HOW TO: deal with trolls and be aware of the “nasty effect”

Continued from Part 1:  Meet the 8 common troll strategies

“No matter what you do, no matter who your audience is: 30 percent will love it, 30 percent will hate it, and 30 percent won’t care.” James Altucher , Choose Yourself

I have to deal with trolls and difficult personalities on social media , on a daily basis for the past 10 years. It’s part of the territory as a citizen advocate pushing social change for good.  Netizens may or may not agree with my opinions. Take for instance this troll as shown below. I criticized President Rodrigo Duterte because of his confusing statements.  My “annoying” opinion is perceived as pretending to be balanced.  I normally roll my eyes when I see these kind of tweets. What do you think I did? Respond, ignore or report? This is one type of trollish behavior I ignore.


Beware the so-called “nasty effect”

Why do certain provocative social media personalties act the way they do? Well, have you heard of the  “Howard Stern Effect” and the “nasty effect”?  It is said that the  more outrageous people are, the more curious people are about them.  Can you think of a social media personality that fits a similar Howard Stern effect? Now , if you feel their actions are just a device to get your attention and the attention of others, for good or bad reasons, Lorelle suggests that “you  put that into the formula before you decide which way you want to respond.”

There are times you encounter nasty feedback or comments. A study in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication (read full report) suggests that rude comments on articles can even change the way we interpret the news . Dominique Brossard, co-author of the study on the so-called nasty effect refers to troll  commenters who make contributions designed to divert online conversations. Uncivil comments not only polarized readers, but they often changed a participant’s interpretation of the news story itself.  Brossard says “it’s important for people involved in journalism and online communication to realize the influence that comments can have and to formulate appropriate policies.”  While she thinks it’s important to foster conversation through comments sections, every media organization has to figure out where to draw the line when comments get out of control. “You don’t want to be censoring opinions, but you don’t want to allow neither points that are out of topic and that are offensive to the other people that are discussing.”

Be aware of the bots as they tend to distort issues in order to influence public opinion. The ability to identify which accounts on sites like Twitter are bots, is important for the sake of both effective online organizing, and reporting misuse on offending sites.

Let’s see how we can deal with the trolls and avoid the “nasty effect” in social media. I will refer to both similar situations as “trolls” for brevity.

Respond or to Not Respond?

It is often said that one should not feed the troll but there are instances when a response , whether direct or indirect may be needed. You are faced with two choices when dealing with a troll and other difficult personalities: Respond or Not Respond.  Both have risks. Whichever choice you decide, do not move on your first impulse. Remain calm. In my last article, I posted eight strategies that trolls employ to harass or intimidate us together with a little discussion on how to deal with each strategy. This time around, let me expand more on how to deal with them.

If your choice is to NOT respond to the troll

I ignore the trolls most of the time because they just want to get attention. As an advocate, my agenda is to push for policy change. Dealing with trolls will make me lose focus.  Ignoring a troll will also save both your own sanity and show that you’re the better person.   I find it a waste of time to engage with mean-spirited netizens because I will not be able to change their minds, anyway. As a general rule, I don’t automatically block trolls . I add them into my special list (invisible to the public) so I can check on their provocative stand of  any issue. Some opinionated and offensive trolls are worth checking just so I do not get trapped in an echo chamber. Here are some ways to ignore a troll.

  • Mute or block on twitter and facebook

There are tools in social media networks that allows you to ignore the troll. Twitter has a mute or block button. Use it when you don’t have time to talk to these trolls.  Twitter also has a setting that filters low quality content. This is useful for those automated spam bots.


Facebook has their “unfriend” feature . At times, I don’t want to “unfriend” because the annoying friend will have a fit.  You don’t want to handle all that drama, right?  The best thing to do is use the “unfollow” in the settings.  Their  posts will stop  appearing in your feed “but will still allow them to see YOU on Facebook and believe that you are still best buds.”  It is a win-win  solution to avoid drama with your real-life annoying friend.



During their beta period , Trollbusters support Twitter attacks with their virtual services. You can report attacks to them. When you spot online threats, cyberharassment or other troll behavior against women writers, send an S.O.S. and they will be the first responders online, sending you, or whoever is under attack positive messages, virtual hugs or reputation repair services.

There are tips on how to avoid having your social media campaign efforts from being interrupted by inane bot chatter.

  • Establish a comment policy or skillful moderation in your blog or social media network
Image via Some rights reserved.
Image via Some rights reserved.

Do you want rudeness and incivility to be used as a mental shortcut to make sense of those complicated issues? I enforced a commentary policy in my blog in 2007 where “I reserve the right to remove comments, words or phrases that are defamatory, abusive, incite hatred and advertise an email address or commercial services or just plain spammy. I also reserve the right to remove posts that to my opinion are off-topic, irrelevant, ad-hominem, personal attacks and or just plain rude.”  A friend ‘s commentary policy in her facebook wall  includes deleting comments with  memes, links to fake news websites, or sites that have no accountability.  Make sure that you are not trapped in an echo chamber unless that is your purpose to be connected only with “like-minded” friends, and creating closed, non-interacting communities.

  • Know when to report


An environmental advocate filed complaints against Duterte’s supporters who threatened her on her Facebook account. Her Facebook inbox was filled with threatening messages after she posted a meme that said “Duterte is a lazy choice.” Threats included “wishes” that she would die or get raped, or that her family gets “massacred.” Twitter and Facebook have a reporting mechanism which I discussed above but a case may need to be filed at the Philippine National Police. Tag @PNPHotline on twitter on how to report death threats.

If your choice is to respond

I don’t normally feed the troll but there are certain comments that I choose to reply, then I either  mute or block the account shortly after. I unblock the troll except for the bots after a few days. Here are some ways to respond to a troll..

  • Kill the troll with kindness

Whether you’re dealing with trolls or rude people, the best way to disarm them is to kill them with kindness. Sometimes I say “thank you”, “Have a great day” when I am in the mood.  Do your best to keep your cool and try to ask kind questions. Make kind suggestions before assuming the worst. A troll does exactly what it does to infuriate you. If you give in to your anger, guess who wins?

  • Counter-speech or counter with facts


This troll thought I never wrote about human rights issue under President  Benigno Aquino III so I shared a  link of a story I wrote about the Lumads. If trolls are spreading rumors and wrong information, disprove their tall tales with facts. You can also promote a counter-narrative . Use the same counter-speech with Mocha Uson’s posts instead of silencing her.  Ayrie Ching says it so well: Reply to her posts, post your own status, correct her errors, and work hard to counter her arguments.

  • Listen and correct mistakes



I don’t normally assume a person is guilty but in the tweet above, I  forgot to put a qualifier in  my “shame on you” statement. Shame on me, indeed. Criticisms  inspired me to be a better blogger and social media practitioner because it allows me to correct my mistakes or improve my craft.

There you have it. These are some of the strategies I use to “slay” a troll.  Having a loyal community is also  helpful .  Listening in to some trolls allow me to be open to diverse views. Don’t be trapped in your own filter bubble or your private internet. Instead of discouraging me, I feel more energized . I don’t think I will be where I am  today if it were not for the difficult personalities and the trolls in social media.


This post is supported by a writing grant from the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ)