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The Buzz: Don’t Feed the Troll?

The Buzz: Don’t Feed the Troll?

September 2023

They use “provocative language” and “personal attacks,” using “inflammatory remarks to deliberately offend people.”

To “annoy and frustrate” opponents, they’ll repeat the same comments over and over, even after others have addressed them. Lacking empathy, they seem to enjoy causing “chaos and emotional destruction.” They possess a “dark tetrad” of “narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy and sadism,” as a number of studies have shown. Causing pain is why they do what they do. They enjoy ridiculing other people’s “appearance, intelligence or personal life.”

Who is this? Former presidents facing federal indictment? Pundits and talking heads on late-night talk radio?

Nope. They are online trolls, though these nuisances seem, increasingly, to set the tone for political discourse across all media. For years now, we’ve been told simply to ignore them. As Jon Goldberg, founder of Reputation Architects Inc., writes in the Public Relations Society of America’s Strategies and Tactics, the idea seems to be that “ignoring them depletes their oxygen” and that they will go looking for their jollies harassing somebody else’s organization. But that’s not always the wisest course.

“Whether it is better to feed or starve online antagonists depends on what they’re hungry for — and whether they’re actually a troll at all,” Goldberg writes. It can be tempting to assume as much, but “having strong, perhaps unpopular opinions and expressing them vigorously” does not in itself make a person a troll. Sometimes that obnoxious critic is simply “an angry customer or someone with a legitimate bone to pick with your organization. Such people hunger to be acknowledged and heard, to have their problem solved or to receive an apology if they feel they’ve been wronged.” If that’s the case (and it can take some thought to figure it out), you should “respond with empathy and respect to stakeholders who have legitimate complaints or opinions to express. They’re giving your organization an opportunity to enhance its reputation and to build trust by taking their concerns seriously. Don’t let trolls make you miss that opportunity.”

Alan Crawford
Editor, Impact Newsletter
804.212.9574 | [email protected]

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