May 15, 2013

Haters, Trolls, Bullies and Other Jerks

Monday I shared an overall review of Andrea Weckerle's book Civility In The Digital Age. Today I want to delve a little deeper, and look at the information she shares about the types of conflict that occur online and the people who instigate it.

You may think, "conflict is conflict." But there are many different types. Public versus private disputes. Conflict between individuals and one-on-one conflict. Conflict with people you know versus with complete strangers. Online lynch mobs are something often seen in mom-on-mom conflict, as are people who are anonymous or use pseudonyms.

There are also categories of conflict: content-based, personality-based, power-based and identity-based. Don't know how to tell the difference or why it matters? The book details all of the above, sharing examples of each.

Just as there are different kinds of conflict, there are very specific, easy to define types of perpetuators. As Andrea writes, "Troublemakers come in all sorts of shapes and sizes." Here's a breakdown of the most common types:


Who they are - Attention-seekers whose sole goal is to wreak havoc online for the purpose of fun and pleasure. They thrive on the perceived weakness, naiveté, and emotional reactions of their victims. Trolls favor operating in full view on public message boards, forums, and comment sections. The overwhelming majority of the time they are anonymous online or use pseudonyms.

How to handle -  "Do not feed the Trolls" (DNFTT) is the single most important thing to remember when dealing with trolls. Do not engage them in any way. The DNFTT approach entails two parts, ignoring them and disempowering them. The latter involves having their comments removed or having them entirely blocked from participating on a particular site.

There are many different kinds of trolls. Ms. Weckerle details nine different sub-descriptions of troll types.


Who they are - False identities used by individuals online... to be intentionally deceptive. Unlike pseudonyms, which are the names that people use to represent themselves online, sock puppets claim to be the real identities of people.

How to handle  Figure out whether you are dealing with a sockpuppet. If the person uses a stock photo or an image of someone else, chances are good the account is a fake. See if there are any topics the person likes to talk about on a regular basis, subjects that set him off, or people she either attacks or defends. Do an online search to see where else the sockpuppet is active. Looking at a people's IP address is extremely useful.

Online Defamers 

Who they are - Those who make a false and unprivileged statement of fact about an individual that's harmful to the person's reputation.

How to handle  Fighting online defamation can be difficult. Often attacking and defamatory statements are made anonymously. It can cost a minimum of $10,000 in legal fees to issue a subpoena to an online company to get them to reveal someone's IP address... Furthermore, defamers often claim they are protected under First Ammendment Freedom of Speech. If they know the person's identity, victims of defamation can try to contact the attacker privately and ask him to please stop. Getting an attorney involved may be necessary.

Cyberbullies, Cyberharrassers, and Cyberstalkers 

Who they are - There are no uniform definitions for cyberbullying, cyberharassing, and cyberstalking. However, cyberbullyies and cyberharassers generally refer to people who use technology to purposefully and repeatedly hurt others. Cyberstalking, meanwhile, is generally defined as using electronic means to harass, frighten and stalk a victim.

How to handle  The action you take against attackers will depend on the severity and frequency of what they've done.

As an expert in this area. Ms. Weckerle offers specific advice based on a number of scenarios. It can feel overwhelming, to say the least, when you are dealing with any one of these types of individuals or groups.

On Friday, we'll look at how you can determine your own conflict style and make a concrete plan for dealing with difficult people online...

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