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I certainly hope that my stories about irate members won’t follow me into 2010 and end up as posts on this blog, but I think that may be wishful thinking. Remember my last story about the member who sent an email informing me about the horrible way I manage the community?

Well, I’ve got another one for you. Today, a member whose account was banned sent an email to many people in my organization indicating that I’d sent him a racist email. (You may also recall the time I was referred to as the n-word and the b-word)

Unbelievable! This person who refers to himself as a doctor posted a horrible comment and indicated that it came from me, from a yahoo account that he has determined belongs to me. He wants to know how they could tolerate that and allow me to represent the organization.

It is such a sickening paragraph filled with racist crap that I could never even think, let alone write. And as much as you probably want to read it, I cannot post it on my blog.  I just can’t.

And the thing is, people know it isn’t true so I really shouldn’t worry about it much.  But I have to tell you that I am so sick of this.  It’s nice that people care about the community but when you care so much about being banned that you want to take down the person you deem responsible, that’s just ridiculous. It’s an online community!

Yes, I have a thick skin and I know that you take it and move on but at some point it feels like too much. This level of abuse is getting old. It’s getting old fast.

Hopefully I will emerge with a more positive post in the next few days.

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I’ve heard that it’s lonely at the top. I know that it can also be very lonely as a community manager. We face a lot of obstacles. From serving as the lone advocate for the community, to feverishly fighting trolls in a battle that no one sees but us, this work can take you to task.

For some, the support system simply isn’t there. Managers may pay lip service to community initiatives and mention it’s importance from time-to-time, but the larger percentage don’t understand the work, what it entails and for that matter, HOW to support you.

If this is something you allow yourself to think about day in and day out, it can consume you. And depending on how well the community is delivering the results you need it to deliver, you could become apathetic, begin to hate what you do, or simply become so completely overworked that no one recognizes you. And these can all happen in the same day, in a matter of hours.

So if this is you, allow me to offer some encouragement.

Keep Caring. You have a job to do and you are passionate about the community.  The  level of care and concern you have for the community is what makes it great and will move it forward.

Spread the Word. Talk up the community to others in the company every chance you get. Share stories about what’s happening within the community. Forward comments and links to blog posts and photo galleries. Heck, go all out and create a daily round up of what’s going on and send it to key players in your organization.

Talk to other community managers. This, I can’t stress enough. We have to share these experiences and find people who understand and can relate to our issues.  Talk to me, I am always up for a quick email or chat.

Know when to walk away. When you are working around the clock 24/7, you have to check yourself.  I know this because I have been there and quite honestly, I’m not sure that I’m not still there.  You have to find a balance.  I know it’s hard when you’re doing everything on your own, but at some point you have to hang up the cape, and take that S off your chest.

I hope my words have been helpful to you. There’s definitely more where that came from. If you have any words of encouragement you’d like to share, please post them in the comments. We could all use a little help from time-to-time.

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Now that we’ve discussed the reputation ruiner, let’s move on to another type of online troll.
If you frequent news sites, particularly those with unmoderated comments, chances are you’ve come across this one. I refer to them as “the heartless jerk.”

These are the people who leave crude comments on stories about death, place blame on the victims of random house fires, and otherwise exhibit a complete lack of empathy when everyone else is doling it out in droves. They may say that a cancer patient deserved to die or even wish death on others.

This is not about seeing a situation differently, offering a different perspective or playing devil’s advocate. These types of trolls are just mean.

Timothy Marshall of Duzo Design recounts one such incident:

A high school classmate of mine died tragically, and when I read the news about it on a local news website there were a number of commenter’s leaving the most absurd and tasteless messages.

Trolls tend to exist on websites where users can remain anonymous. In this case people say things they wouldn’t normally say, just to get a response. It is so easy for them to just change identities, personalities and names online.

On pages where usernames stick and identities are clear trolls are less frequent. And when they are they can not hide from their actions. It really comes down to whether or not users will be held accountable for their actions. If you don’t hold them accountable they will do just about anything. Hold them accountable and they will be more rational.

What do you think? Do you agree with Timothy?

Would these heartless jerks, be so heartless if they were held accountable?

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As I delve more into the life and times of internet trolls, I seem to find out more and more about this particular species and how they are viewed by the masses.

The perception of what constitutes a troll is extremely varied and the stories about their actions are colorful to say the least.

Can one who bashes a hotel restaurant on as many platforms as possible all due to one bad experience be considered a troll? Holly Warton, owner of Enchanting Group, says yes.

Here is her story, as given to me on LinkedIn:

There’s this one troll that visited one of my hotels back in 2001 or so. He didn’t even stay with us, he just ate at one of our restaurants, and apparently the waiter hit on his girlfriend. Since then, he has berated our hotels on both the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree forums and the Trip Advisor Forums. He’ll take a break for a few months and then come back every once in a while.
I just mentioned this guy the other day to a fellow destination expert on Trip Advisor, and she remembered the guy by (user) name. He’s famous for attacking our hotels, and everyone knows it’s because of the problem with this girlfriend. Kind of funny, kind of irritating.

So there you have it. A clear illustration of one man’s attempt to tarnish a hotel’s reputation because a waiter hit on his girlfriend. Holly’s not happy with it, as she characterizes it as “kind of irritating.” But she also finds humor in it, and I suspect that may be because she can’t do anything about it.

In the next Troll Patrol, you’ll get an account of one man’s experience with a news website and his thoughts on the upside of requiring visitors to use real user names.

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Troll patrol: A new series


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I’m pretty sure this post is the beginning of a new series called Troll Patrol. It is as much for my personal sanity as I work through some of these issues, as it is for your reading pleasure and hopefully your benefit.

I do understand that the word “troll” is quite subjective, particularly among community members. Some people consider anyone who disagrees with them a troll, (I disagree) and others think that anyone who happens to show up in the same blogs as them on a regular basis, are stalkers…aka “trolls.” And there are others who do seemingly have personal trolls, who live to make them, and others MISERABLE.

It is truly amazing how a few troublemakers in a community can make it unbearable for others and it is equally if not more amazing how adults can display such behavior that is beyond juvenile.

I have had two grown adult males in my community going after each other like three year-olds for weeks. And believe it or not, it all stems from one calling the other overweight. Believe me, I am not making this up.

I received an email from a member today illustrating how they completely ruined a heartfelt blog with their back and forth bickering when others were trying to have a decent conversation.

That exchange, coupled with this plea from a faithful member sent me over the edge and I sent them both threatening emails. The message was this: “Either it stops, or I end it. You choose.” I indicated that if I had to end it, it would not be pretty and neither of them would be able to come back. Period.

What a shame that community managers have to result to such antics. I have children at home, but apparently have several hundred at work as well. Good grief.

Now, I am not saying that either of these gentlemen are trolls, though the label certainly fits the guy who started all of this mess.

But nevertheless, this is a problem. It will not go away, but I’m ready to discuss it.

What are your issues with troublemakers and trolls, and how do you handle them? If you have any unique situations, please share them, and if you would like me to discuss a particular topic surrounding this terrible topic, please let me know.

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I am always going to be an advocate for online communities. If you are a regular reader of this blog you know that I am passionate about online communities and enjoy sharing my experiences and hearing about yours.

You also know that I am honest about how difficult it can be to do this job well given the fact that so many people hide behind the cloak of anonymity and live to wreak havoc. They are driven by the amount of grief they can cause and measure their personal success by the amount of misery they can produce. My week has consisted of a lot of that, and it has been trying to say the least.

It got so bad that I had to lay down the law in a very public manner, and I can’t even begin to tell you how many people I banned. There is such a fine line between growing community and destroying it and community managers have to tread very lightly so as not to employ tactics that will result in a mass exodus. It’s an extremely slippery slope.

After all, we need all the members we can get, right?

WRONG. I now know that not all members are created equal, and some we can and simply should do without.

I believed that I needed every member I could get when we first launched GOLO and I worked hard to keep everyone happy, sometimes to a fault. If someone announced that they were leaving, I took it personally and did whatever I could to get them to stay. I had milestones to reach and goals to accomplish and I had my eyes on the prize.

That was then, this is now. When someone announces they are leaving I will be the first to wish them well, especially if they are a known problem.

We cannot allow our communities to be overrun by troublemakers and trolls and we have to take a stand. No community is the same and I am learning that the tactics that one community manager uses may not work for me. The solutions are not one-size -fits all.

The best thing for us to do is keep the conversations going and realize that we all have different communities, procedures for handling abuse, and various registration systems that may not allow us to do things in a similar fashion.

But I digress. My point here is simply this: Our jobs are tough and sometimes we have to be just as tough. Yes, we need members, but we don’t need everyone and sometimes we are better off without certain people, and that’s okay.

So build your community, but don’t be naive, and don’t let them trample you. There are other fish in the sea. Find them, and let some of the others go back into the depths of the deep sea, where they belong.

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With all of the kind words and support I received after this post, I thought it would only make sense to provide an update on the relentless community member who is intent on hurling racial slurs my way through various forms of communication.

It’s getting pretty old and pretty sad, and I think I feel sorry for her on some level.

As much as I promote the importance of engaging users online and reaching out to community members to provide them with the best experience, it’s clear that I cannot do that with her.

First it was an e-mail but today it was a complete blog post with paragraph after paragraph of insanity all related to the concept of “Training your n-word.”

Where do people get this stuff? I know that it’s directed at me the managing editor of the community, not me personally (although it IS based on my race) and it’s this persons attempt at ruffling my feathers. I know that.

But as I think about all of the comments I see online on a daily basis and the back and forth about race , particularly as it relates to the Presidential Election, I can’t help but wonder if the cloak of anonymity is providing an outlet for bigots of all races to share their truest, ugliest feelings. Are there some simply welcoming the opportunity to speak their mind without repercussions?

My question is this: Are online forums, communities and comments areas across news websites providing an accurate depiction of our society? Are the things being written representative of what people wish they could actually verbalize? Or is this a phenomenon only taking place online because it’s essentially a free-for-all? What do you think?

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As community managers, we really do want everyone to peacefully co-exist. However, this can’t always be the case. In fact, it is is rarely the case. As in life, not everyone in a community, real or virtual will get along. That’s just the way it is.

As the leader, charged with growing the community and helping to cultivate relationships, you also have to know how to step in and take action. Sometimes that action means banning members from the community. It’s not something you want to do often by any means, but you do need to know when there is simply no other choice.

Here are seven situations that could lend themselves to banning visitors:

  1. They continually push the limits and ignore your guidelines or Terms of Service
  2. They are being openly defiant as a means of getting attention.
  3. They are harassing other members on a continual basis with no end in sight.
  4. They live to post inappropriate links and not much else.
  5. They are recruiting others to join a destructive cause within your community.
  6. Everything they post is hostile and an effort to create chaos
  7. They are disrespecting or attacking you publicly and making the issue personal.

I am not indicating that each of these situations should result in a banning. I’ve had every single instance occur in my community and I was sometimes able to communicate with the person and reverse the situation, which ultimately is ideal for both sides.

But I’ve also been in situations that were utterly hopeless, and banning was the only way.

What unique situations have occurred in your community that made “baning” the only option?

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This is a personal blog. The opinions expressed here represent my own and not those of my employer. Feel free to challenge me, disagree with me, or tell me I’m completely nuts in the comments section of each blog entry.

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