“Do not feed the online trolls” and other ways to navigate social media
Official campaign season hasn’t begun, but I’m already getting war flashbacks. Still fresh in my mind are heated exchanges with complete strangers online. This also brings to mind the time I found out one of my Facebook posts made it to a politician’s group of supporters, after which they were directed to flood my comment section with a clear objective: to downplay the atrocities committed by said politician’s family in the ‘70s.
It’s bad enough these encounters can easily turn toxic and emotionally draining. But the way internet trolls contribute to the spread of misinformation is another, more consequential issue altogether.
During campaign and election season, most especially, a certain distinction gets murky: between a real person corresponding to a singular social media account actively trolling other users (they could opt to organize or set out on their own) and professional trolls on a bankroll. In the Philippines, the upsurge in the latter means increasingly frequent encounters with these trolls, paid to spew fake news, discredit political opponents, sow fear among internet users by way of aggression, spamming, or taunting. Since perception is reality, repeat something incorrect enough times and it becomes truth. Alongside the proliferation of fake news are users bullied into censorship. This is the kind of power in numbers that trolls—or at least those that manage and finance them—know full well.
Given the landscape online, there’s no arguing with or enlightening this type of social media user (as I learned the hard way in 2016). We’re better off saving ourselves the aggravation and following instead the rule of thumb: do not feed the trolls. Ahead, steps to proactively approach this.
On the whole, do not engage.
Do not reply. But also: no reaction buttons, no quote tweeting, no hitting “reshare.”
As tempting as it might be to set the record straight or acknowledge a categorically incorrect post, it’s ideal not to engage, period. Trolls feed namely on attention and engagement; the end goal for them is to sustain activity on a post, by echoing as much of their narrative as possible or repeating lines from a script. Getting a rise out of social media users is just one way they go about it.
On Twitter, you can nip things in the bud by adjusting your settings.
Apart from Facebook, Twitter is a platform that sees a spike in new users come campaign and election season. A crucial channel for conversation, where real-time information is relayed and admittedly heated debate takes place, trolls flock here with the intent to intercept and hijack tweets by those with opposing views. But thankfully out of sight, out of mind is something that can apply if you follow these steps:
Go to “Settings and Privacy.” Tap “Notifications” and proceed to “Filters.” Here, you’ll find your settings for “Muted Notifications.” You can opt out of receiving notifications from users who 1) Have a default profile photo, 2) Haven’t confirmed their email, 3) Haven’t confirmed their phone number, and 4) Have a new account. This option is great at weeding out engagement by troll accounts that have only been set up with the bare minimum of requirements.
Do a quick skim of a potential troll’s public profile to investigate if real or fake.
Identifying internet trolls has become progressively tricky. Some profiles are more elaborately crafted than others, but there are standard items on the troll checklist to keep an eye out for. When it comes to the profile itself: no display photo or a nondescript icon in lieu of one, a username that appears computer-generated (a string of numbers could be thrown in the mix), plus a dubious following-to-follower ratio. Signs further point to troll should this user have no other digital footprint. On to content next: their timeline shows copy and pasted comments or a pattern in themes, language used, or reposts.
But before blocking, get the narrative back.
This part speaks to being proactive when starving online trolls. It isn’t enough to mute or block these suspicious accounts; it’s crucial to override their efforts.
Take a screenshot of the troll’s post. When publishing on your account, you could go the extra mile by calling attention to the confirmed troll account and asking your followers to report it. Conversely, you could conceal their account name, edit the screenshot to include text like “fake news” or “false” and posting this to your timeline with the correct information and sound counterargument in your caption or tweet.
This extra step comes in handy when dealing with misinformation, holding government officials accountable, policing confusing sentiment, and generally cutting through the noise using facts and data-backed opinions.
Block and report.
Finally, the step that gets you closer to ensuring an online troll starves: hit block and report. The range of reportable content should be looked into and taken seriously. This includes profanity, spamming, threats, red-tagging, and displays of sensitive media.
God, it’s brutal online. To think, too, that the upcoming election season is primed to make that battleground more relentless and filled to the brim with online trolls. Then again, it’s good to zoom out and remember: real battles are won offline.
Art Matthew Ian Fetalver