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    Definitions 5 min read

    Trolling describes the action of someone trying to antagonize others online with intentionally inflammatory or negative statements.

    The history of trolling

    Trolling, and those who engage in the activity (trolls), are particularly prevalent on social media platforms and online messaging forums where trolls believe they can hide behind anonymity on the Internet.

    The phrase “trolling” first saw widespread use in the early to mid-1990s. It was often referred to as a disruptive or otherwise annoying speech and behavior online. These people would continually clog a particular discussion with irrelevant statements or arguments, engage in suspected identity deception, and commit wrongful acts against speech and logic.

    The first real idea of trolling often was found through the Usenet platform. Usenet was a popular online discussion forum that birthed many internet trolls since the beginning of internet access to the public. Some of the more popular forums frequented were alt.folklore.urban, and alt. theism.

    In the early 2000s, the use of troll or trolling became more commonplace on discussion forums such as 4chan. 4chan’s /b/ board, in particular, was the successor to alt.tasteless on Usenet.

    Modern-day trolling

    With the regular use of social media, trolling has become a major driver of political, civil, and societal polarization of opinions. Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, and Reddit are just a few of the channels whose users may be subject to trolling.

    Instances of trolling

    When it comes to trolling, anyone can be a victim. Public figures such as celebrities, influencers, and politicians are often the primary targets of being trolled on the internet and social media. In 2021, celebrity and influencer Chrissy Tegan found herself under fire for some inappropriate trolling remarks, and comments resurfaced that she sent to actress Courtney Stodden.

    Businesses are also subject to online defamation from trolls as well. Many businesses can be targets of online trolls and have their social media accounts inundated with negative comments for their stance (or lack thereof) on social or political situations. Trolls can leave negative reviews and comments on a business’s social media pages that can cost some businesses consumers or even force them to close in extreme cases.

    Legal issues with trolling

    Currently, in the United States, no law protects users specifically from online trolls. This is partly because many of these trolls have anonymity; it is hard to track them down to prosecute for online harassment. Other laws can fill in the gaps when it comes to online trolling and harassment. Several of these legal options can include harassment, stalking, cyberstalking, cyberbullying, and defamation lawsuits.

    Many websites and social media platforms have had to increase the roles of site moderators and close policing of comments to mitigate trolling issues. And because trolling is not illegal online, site owners and users share the job of minimizing the impact of trolls. Now, social media sites, especially Facebook, will deploy teams to review and research contentious topics (fact-checking) to combat the spread of misinformation. Too, most social media sites have mechanisms in place to report comments and posts that contain trolling, spam, harassment, violence, and hate speech.

    Trolling’s impact on business

    Social media has come to play a significant role in consumer decision-making. Consumers turn to their own social networks, review sites, and company sites for information, as well as to share their own opinions and experiences. Trolls often take advantage of this potential audience by seeking out these conversations in the online marketplace, then intentionally causing trouble through comments and other interactions.

    For instance, trolling can be incredibly disruptive when a company releases a new product or service and opens up its website, social media accounts, or other online resources for discussion. Customers are likely to provide positive or negative feedback about the product or service itself. However, a troll will take things further, claiming there is something wrong with the brand itself, the business, or the business owners as a direct and targeted insult to them on purpose.

    Trolls can sabotage a company’s public image and brand loyalty through:

    • Fake online reviews
    • Fake social media accounts
    • Fake blog posts about a business
    • Fake news articles geared towards business or brand
    • Disruptive behavior on forums, message boards, and chat rooms

    How businesses can minimize trolling

    Companies can take proactive measures to ensure they’re prepared to minimize potential rolling scenarios. Here are some steps businesses can take to minimize trolling issues online:

    • Discern what is trolling and what is honest feedback – business owners and their social media team should research and verify negative reviews for legitimacy. If the situation was a troll, see if the reviews can be removed for fake defamation. If the case was an unhappy customer, contact them to mitigate their dissatisfaction and respond with a proactive solution.
    • Keep emotion out of responses – The main thing a troll wants is to evoke a reaction from the person or business. Therefore, no response is often the best recourse against a troll.
    • Practice gratitude towards customers – An engaged customer base goes a long way in quelling troll activity. Through authentic interactions with consumers, a business can promote active, healthy online interactions to drown out the nuisances created by trolling.
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