Social Media Communications: Dealing With Trolls on Twitter & Beyond

Recently, I got a real and personal taste of dealing with trolls on Twitter. It started innocently but quickly descended into something nasty. In the end, it was all just noise about nothing.

However, I’d lose my communications license if I didn’t use the moment to remind myself, our clients, and our entire field of social change makers when and how to deal with trolls on Twitter and beyond.

In 2013, then-freshman congressman Eric Swalwell had a habit of posting a selfie getting on/off planes. He told his constituents he’d come home every weekend, in stark contrast to his predecessor. He was flying 125 times/year and logging 700k miles.

screenshot of eric swalwell tweet of him boarding an airplane traveling homeIn a moment of pith, I responded to one of his tweets and called the whole thing #Swalwelling. He quickly adopted the term and for a few years, this became a way for him to remind his community how hard he was working on their behalf. There was even a local news story on him and the term in 2015.

Last week, he and I found ourselves on the same flight for the first time. To his credit, I hadn’t seen the congressman in YEARS, yet he recalled my name and the #Swalwelling thing instantly. He’s a really good politician.

We took a selfie together. I posted it to Twitter, tagged him, and he retweeted it before the plane even took off. Note – he has 1.4 million more followers than I do.

 

By the time our flight landed, our timelines were filled with trolls.

selfie of dan cohen and representative swalwell on an airplane

The trolls were hurling memes and other derogatory comments straight out of the right-wing media playbook. Maybe this is normal for him as a public figure, but this is NOT the norm for me. The trolls were mean to the Congressman and even said a few nasty things about me.

I’m sharing all this to say that even the most innocuous posts can lead to trolls emerging.

So, when that happens, what can we do?

 

Don’t Engage:

The first rule of dealing with trolls is to avoid engaging with them. Trolls thrive on attention, so the less you give them, the less likely they will continue their behavior. Ignoring them may beget silence.

Block and Report:

If a troll is being particularly disruptive or abusive, you can block and report them. This will prevent them from being able to interact with you in the future and may result in their account being suspended.

Don’t Take It Personally:

Remember that the troll’s behavior is not a reflection of you or your content. Trolls often target people based on perceived vulnerabilities, and their behavior says more about them than it does about you or your organization. They often are just screaming talking points fed to them by people who wouldn’t support your work.

Use Humor:

If you feel comfortable, you can respond to the troll with humor. Trolls are often trying to provoke an emotional response, and responding with humor can defuse the situation and show that you are not taking their behavior seriously.

Seek Support:

If a troll is causing you significant distress or anxiety, consider reaching out to a trusted friend, family member, or mental health professional for support. In the old days, Twitter support may still be up and running and could be engaged for assistance. You might seek advice from online communities or forums for dealing with online harassment should the trolling continue.

The trolling seems to have ended as quickly as it began. But that doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen again.

Dealing with trolls can be emotionally taxing. Take care of your mental health and don’t hesitate to step away from Twitter if you need a break. In my case, it was easy to ignore them. In your situation, protect yourself and your organization first before you worry about engaging.

Need help navigating the world of PR and social media?

We’re a full-service social media marketing agency with over two decades of experience in political PR and social media strategy. Contact our team of experts to learn how we can help build your online presence.

 

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