I love just about everything about being a communications professional. I enjoy – truly enjoy – the challenge of evangelizing a brand message through the right avenues to reach just the right people. I love how much technology keeps advancing and how the world, once so large and inaccessible, is now within reach to anyone with a dream, a brand and a plan!
This accessibility has made us interconnected in ways previously unseen, a fact that has a dark side to it as well. As a communications pro with a solid amount of time dedicated to social media, one of the most disheartening parts of many days is having to witness the ugly side of human nature through the freely spewing vitriol from trolls.
According to an online survey done by YouGov last year, only 45% of adults have heard of the term troll, while 28% of Americans admitted malicious online activity directed at somebody they didn’t know. 28%!
Key findings from the survey include:
- A total of 77% of Americans think that anonymity contributes to trolling
- 14% don’t think that trolls can be fought at all.
- About half of Americans believe a commenter has crossed the line if they are deliberately trying to upset one or more people.
We’ve all seen incendiary comments and can surely recognize many of the people trolling away behind the safety of their keyboards. You’ll often see generalizing words like “They,” “Them,” “Dumbocrats,” “Repugnicans,” and far, far worse that I am sure you’ve seen and I won’t retype here.
My question – is it necessary? Why does making the point of disagreement have to evoke such a juvenile response? It’s as though a person is fair-play for judgement, for mockery, for classless name-calling and for being subjected to gross generalizations about entire groups if they have a point of view that doesn’t align with that of the person trolling. It’s downright nastiness.
Trolling and your Personal Brand
There are many obvious problems with trolling, but many don’t stop to think about how what one posts can create self-inflicted personal branding problems. Unfortunately – or fortunately depending on how savvy you are with your public image – your social media presence is the picture you are presenting to the world about who you are as a person. What are you saying?
Freedom of expression is a beautiful thing, and, with the exception of hate speech, racial, religious, or even political bigotry and the incitement of crime, I respect people’s right to express their opinions and beliefs, whether I agree with them or not. When 14% of Americans surveyed don’t think that trolls can be fought at all and the term “Don’t Feed the Trolls” is a common social media mainstay, I think that the only solution one can come to is to focus on our own social activity.
Are we part of the problem? I often see people online that, based on what I know about them and what I see from their activity, I would not want to be associated with. At all. I was once told that “perception is reality.” If you are a person that reiterates your position on a certain topic by consistently attacking anyone with an opposing opinion, there is a good chance you are pushing people away because most people do not like to be associated with that kind of negativity.
Do you know how to discern between simply expressing your opinions and attacking people? Are you trolling? If you think you may be, then you might consider surveying friends, colleagues and acquaintances for honest feedback about how they perceive you. Be cognizant to what you are told and make the types of changes you feel are necessary to improve your image.
As I close this, I wanted to share some personal reflections. Truth is, I find it difficult to take the opinions of someone with trolling-tendencies seriously because I don’t see their perspectives as the result of serious independent thought. To the point: I don’t care to listen to anyone that let’s others think for them and puts others down to make themselves heard.
Not a single one of us is 100% informed on any topic and, because we simply don’t know what we don’t know, I think it’s fair to listen to different perspectives even if we don’t always agree with them. A person that presents me with facts, presents me with arguments for their stance and presents me with a thorough understanding of underlying interests will have my attention – and my respect.
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