Home Academia & Research Handling Trolls on Social Media: A How-To Guide

Handling Trolls on Social Media: A How-To Guide

by Kellie Rowden-Racette
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Handwriting text writing Troll Free Zone. Concept meaning Social network where tolerance and good behavior is a policy Brick Wall art like Graffiti motivational call written on the wall

Editor’s note: This is the third post in a three-part series on civility and social media. See part one, “Got Civility? ASHA Digital Toolkit Promotes Respectful Online Communication,” and part two, “ASHA’s 4 Tenets of Civility: A Guide to Public Discussions.”

In response to concerns about incivility, especially in online conversations, ASHA has developed a digital toolkit of civility-related tools, templates and resources. Here are some examples of what you’ll find.

#ASHACivility illustration

Use of this hashtag is voluntary, and is meant to encourage and/or acknowledge the civility of others in a social media discussion. For example, “Thanks for pointing out that perspective. I’m glad we could have this discussion! #ASHACivility”


An Internet troll is someone who posts off-topic, aggressive or unnecessarily controversial complaints—usually anonymous. Cyberbullies (those who take trolling to the next level) can be detrimental to your online brand and image. Dealing with them, therefore, requires a careful approach that quells quarrels but maintains your dignity.

Starve the troll. Ignoring the poster and refusing to engage will likely bore the troll and persuade them to go elsewhere.

Kill the troll with kindness and facts. Trolls thrive on aggression and anxiety. You entice them if you become defensive and confrontational. Being polite—thanking them for their constructive criticism, for instance—can be a surprising reaction that neutralizes the situation. Cyberbullies often perpetuate misinformation or intentionally skew data to promote their agenda and gain traction. Address misinformation by sticking to the facts and ignoring their rudeness.

Befriend troll hunters. Trolls aren’t intimidated. Peer pressure from fellow users, however, can be a powerful deterrent. Don’t respond to negative comments from trolls; rather, respond—vociferously and graciously—to positive comments from supporters.

Police the troll. If you don’t have a comment policy on your blog or social media page, write one now. If you’re on someone else’s site, recommend to the host that they implement such a policy (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is one example of a standard commenting policy). Policies should clearly state what will and will not be tolerated and actions against violators.  You can require that users provide a valid email address before they can participate to ensure that you can contact someone privately about inappropriate comments. It also discourages trolling by preventing anonymous users. You may also want to moderate comments.

Ban the troll. The final defense against trolls is banning them, which you can accomplish by blacklisting their IP address (their computer’s “fingerprint”). This is a last-resort action, because IP banning may accidently block legitimate users. It may also send the wrong message to social media users, who may view the action as censoring differing opinions.

Agree to disagree

Because we all hold our own thoughts, opinions and values, we will disagree. Respectful disagreement, however, can lead to new ideas and a much more productive discussion. Here are five key tips for disagreeing respectfully with someone.

Focus on facts. Prioritize logic over emotion, and fact over opinion. Emphasize your reasoning and the supporting information. You will be more convincing and will reinforce that the disagreement isn’t personal.

Don’t get personal. Focus on illustrating why you hold a particular position. Your goal is to present ideas effectively, not to just poke holes in the other person’s reasoning.

Recognize the good. Try to preface your statement with something that you like about the person’s original suggestion, and use that as a launching pad for your own ideas.

Remember to listen. If you completely tune the other person out, the conversation is never productive. Listen to (or read) carefully the opposing points. You might even end up reaching an even better, collaborative solution.

Know when to move on. “Agree to disagree” is a handy sentiment to articulate when needed. One of the best ways to respectfully disagree is knowing when to move on. It’s not always easy, particularly when you feel passionately about your points, but sometimes it’s the smartest action to take.

Kellie Rowden-Racette is ASHA social media manager. krowden-racette@asha.org

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