We Let the Strangers In: The Hunting Trolls

Anyone who has ever worked on social media will know what the troll behavior is like. The trolls are the people who seem to take pleasure out of creating animosity and hatred. They will say things to provoke a reaction. And when they catch someone in their sights, they decide it's time to play.

The best advice that anyone can be given when it comes to dealing with trolls is to just ignore them. Most of the time, if you don't entertain them, they will give up and move on.

But there is a rare breed of troll who develops a vendetta—and no amount of ignoring them will make them go away. The trolls see something in you that makes them think that you're vulnerable and they attack. And they keep attacking until you finally break down.

The pattern of attack is constant and unavoidable. The trolls create account after account, assuming various aliases, and the barrage never lets up. To make matters worse, because of the way the systems work on the various social media platforms, you can't even block them effectively.

Recently, I discovered that a good friend of mine was being targeted by one of these hunting trolls. While she was doing a really good job in hiding it from everyone, the attacks were taking a toll.

The hunting troll on Facebook

Once upon a time in a year that wasn't filled with such chaos, the friendly folks of Facebook decided that we needed to be able to contact anyone and everyone that we wanted to. They gave the power to all users of Facebook to be able to send a private message to any other user of Facebook that they desired. Granted, those messages went into a hidden queue also known as message requests, but even then notifications would go to your private feeds.

At one time in history, you could tell Facebook that the only people allowed to send you private messages were your friends. I don't recall when they took away the setting, but it is one setting that Facebook users really wanted them to bring back. Trolls took advantage of this lack of setting, sending you message after message until you were forced to block them. Then the trolls would create another account, and the whole process would start again.

Thankfully, Facebook finally gave users control over the message requests. The added control settings appeared in late 2021. (It was in November that I noticed them, and I was quick to spread the word to my friend who had been the victim of a nasty troll attack.)

The situation gets complicated when you happen to have a public page on Facebook. I'm not talking about a personal profile that just happens to have public visiblity settings. I'm referring to a business page that has been set up for, say, an author profile. I have such a page, and in the latest barrage of attacks upon my dear friend, I too was sent messages through my public page accusing me of "being nice to people for PC reasons."

Anyone who knows me will know that what you see on the surface is what you get. I tend to call a spade a spade—I'm a pretty good judge of character. And for this latest troll… Let's just say that he was an asshole.

Trolls on Twitter

On platforms such as Twitter, you can block DMs completely. If you don't follow a person, you can set the system so they can't send you a direct message. I use this setting myself, mainly because I don't want to deal with that noise. If someone wants to really attack, if they don't have the guts to do it on the public channels, then why should I entertain it on the private channels? (Not that I want it on the public channels either.)

But the nature of the troll attack who is intent on making your life hell doesn't need to go through direct messages. All they have to do is send tweet after tweet after tweet all tagging you. As a consequence, your notifications go berserk. And if you happen to be one of these people that has your notifications going directly to your phone, making noises all the time, your phone is going to blow up.

The tactic is irritating and forces you to take action, blocking the account responsible. But all they have to do is create a new email address, and sign up for a new twitter account, and let the barrage continue.

You can ignore it, but it still affects you.

No matter how good you are at ignoring these sorts of digital attacks, it still plays on your psyche. It wears you down to the point where you just want to give up.

And that is exactly what the hunting trolls want. It seems that their sole mission is to take you to the point of breaking, where you eventually just give up and walk away.

You work so hard to create something, to build a network on social media, and some hunting troll comes along, intent on tearing it all down. And because of the way the tactics are played, it doesn't impact on just you. It impacts on those close to you, too.

If you're sad and run down, your friends and family will notice. The people who know you will notice.

So, when the latest hunting troll came after my friend, it wasn't a surprise to me that she tried to hide it, shielding me from what was really going on. Seven weeks in and she couldn't hide it anymore. Because the hunting troll came after the writing community that she had helped to establish.

It was months of fighting the troll, and we got him in the end. It turns out that the troll resided in one of those countries where his anti-Semitic comments were illegal and prosecutable under the law. But there are other laws that also play in our favor.

Know the law in your area.

Legal ProceedingsIn May 2015, New Zealand brought in an act that made online bullying illegal. The act is known as the Harmful Digital Communications Act and it's only one of a handful of laws around the world that are directly connected to digital communications. Under this law, it doesn't matter if a person is using Facebook, Twitter, or text messages—or for that matter, emails. It doesn't matter if the providers for the services used are overseas. If an offender resides in New Zealand, then they can be prosecuted for digital bullying.

Depending on the nature of the comments said, other laws come into play around the world. Anti-Semitic laws were actually the undoing of the most recent troll I encountered, but there are antispam laws found in many countries, too. Sending message after message that is of a bullying nature could easily be prosecuted under antispam laws, too.

Digital communications are the way in which we now live. As a consequence, we should know what laws govern that communication. And for those who are having to deal with trolls, it helps you to understand what powers you have.

Your options may be few, but you still have options.

Because digital communication in the wide-scale usage that we currently have today is still new, our options in dealing with the hunting trolls are still reliant on policing behavior ourselves. If you surround yourself with a community, the community will protect you to the best of their abilities. They will rally around you to help bolster your feelings, to stop you from spiraling down into depression. Let's face it, these attacks can lead to depression.

But there are some strategies that you can take to help protect yourself from the hunting trolls, protecting your systems, your family, and your friends.

Protecting yourself on Twitter

If you are a Twitter user, the best way to protect yourself from the hunting trolls is to turn off your direct messages such that only those who you follow can send you a direct message.

And of course, the other side of this is to clean out who you follow. I know it goes against the practices that are recommended for those who are trying to build a following on the platform, but you should be mindful of who you follow on Twitter. Remember that by following somebody, you're giving them access to your direct and private channels.

In terms of the activity you do on Twitter, keep in mind what you are using the platform for. While it is still a useful place to follow people in the publishing industry (like agents and editors), over recent years, Twitter has become a cesspit of animosity and negativity. The best way to filter those channels is to identify the hashtags that you are interested in and watch those only.

If things get really bad on Twitter and you are unable to cope with it, think before you delete your account. If you are like me, you have carefully chosen your Twitter handle, so it fits in with the rest of your platform. If you delete your account, then your handle can easily be taken over by someone else pretending to be you, looking to destroy you in another way. If you have to, temporarily turn your account to private. That way you have the power to vet who follows you and who doesn't, blocking the trolls that way. But this will only work if you unfollow suspicious accounts.

Protecting yourself on Instagram

Because of the nature of Instagram, it is much harder for the hunting trolls to attack people on this platform. But don't think that the platform is immune to the hunting trolls—because it's not. They can still come after you through comments on your photos and through the private messaging system.

Attacking comments can thankfully be deleted, but why would we want to go through that mess.

As with Twitter, be mindful as to what you use the platform for. To screen out the noise, monitor only the hashtags that interest you. Be selective as to who you follow. And if it gets too much, temporarily turn your account to private.

Protecting yourself on Facebook—the public page

Authors should be using a public page rather than their personal profiles. There are a variety of reasons for this, including the advertising side.

By default, public pages can accept messages from anyone on Facebook. But you can turn this off. Whether you decide to use private messages through your Facebook page or not is entirely up to you.

You can also restrict who can see your posts by demographics and other criteria, and you can also add profanity filters.

The best defense that you can have on your public pages is multiple admins. I recommend this anyway, because if for whatever reason you are unable to get into Facebook (your account is temporarily suspended or the power goes out), then you always have somebody who can post something on your behalf or do whatever administrative tasks need to be done. And it means that you don't lose that carefully crafted custom URL.

But the added advantage of multiple admins is that you can delegate to someone else to deal with any nasty messages that come through to your page, so you don't have to see them. This is where your support network is handy, because your support network will gladly help shield you from the worst of the damage.

Protecting yourself on Facebook—groups

The level of ability to protect yourself from an attack in a group will depend on whether you are a group admin or not.

If you are not a group admin and you are attacked in a group, the first thing that you need to decide is whether the group is actually servicing the purposes for which it was intended. If it's not… "See ya later, Charlie." But if you don't want to leave the group, then report the activity to the admin. If the group admin refuses to do anything about it, leaving the group is still an option.

If you are group admin or group moderator, then you have the power to do something about the comments or posts that are derogatory.

Advice to group admins: If you see behavior that is unbecoming, do not hesitate to delete posts and kick people out of that group. If you have to, block people from the group. As a group admin, you are building a community. Don't let some troll destroy it. And remember that as group admins, you have the ability to moderate posts before they are seen by the wider community.

Protecting yourself on Facebook—private profile

The easiest and best way to protect your private profile on Facebook is to lock that puppy down. No one should be able to see who your friends are, not even your friends. No one should be able to search for your profile using your phone number or your email address. And who can see your posts will depend on the settings that you choose. Personally, I would recommend friends except acquaintances.

I have written on numerous occasions about how the different settings on Facebook work, both on this site and on the Black Wolf Editor's Blog. Every time there is a platform update, double check your settings, because sometimes the setting that will protect you the most is not where you think it is.

Trolls have always existed.

Since the beginning of time, there have always been people who wanted to tear others down. The perverse pleasure that they get from it is something that I will never be able to fathom. And dare I say it, the internet has given them a whole new playground.

Take whatever steps you feel you need to take to protect yourself from the hunting trolls. And protecting yourself also means protecting your human psyche.

Do you have other strategies for dealing with internet trolls?

Copyright © 2022 Judy L Mohr. All rights reserved.

This article first appeared on judylmohr.com

Posted in Social Media, We Let Them In and tagged , , , , , , , , .

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