12 Most Sensible Ways to Deal with Online Bullies and Trolls

12 Most Sensible Ways to Deal with Online Bullies and Trolls

October is National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month and we have talked about trolls a few times on 12 Most but since it is such a wide spread problem, I thought it would be great to get some advice from some well-respected sources in social media and the blogosphere. I have included links to several posts that deal with this serious issue and while I hope you don’t have to deal with these things, it is smart to have a protocol and know the limits of social behavior as well as the laws pertaining to online behavior.

1. Chris Brogan

“I thank them and let them be mostly. I delete their comments if they are distasteful but not if they’re just negative.”

2. Dabney Porte

“It’s important to remember that those who bully on or offline are typically not emotionally well and are seeking attention and power. I do not engage with this behavior as this only reinforces the behavior and may antagonize the bully to attack further. Don’t feed the bully!”

Oh No You Didn’t Say That To Me… Dealing with the Adult Bully by Dabney

3. Jason Falls

“Erik Deckers and I covered this in our book No Bullshit Social Media, but it’s nice to have it brought out more specifically in your post!

Here’s my take:

Detractors have every right to talk negatively about you or your company. And yes, it can be frustrating, and even demoralizing to deal with them. Bullies, which I’d throw into the extreme category of being online turds, don’t have a right to do what they do, but it’s often hard to know the difference between a disgruntled customer and a turd/bully. So I developed a six-step reaction list to help figure out and deal appropriately:

1. Acknowledge their right to complain — Don’t get defensive. Know that everyone can say what they like. It’s easy to think, “How dare they.” Well, they dare. So you have to deal.
2. Apologize for their situation or your mistake, if warranted — Sometimes “I’m sorry,” completely puts out the fire. And you don’t have to claim responsibility. “I’m sorry for the situation,” or “I’m sorry this happened.” At least acknowledges you get it… they’re upset.
3. Assert clarity in your policy or reasons, if warranted — We have policies and procedures. Hopefully, they’re clearly explained to the customer or audience up front. If not, assert them. “We have a policy against refunds for this reason. I’m sorry we can’t accommodate you. Is there anything else I can do to make this better.”
4. Assess what will help them feel better — You may not be able to give it to them, but you need to discover what they’re looking for.
5. Act accordingly — If your policies allow and it’s reasonable, give them what they want. If not, explain to them why you can’t and see if something else might satisfy them.
6. Abdicate — Sometimes a turd is a turd and you just have to say, “Sorry. I tried to help you, but there’s no reasonable solution that will seem to help you.” And step away. The good news is that your audience has probably been seeing the exchanges and will either defend you or applaud you for just walking away from the situation.

Obviously, this is more of a customer situation reminder. Bullies — from an individual basis — are a different ballgame and should probably just be reported to site or even legal authorities. At least ignore them. But for businesses, these steps are probably pretty sound.”

4. Dino Dogan

“I never had to deal with trolls until I started Triberr. Which means that if you’re having to deal with trolls, you’ve reached a certain level of popularity. Congratulations.

At first my strategy was to engage with them in a reasoned and rational manner, however, trolls are drunk with bad emotions and no reasoned response will do.

You can’t squeeze milk out of an orange. Ultimately, what comes out of any of us is whats inside us, and trolls spew their innards across these blogospheres, and for that, I ignore them and keep it moving.

There are way too many awesome people that you could be focusing on instead.”

5. Guy Kawasaki

“I use Nuke Comments on Google+, the Chrome extension, and delete, block, and report.”

6. Diana Adams

“If you’ve had any amount of blogging success, you’ve probably had an experience or two with Internet trolls. In my opinion, 99.9% of the people online are absolutely wonderful. I adore my Internet friends, but there is always a troll in the bunch somewhere, right? Those are the people who like to be mean just for the sake of being mean. I don’t understand it, but I’ve experienced it.

Now when I get those kinds of comments, they make me laugh. Back when I first started blogging a few years ago though, it was a whole different story. Getting a troll comment back then would throw me into a crying freak-out that usually didn’t end until Richard talked some sense back into me.”

7. Sara Hawkins

“I have different answers for different occurrences. While my starting point is to ignore them and not engage them, which is their fuel, there are times when something needs to be done.

Trolls and bullies who show up on a personal blog are ignored. Often I will screen cap what is written, should the situation escalate or if I already know this person has done this to others. After screencapping, they get the big ol’ delete. If they repost then I will block the IP. Before blocking the IP, depending on the situation and if they’re using a name or “anonymous” I might look up if they’re using an anonymized IP. If they are then I won’t blog the IP b/c it won’t matter b/c the IP is rolling (like those genie garage door openers).

On FB and Twitter I always consider the context and language. Profanity, hate-type speech, racially insensitive words, or anything derogatory (in my opinion, not theirs!) is immediately deleted and I will say why it was deleted. Before deleting I’ll screen cap b/c, well, it’s the lawyer in me and I also know anything deleted can become fuel for questioning and more piling on. When the comment does have those types of words I may block/report as spam if looking at the person’s timeline it seems like that’s their MO.

When it comes to bullying, I don’t tolerate it at all. I’m all for discourse but it has to be civilized. Otherwise, it’s gone. If it’s email, then there is no engagement at all. If the email continues I will escalate it with outside organizations if there are threats.

My basic belief is — my site, my rules! I do have selective comment moderation, and suggest it for others if they have that capability. That way certain words, even specified IP/email addresses, will trigger the comment to be held.

When it comes to professional/brand sites, the rules are a little different. Of course it’s always best if the organization already has some ground rules in place, but as you know that’s not always the case. Every professional organization I consult with, one of the first things we talk about is having a plain and clear set of rules for the site/FB. Makes it easier for people to understand what will not be tolerated. Profanity, hate-type speech, racially insensitive words, or anything derogatory is immediately deleted. I always suggest a screen cap so there is documentation since others will likely screencap AND it’s so easy to photoedit these days.

Bullying of other participants is not tolerated and will be deleted. It’s one thing to be negative, but something altogether inappropriate to be rude or verbally hurtful/abusive or intimidating.

Trolls are a little more difficult because they’re often disguised as cute and cuddly when they’re really horrible and disgusting. This is where the need for screen capping comes in because trolls are often invasive and insidious. For blogs/website/FB/Pinterest/Tumblr/YouTube it’s often over time that you realize they’re trolls, which then means going back and putting all the pieces together. Watching IPs on them, if possible, is important because often it’s the same person with different names.

Sometimes, trolls need a dressing down in front of everyone. Other times, it’s a situation that has to be monitored because they can bait others into that anonymous groupthink type attitude and cross the line from trolling to bullying. Other times, the community will take care of trolls so the community leaders don’t have to. But, as you know, there are some communities that feed trolls and they just get more and more bold.

I’m not a fan of comment moderation, but when there is the ability to do selective moderation, that is definitely an option. I have counseled companies to use selective moderation for platforms they control so they can prevent certain type of language depending on their audience. This is especially important for companies where kids 13 and under will come. Even for family-friendly companies, they may want to keep certain language off their site.

For FB, since there is no moderation options (which would be awesome for companies!) the audience is often the starting point. Any time kids may be at the page (and with FB while it’s fair to assume everyone is at least 13, that’s not always the case) it’s a higher standard. But while the rules may all start out with the same basics, a professional sports team may allow some language and aggressive-feeling comments that a beauty site may not.

I hate to say that “it all depends”, but it does. What someone else may see as tolerable, I may not. For example, there are some who don’t have the same aversion to the use of the word “Nazi” that I do and won’t find use of the word Nazi as a basic adjective to be offensive. For me, I do and unless it’s used to refer to Hitler and his regime I have/and do delete comments using it.

One final thing: brands do need to be mindful of potential legal ramification of not moderating their sites. While there is no 1st Amendment right when it comes to a brand deleting comments, the flip side is that if a brand allows hate speech, obscenity or other types of questionable language there could be unintended consequences. It’s a catch-22 for brands that want to be open and engaging.”

Blog Law: Online Bullying isn’t Just for Kids Anymore by Sara

8. Aaron Lee

“I have met a fair number of them and I found that trolls are there to make others suffer.

One thing I learned is that trolls love attention and they would do anything to get it. I quickly learned that the best way to handle them is to either ignore them or just simply respond them with sarcasm. One of the big “no-no’s” for me is don’t waste your time arguing with them, because that would keep them coming back for more.”

9. Ann Tran

“Respect yourself enough to walk away from anything that doesn’t serve you.  What you love, you empower; and I would like to allow only positive energy that strengthens me to flow through my life.  Be selective about where your energy goes.  Let go of what you can’t control, and surround yourself with loving, positive energy that will help you flourish.  You attract in life, what you empower in life.”

10. Misty Belardo-McPadden

“Luckily no one has bullied me online, but for online trolls the best way to get them to stop stalking and bothering me is to ignore and not make any efforts to give any of my time. I don’t reply and I don’t give them publicity. I also report and block them.”

11. Rebel Brown

“I bite my keyboard and then ignore them.”

12. Andrea Vahl

“The first thing you need to have in place to handle the trolls is a policy. Outline what types of comments will be tolerated on your site (have it spelled out on your website and on your Facebook page). Healthy discussion is ok, disagreement is ok, personal attacks on you or another member of your community are not ok. Name-calling, profanity, and flaming are not ok. That way, when a troll or bully posts, you are able to easily point to your policy and delete the comments and ban the bully if necessary.”

A bonus to overdeliver a la Mr. Kawasaki

Brian Gardner

“Trolls will always be an issue as long as online content publications exist. If you’re dealing with first-time offenders, the best thing to do is acknowledge them and offer a thoughtful and helpful response which might deter them from bothering you again. If you’ve got a full-time bully or troll on your hands, do your best to ignore them, delete their comments, or even block their IP address from your site.”
My advice: Don’t Feed the Trolls!  Let them do their angry thing and move on.

Thank you to all the folks who took the time to share their thoughts for this post.

How do you handle trolls or online bullies? Share your thoughts in the comments.

More resources:

Great post by Michelle Mazure in which she talks about the 12 Most Crucial Tips when Communicating Criticism to handle situations with grace and not with anger.

Cyberbullies: Don’t Let Bullies Ruin Your Online Life

Featured image courtesy of JPott via Creative Commons. Article by Peg Fitzpatrick

Peg Fitzpatrick


Peg Fitzpatrick is co-Editor-in-Chief of 12 Most . She's co-author of the best-selling book, The Art of Social Media: Power Tips for Power Users co-authored with Guy Kawasaki. Peg works with global brands and leaders in the social media sphere every day. She's spearheaded successful social-media campaigns for Motorola, Audi, Google, and Virgin as well as having been a brand ambassador for Kimpton Hotels. All about being positive and connecting, she is a true social butterfly. Tweet her and say hi at @pegfitzpatrick, find her Stumbling on StumbleUpon, rocking Google+ here Google or happily pinning on Pinterest.

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Hmm, Rebel's input was succinct. I enjoyed all of the input. Key is to recognize the genuine detractors and people with legit concerns or contrarian opinions. Engage them politely. Even give the troll a shot, but then know when to cut your losses and let their noise get lost in the noise of the social channels.

If that noise happens in a blog comment, then yeah...gotta delete it even though we all avoid getting to that step. At a certain point, you owe it to your community of engaged readers.


I think some of the worst kind of bullying comes from a person setting up Faux twitter accounts and then using the same verbiage in bullying tactics.  In this way it continues to feed the one bullying. I teach my clients, including myself do a little research with follows, and soon you that person who has been bothering has set up multiple accounts using the same follows. Very easy to tract down, block and enjoy the great positives that come out of Social Media.


@risovic Pleasure :) Wishing you a fab day ahead! Take good care my friend :)


Love this post, Peggy. So much wonderful advice! Worth saving, printing and re-reading regularly.


@JasonFalls Thanks for sharing and being a part of my post! So happy to have you on 12 Most. :D

Sara F. Hawkins
Sara F. Hawkins

Thank you for including me and my thoughts in this list. It's one of the few times I've seen 12 people with such varying experiences have basically the same thought on a topic. It really goes to show that each of us holds a great deal of power to control the online bullies and trolls not only on our sites but within our community. There is advice here for nearly any situation. Great job!


Thank you, Peggy. This is a great article. It's so insightful to see all the different approaches and viewpoints. Thank you for including me! I will definitely bookmark this one. :)


Great article and a lot of helpful advice. I really loved Ann's advice. When I read a negative comment, my blood begins to boil and I really want to defend myself. Really, those people are not my people. Not everyone is going to like my particular brand of sparkle or brilliance. That's fine. 

Thank you for the shout out as well! :-)