Imagine excitedly publishing a post on social media, only to be later shocked, hurt and horrified by off-colour messages left underneath it. No one likes to be at the receiving end of abusive, racist, sexist, homophobic, sexually explicit, or ignorant comments – if you’re a public figure or brand, it’s plain embarrassing to have such content in the vicinity of your content.
And while you might have a few oddball friends who love to scribble eccentric musings, this isn’t about them. Instead, we are talking about the mythical Internet Troll – a being so vile and horrific that they purposely leave incendiary comments just to get a rise either out of the creator or other fellow commentators. While trolls do harass regular people, it’s generally people and entities with name recognition and large follower count that bear the brunt of the vitriol. Trolls generally seek to ignite outrage and steal the focus away from the conversation that the brand or personality is trying to have.
The effect trolls have on users and brands
Caustic comments left by trolls don’t provoke people into hating the brand. Rather, what generally ensues is a comment section war where people with differing opinions turn on each other. The conversation transforms into an ugly boxing match where instead of positive comments or coherent arguments, people resort to using ad hominem as verbal weapons. The result? Everyone is left scarred and wounded both mentally and emotionally – except of course, the trolls.
The insidious effects of cyberbullying on public mental health has been researched to death – victims were often more likely to engage in self-harm, express suicidal thoughts and display suicidal behaviour. However, recent incidents would prove that brands too are under attack. When digital anger transforms into real-world rage, the consequences can be deadly. In 2018, YouTube headquarters in California was under attack by a female shoot who disagreed with their company policies. In the same year, CNN received a pipe bomb from a person who did not like their political content.
Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr have put into place community guidelines in a bid to discourage and curtail unsavoury language which can lead to dangerous and destructive behaviour. If users violate these rules, they run the risk of having their account shut down, or being permanently banned from the website. In 2016, Twitter banned prominent right-wing personality Milo Yiannopoulous for his role in the trolling and harassment of Ghostbusters actress Leslie Jones.
However, being banned or suspended does not always deter trolls, as they can simply set up another account with a new email address. Additionally, it’s often hard to tell when people have really crossed the prohibited content line, as sarcasm and dark, “edgy” humour can come off as offensive to some.
Strong social media guidelines help curb online vitriol
Brands actively using social media are now taking stronger steps to protect themselves and their online community of commentators from vile and hateful content.
In March 2019, the British royal family announced that they would be implementing social media community guidelines after abusive and hateful comments were made towards both Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge, and Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex. In their guidelines, they laid out their expectations for courteous and polite engagement, including their treatment of violators.
However, not all trolls will be deterred by blocks, bans, comment deletion or even police reports. However, guidelines set in stone do allow brands to fight and condemn hate speech, and set the record straight when it comes to engaging with their content.
If your brand does not already have social media guidelines in place, here’s how you can create some:
- Have clear policies: Look to your company handbook or human resource guidelines, and use the same language regarding unacceptable workplace behaviours (harassment, abuse, bullying) to craft your social media community guidelines.
- Differentiate between criticism and hate: If customers have not-so-nice things to say about your products, and they craft their statement in an objective, positive way – they’re not hating on you. Brands need to learn how to respond to different types of messages and feedback from people. For instance, people were swift to condemn Pepsi for their tone-deaf #BlackLivesMatter campaign featuring Kendall Jenner – a valuable lesson they needed to learn. This type of feedback is helpful to overall brand growth and does not qualify as offensive or abusive.
- Enforce your community guidelines: Do not be complacent in monitoring online chatter and enforcing the rules laid down in your guidelines. Get your social media teams to do this regularly. After all, there is no point in making social media rules if you do not put them to use.
Hate speech and bullying, especially on social media, have no place in modern society. Taking a stand against it is a just cause worthy of pursuing. If you set an example by being strict about the type of content people are allowed to post in the comments section, other brands will take notice and follow. Protect your brand, message, and audience by creating concrete community guidelines.
Need help with creating social media guidelines for your brand? Send a note to email@example.com and we will scroll your social feeds together and fight trolls.