Dealing with trolls is one of the costs of participating in social media. These are the folks who combine a strong opinion with a lack of knowledge. A handful of inflammatory and negative comments can neutralize dozens of positive ones. Here are the top twelve signs that you're dealing with someone who lives under a bridge.
1. Bad Grammar, spelling, and linguistic cues. Trolls don't capitalize the first word of sentences, use periods, or commas. They have a tough time with homophones (words that sound the same but have different meanings and spellings). This has nothing to do with gay rights though trolls have strong feelings about this issue too. They use the first-person pronoun ("I") and exclamation marks (!!!!) a lot. They type in ALL CAPS. They write long comments using short, simplistic, and goofy words. Example: "PUHLEZE, your completely WRONG about global warming everyone nose that al gore is just trying to cell books"
2. Entitlement. Trolls exhibit a exorbitant level of entitlement manifested in the belief that their time is valuable, and they should get everything for free. Example: "How dare Facebook run ads or try to monetize my content!!!!" "Why does she post stuff on her page that doesn't interest me and wastes my time???" "Dropbox should be honored that I store my files on its free service." "If Google+ ever has ads, I'm out of there."
3. Lack of first-hand knowledge. People with the strongest opinions often have the least first-hand knowledge. When you encounter the certain and vociferous opinion of trolls, ask them if they have first-hand knowledge or experience. You'll find that trolls just "know" that something is true. Example: "Google+ is a ghost town." Do you use Google+? "No, but I know no one is there."
4. Lousy profiles. The profiles of trolls are usually lousy: out-of-focus and poorly-lit avatars, lack of personal cover and album photos, and incomplete biographical information. These people aren't trying to gain more friends or followers, so they don't care about the quality of their profile. A social-media profile is a window into a person's soul. Example: not forthcoming because I won't give any troll the satisfaction of being called out.
5. Intolerance. Trolls do not embrace diversity. Alternate thoughts, lifestyles, sexual orientations, and operating systems are both wrong and unacceptable. Example: "macs are too espensive and there're just something Steve Jobes ripped off from Xerox Park. i am much productive than any Mac owner"
6. Pre-Copernicus. Trolls missed school the day that science class covered Copernicus's heliocentric model of the universe. Thus, they think that they are the center of the universe. Examples, "He's never left a comment on any of my posts, so he obviously doesn't know how to use social media." "She's never been in a hangout with me." "He's never once asked what I think about this."
7. Perfect information. Trolls expect everyone in the world to know what they did immediately after they did it. (Pre-Copernicus and perfect information is a deadly combination!) If you read the troll's post, you'll see that the person or company in question isn't + or @ mentioned so there's no way for them to know they were mentioned. Example: "i explained why he's wrong in my blog, but he hasn't responded yet."
8. Cowardly. Trolls are cowards and want to attack and pontificate but not constructively discuss. They do not have the courage to say to your face what they say online. They are bullies who are brave in a pack but shrink away from confrontation when they don't have a computer to hide behind. That said, you might find that trolls are perfectly reasonable people in person which is a difficult concept to grok.
9. Legal scholars. Many trolls are legal scholars but every legal scholar isn't a troll. In particular, trolls are experts in selective portions of U.S. constitutional law, U.S. Supreme Court rulings, and Sharia law. They are certain that the founding fathers anticipated the state of technology two hundred years hence. Example: "The Constitutions guarantees that I can protect myself in case a Muslim president sends Seal Team Six after me...im going to grab the AK47 I bought at Walmart and kick their asses"
10. Arithmetically challenged. Trolls are not good at arithmetic, and they oversimplify the facts. When they say "every," the fact is that they should say "some." However, their goal is to exaggerate and aggravate. Example: "Every post is a promotion for her company." "He never responds to anyone." "United flights are always delayed."
11. Holier-than-thou. No matter what you do, it's never enough. No matter what a troll does, it's exemplary. This often happens in the times of tragedy. You post, "An accident occurred today in London." Troll responds, "That's all you can say? I offered my prayers." Really? Only God needs to hear your prayers--do you need to tell the Internet too?
12. American. It pains me to say this, but I've noticed that most trolls are American. We're hung up on manifest destiny and the belief that we should tell everyone how to live, what to think, and what to do--including, of course, other Americans. Example: when a tragedy happens in the U. S., trolls expect the whole world to come to a halt. It's as if an American life is worth more than any other country's.
Now that you can identify trolls, here are five way to handle them:
1. Give them a chance. Respond to a trollish comment and see what the person does. A troll will respond with anger, negativism, and hostility, but people who had a temporary trollish moment will make a reasonable and intelligent response. This happens about 20 percent of the time, but when it does, you can develop a true friendship from a rocky start.
2. Turn off comments in your posts. There's no law that you have to let people comment. When I post a story about abortion, gun control, or Barack Obama, I sometimes turn off comments to (a) reduce my aggravation and (b) frustrate trolls.
3. Ignore their comments. You can let trolls post their comments and simply ignore the comments. You don't have a moral obligation to respond to anything.
4. Delete their comments. Think of this as skimming the detritus off the surface of your swimming pool. If you keep deleting, eventually, trolls may tire of posting.
5. Get rid of them permanently. On Google+, for example, you can delete the comment, block the person from commenting, and report the person to the service. There's a handy Chrome extension called Nuke Comments that will do this in one click.
Go forth and post, and let's see what happens. Remember: don't be a troll yourself, and always assume that people are good until proven bad.
Guy Kawasaki is the author of twelve books including APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur — How to Publish a Book,What the Plus!,andEnchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds and Action. He's the former chief evangelist of Apple and current advisor to Motorola. Guy shares enchanting stuff on the topics of marketing, enchantment, social media, writing, self-publishing, innovation and venture capital.
Illustration by John Bauer