An “internet troll” can be defined as a person who posts intentionally upsetting content online with the goal of causing some type of trouble. In some cases, the troll simply enjoys manipulating people into getting upset or angry. Other trolls are seeking attention, and think diverting it from the person who would naturally be the center of attention on the page or the post is the way to get it. Still others hope to shock people, and may use crude, rude, or disgusting remarks or messages to do so. Some trolling is done by people who intend serious harm, such as ruining a friendship, relationship, or career.
Many use “trolling” to describe every type of online joking around, kidding, smarting off, or being silly. A YouTuber wears a wedding dress, or their robe, or silly makeup to the store just to see if they can make other customers and their viewers laugh, and people refer to it as “trolling” video. Or someone pretends to be in love with someone else with the target’s full knowledge and consent, or spends half the video pretending they’re on a beach vacation when they’re really laying out at their neighbor’s pool, and it’s called “trolling.” But this is more plain, old-fashioned joking, goofing off, and acting silly. True “trolling” is done with some type of selfish intent.
Nearly anyone with an online presence is going to have to deal with internet trolls at some point. Artists are especially vulnerable, as we workshop, present, share, and market so much of our work online.
Some may claim this article is unnecessary. “I just delete and block,” they will proudly proclaim. “End of story.” Of course, “delete and block” is going to be your first move when dealing with any type of internet troll. But too often, it is not the end of the story. The damaging content may be seen by fans, potential collaborators, personal friends, family, or the supervsior at your day job or very needed side gig before you even know it’s there. Content you delete and block may have already been copied and shared, or saved on somebody’s hard drive for sharing in the future. And even if the content is completely gone, trolls are perfectly capable of creating “sock puppets,” or new accounts made for the purpose of continuing their online harassment, mocking, and other crude behavior.
Here are just a few examples of “trolling” behavior, and what you can do in addition to “delete and block” to protect your online presence.
Bad reviews that don’t make sense
Everyone who does not like your work is not trolling. We are not entitled to have everyone like us, or to only hear praise.Some people are honestly not going to like your singing, playing, writing, teaching, or comedy, and they may give you an unflattering review. This is very different than bad reviews from trolls. Trolls tend to write bad reviews that attack the artist’s character or perceived character, appearance, or other detail unrelated to their work. When they do focus on the work, they usually go for sweeping generalizations such as “truly the worst guitar player of the century” when the guitar player has only released a single song so far, or insults that lack content such as“it’s not worth the money, and it’s free.”
While asking people to write good reviews for you is dishonest, there is nothing wrong with encouraging those who would already write you a good review to do so, in order to increase your webpage or product’s rating. Avoid responding directly to the troll, unless the person has posted factual errors that may impact your business. For example, if your art form is cake and pastry decorating, and you work at a restaurant, a troll might comment, “This place failed the health inspection last year” or “The meatloaf made me sick.” In those cases, responding with a simple photo of the certificate from the health inspector, or the menu showing that your restaurant does not even serve meatloaf, is all you need to do.
Personal attacks on your professional page or links from your professional page
This one can be particularly disappointing to see. You post a video of you playing your new song in a Facebook group, with a link to your Instagram, and someone comments on the Facebook group post only to inform you that they hate your Instagram page because they saw that picture of you playing at your church last year, and they hate that particular church. Or you open up comments on your band’s page, and instead of talking about your work, the latest comments are all weird remarks from someone claiming to have worked with someone in the band at Taco Bell ten years ago, and finding them egotistical.
Your first instinct is probably to defend yourself, or your bandmate, and perhaps gently remind everyone that this is your band’s page, not a religious discussion or workplace memories page. If you truly feel you must respond, do it only once. Correct the misinformation and/or the misuse of your page or link with a single comment. If the person stops they got the attention they wanted and things will settle down. If the person continues, or if others join in, this does not mean everyone is against you. A group of internet trolls just decided to use you for a little online attention for themselves. If you are online in a place that allows you to delete others’ comments, quietly delete all trolling ones. If you can’t delete others’ comments, delete your post, then re-post your content or link. This will put whatever got ruined back up, without the trolling comments. If they come back, repeat the process until they catch on that you’re not a good source of attention for them.
Free unsolicited advice that’s worth every penny you paid for it
You post in a musicians’ group asking if anyone knows of a good makeup brand that will withstand the stage lights for some upcoming performances, and someone responds not with answers like “Tarte Shape Tape” or “Jeffree Star Magic Star Powder,” but with an online lecture about how shallow you are for caring so much about your appearance.. When you point out that this isn’t what you asked about, the response is something huffy and self-righteous, along the lines of “constructive criticism not welcome, duly noted.”
In this case, a slightly snarky comeback is warranted. But don’t engage the person in an argument, or try to defend yourself. They’re seeking attention for making someone else look helpless, fragile, or stupid, and if you come across as distraught, you’re just “feeding the troll.”
“I’m really glad you were able to overcome this issue. That’s great for you. I’m really happy for you. But I need to do it this way,” turns any future comments into nothing more than evidence they don’t catch on when they’re being mocked. Once you’ve said that, carry on as though they aren’t even there.
Bizarre or disgusting posts, comments, or other online behavior
Barging into Zoom groups and shouting racial slurs or bullying the legitimate attendants of the meeting, posting nonsensical rants on Facebook groups, posting swear words or references to sexual activity in space set aside to be safe for work, or posting content intended to turn readers’ or listeners’ stomachs is an especially jarring form of trolling.
When faced with this type of behavior online, once the content is deleted and the trolls blocked, there are only two other things you can do. The behavior of complete strangers is not your fault, but fans will probably appreciate a quick “sorry you had to see/hear that” type apology anyway. The only other action you can take is to restrict page access. Set your Zoom meeting so that everyone must be vetted and given a link before logging in. Make comments require approval before being posted to your standalone page. Delete posts and re-post another copy of the ruined content to your facebook pages.
Whatever type of troll you get, never take what they say seriously. You’re dealing with someone who has the entire internet at their disposal, with its endless possibilities for learning, socializing, or even just relaxing and watching or listening to something soothing or funny. Yet all they can think of to do is hassle strangers.