July 28, 2020

Annette Densham

I’m one of those old farts that grew up without mobile phones, YouTube and Facebook. If I wanted to talk or get info somewhere, I had to make an effort - go to the library or physically ask someone. My kids reckon I am OLD. Their eyes roll when I begin “when I was a kid …”


I grew up with spirit copiers (I even have licence to operate one), fax machines and hand-written letters. Back in my day, if you wanted to say something, you had to send a letter, WAIT for a response, or call on the phone, if they were not there, you couldn't leave a message you had to keep ringing them until you got them (there were no VM or answering machines}. Everything took time. And ... we were careful with what we said. Choosing our words thoughtfully to not offend or upset.

Prehistoric bullies

As a kid, I was relentlessly bullied at school because I was tall and broad. I knew exactly who my tormentors were because they have to say horrible things to my face. There was not PMs or emails to hide behind.

How the world has changed.

Messages are instant, and bullying is more insidious because of the tools humans have created to make communicating easier. Just because you can say something doesn't mean you should. My mum used to tell me ‘sticks and stones can break your bones, but names can never hurt you’. Great old-world wisdom. I wish it was true. Unfortunately, the modern-day troll/bully can wreak havoc with well-placed words, destroying confidence and the will to share. 

New form of bullying

As much as I love social media, it has bred a new form of bully – the troll. They come in all shapes and sizes. They lurk in Facebook groups ready to pounce as soon as you post. You send a group message about an event and they are ready with a razor-sharp lecture on all you have done wrong. Or they cushion their nastiness in a flurry of endearments, so they can pretend they are doing the world a favour. They believe their towering intellect and my-shit-does-not stink values and morals gives them the right to share their opinions without dispute.

Let’s face it, social media is a fertile playground for trolls. Hunched over their keyboards, safely behind their screens, they spew nasty vitriol and patronising prose at those of us just trying to get on with our lives. They are everywhere – no social media platform is safe. Their job is to get under your skin and they wield their nastiness without compassion or regret.

Five types of troll

In my experience, I have come across five types of troll. I am sure there are more, but I can only speak from my observations. 

Grammar Nazi

We all make mistakes. The very nature of social media is we often tap out a response to a post or post something on the fly. Dam auto correct, or a forgotten pair of glasses means there is typo or a misplaced word. Here is where Grammar Nazi comes to the fore. They take great delight in telling you that ‘i should come before e’ or your modifier is dangling. Instead of a PM, politely letting you know you’ve made a boo boo, the Grammar Nazi takes you to task for al to see.

Click Bait Reactor

Modern marketing tells us the headline is the most important aspect of a post – it is what draws people in. Quite often the headline (click bait) is different to the actual story. Even if the story is about unicorns and rainbows saving the world, we are more likely to click on EVIL DEMONS THWARTED IN END OF DAYS CONQUEST than WORLD SAVED BY FRANK THE UNICORN. The Click Bait Reactor is not interested in the story; they ‘re too busy to ACTUALLY read the article so they start ranting about the headline, going off on a tangent that has nothing to do with the story. Because the story doesn’t matter, the troll just wants to share what he/she thinks.

Know It All

Love this one. I see them all the time in Facebook groups – the person who has an answer for everything. Your kid has nits – they know how to fix it. You have a business question – they’ve been there and one that. You have a personal crisis – well, they have a degree from Whackadoo University and are qualified to help you. You promote something, and they must tell you what you did wrong in your marketing. If you don’t take their advice, they get narky and PM you to tell you that you are an idiot.

Bomb Dropper

Or ‘the attention seeker’ troll. This person’s life is always worse than yours. Their pain is deeper. Their successes bigger and better. They hijack conversations to make it all about them. Even when you try to get the conversation back on track, they have these amazing skills of swinging the thread back to focus on them. 

I’m Offended

Sometimes things are just funny …and that is ok. But the offended troll, takes everything personally and turn the post into an attack on them and their place in the world. I get we all don’t have the same sense of humour but if you don’t like something, use that amazing appendage at the end of your hand and scroll past it. Ok … blatantly sexist, racist and nasty content is not necessary. There should be no place on social media for deliberate hate.

What to do with a troll

Your response to trolls – as much as I love a good debate and to stand up for myself, I have found there is no point engaging with a troll. Trolls come from a place of nastiness and self-righteousness – there is no defence against that. A troll wants you to suffer. A troll wants you to engage so they can prove they were right all along.

You are not going to change their opinion. They’re just bullies. Your words will be wasted, and you will end up feeling worse than you did by the initial engagement. If they are a ‘friend’, unfriend or unfollow them. Fire needs fuel to spread, starve them of it.

Of course, as a business you need to ensure you have policies in place to deal with legitimate complaints, how you will manage these and any negative feedback, and how you will manage trolls. As an everyday person just trying to do their best, I wish I had a better answer.; I do know that it is never wise to respond to any negativity while you are emotional. Take a deep breath and take a step back.

No one likes to be picked on and made to feel awful. If you do attract the attention of a troll and it gets too much, reach out to someone to help you through it. Do not suffer in silence.

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Annette Densham

Annette Densham is an international award-winning publicity expert with a 30 plus year career in newspapers – The Australian, Financial Review, and Daily Telegraph, magazines (print and digital) and corporate communications. She uses her expertise to teach small business people how to use their stories to connect with the world and build influential brands.

Annette is also a stand-up comedian, and as an author, trainer, mentor and speaker, she weaves her story magic everywhere.

annette densham

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