The anonymity of the internet can do strange things to people. Polite, mild mannered individuals can become embittered, vitriol-spewing hatemongers from the perceived safety of their keyboard. It’s easy to sit back and wonder ‘who are these people?’ But it can be difficult to ignore them when you are their target.
The bastion of good parenting, Mumsnet, for example, was forced to reach an out of court settlement with childcare expert Gina Ford over critical remarks in its forums. Similarly, the ScubaDiving forum faced a potential $100,000 lawsuit for anonymous comments. An even more terrifyingly example for website owners is that of a Texas couple being awarded $13.8 million for false accusations on Topix.com.
So it’s clear – if you own a website or forum, you should take internet trolls seriously unless you want to risk a day in court.
Website owners to get better protection for help in catching trolls
This month it was announced that a ‘defamation bill’ is on its way that will protect website owners and ISPs from libel for comments by third parties. The caveat is that they must help to identify the trolls without victims having to resort to legal action.
Brands and businesses regularly find themselves under attack from disgruntled customers on the internet. While the defamation bill will make it easier to release the lawyers on those who’ve overstepped the line between opinion and statement of fact, suing customers within an inch of their life is never great PR. So instead, it’s wise to have a strategy for dealing with internet trolls before things get out of hand.
Marketing tips for dealing with internet trolls
Have a commenting policy – Ensuring people have to agree to your Ts and Cs before posting comments ensures they know upfront what is acceptable and that you can eject them from the forum at any time if they don’t tow the line.
Diplomacy rather than debate – When dealing with criticism remember that your customers are watching to see how you respond. Don’t engage in a ‘flame war’ at all costs but take the higher ground by responding politely and objectively. If your attempts at diplomacy fail, and your attacker is being irrational, then other readers will probably take your side.
Take the discussion offline – As with emails, the tone of comments on the internet can easily be misinterpreted. So it can be more productive (and less brand-damaging) to suggest taking the issue offline and resolving by email or on the phone.
Be prepared to accept justified criticism – Mistakes do happen and sometimes customers have a right to be angry. Any attempts to bury people’s criticism can only backfire these days, so sometimes you just have to hold your hands up and promise to do better in the future.