing our reach bigger than ever and allowing instant communication with our stakeholders, but this can come at a price. There’s an increasing concern about trolling of charities on social media, and the impact this can have on staff and charity reputation.

When you’re managing social media accounts that are impacted by trolling, you can find yourself wading through pages of upsetting and hateful comments. Even though the abuse may be irrational and unfounded, it can still be draining on your time and emotional energy. Plus there’s the added complication that some strategies which may be recommended for individuals targeted on social media such as blocking are not an option for a brand account.

Here are some practical strategies you can use to get through a trolling situation. When Kidscape work with young people and staff who are being bullied, we tell them to become an ice mountain. A troll, like any other bully, is trying to find footholds to get to you. By becoming an ice mountain, they’re not going to make any progress as there’s nothing to climb. Here’s how you can become an ice mountain and get through the trolling together as a team:

Ensure trolling is covered in your anti-harassment policy

You wouldn’t tolerate someone making threats or showing bullying behaviour to a member of staff in person, and trolling should be taken seriously, too. Recognise the impact of trolling on the team and make sure social media managers receive help and support throughout and after the situation.

Communicate internally

Throughout the trolling situation, there’s plenty of stakeholders who may need to understand what is going on. The fundraising team, trustees and senior leadership should be aware of what is going on and, if necessary, be briefed on what trolling looks like and not to engage with it. Develop an action plan together, and make sure anyone with a personal social media account is taking measures to stay safe.

Discuss whether or not to engage with it

Make sure everyone’s on the same page about engaging with the trolls. Often it’s best not to respond as this gives positive reinforcement to bullying behaviour, but sometimes if trolling surrounds a particular issue it may be advisable to release a statement that you then stick to. Give the trolls as little publicity as possible, and avoid a public dispute. As tempting as it might be to publicly call out their behaviour, this gives them the attention they crave and may prolong the trolling episode.

Be a broken record

If you’ve decided to release a statement, repeat it like a broken record. Hold your position and only provide additional information after careful consideration and if it is in the best interest of the charity. Trolls are not interested in reasoned argument. They are looking for more grounds to attack so the less you give, the better.

Fog it out

Words can hurt, so surround yourself with a protective fog to filter it out before it reaches you. Imagine something around you which makes you feel safe and catches bullying comments. Some people like to imagine a favourite pet, or a duvet, or a marshmallow castle. Be creative and come up with something that’s personal to you. Let it be a protective layer between yourself and the words. If a member of the team is under a high level of personal attack, consider another staff member acting as their fog, managing their social media accounts in the short term so they don’t have to keep reading hurtful posts and comments.

Report

All social media channels have rules, and if a comment is in violation of those rules, don’t be afraid to report it. Other sources of support include the Professionals Online Safety Helpline (POSH) and the National Stalking Helpline.

Support each other

If you’re running the social media account yourself, don’t be afraid to ask for help from your colleagues. On the flip side, if you’re on a comms team and not directly fielding the trolls, check in with your colleagues who are and ask them if they need any help to feel better. This is not a situation anyone should feel like they have to handle alone. Staff members who have been targeted by trolls may benefit from additional support such as counselling or access to an employee assistance programme.

Kidscape’s new Help With Bullying In The Workplace programme empowers staff and leadership to create a safe and supportive culture for those that are seeking more support.


Read more like this

Tips to protect the mental wellbeing of social media managers


Zoe Williams, communications manager, Kidscape

Zoe Williams is Communications Manager at Kidscape, the UK's longest-running anti-bullying charity. Kidscape provides information, advice and support to anyone affected by bullying.