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Social Media, Toxic People & Trolls

October 3, 2017

The only way to win with a toxic person is not to play.

One of the biggest challenges that social media faces and that undermines the value or appeal of social media is effectively dealing with toxic people and trolls that intentionally harm other people's experience for one reason or another.

Why do they do it? Some feel empowered by manipulating others' emotions. Some enjoy the attention. Some have financial or political motivations. Some are angry or hurting and want to make sure others are angry and hurting, too. Attention, boredom, loneliness, anonymity and a perceived lack of consequences are all factors.

Collectively, social media websites are still wrapping their heads around how to deal with the problem but this is challenging because we really need to stop it before it gets published instead of moderators reacting after it's already affected people.

Even after significantly increasing the size of their moderation team, when someone reports something harmful or libellous on Facebook it can take days for it to be removed because of the sheer volume of content they're screening. That's far from ideal.

How should you react to toxic people and trolls?

Don't validate them or give them the satisfaction of a reaction.

These people crave mayhem and by lowering yourself to their level you're giving them exactly what they want and setting the stage for future abuse because now you're a target; they know you'll go there and they're experts at pushing people's buttons.

It's important to make the distinction between toxic, anti-social behavior and the discussion of opposing or controversial topics. Talking about different perspectives is a good thing but it doesn't ever need to be done in a vicious way.

Engaging with people who have different perspectives is a useful way to broaden our horizons but there is no reason for the discussion to not be polite and respectful. Being civil and respectful doesn't mean you endorse or agree, it just means that you are self aware enough to respect differences of opinion.

People are perceptive enough to identify people who spend their time trying to antagonize other people and newcomers will quickly learn who the bad actors are even without anybody actively engaging an antagonist.

Blocking someone is about preserving your peace of mind and saving yourself the headache of dealing with their venom. Fighting back verbally is unlikely to deter future negative behavior and they are likely to enjoy the resulting conflict while you won't.

Most social media sites have rules against abuse, harassment and fake or duplicate accounts. It's worth reporting any incident because even if moderators don't agree with your report it helps get the offender on the watch list to closely monitor subsequent behavior.

On Facebook, a lot of nasty behavior is associated with fake accounts. If you suspect an account is fake, you can report that while viewing that user's profile.

Some people recommend that instead of engaging verbally, go on the offensive by seeking out and reporting every offense that a bully makes to keep them in the spotlight and using the system against them, so to speak.

Under some circumstances you can disengage with short polite or neutral comments and sometimes a situation can be defused with humor (as opposed to escalated). Sometimes you can simply continue the conversation with other participants without acknowledging the baiting comments made by an antagonist.

The only way to win with a toxic person is not to play.

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