Trolling for Trolls

These days, it’s difficult to click through the Web without encountering trolls. They post nasty remarks on news sites, they tweet disparaging comments on social media, and they mercilessly attack business, performers and other individuals.

Last year, a White House national security aide, Jofi Joseph, was fired after he was caught taunting senior government officials, including President Obama. In 2012, a man who used a Reddit handle, Violentacrez, was fired from a financial services firm after he was exposed by a reporter for hurling forth racism, porn, gore, incest, misogyny and more.

Of course, businesses also find themselves increasingly in the crosshairs. In some cases, they’re attacked, bullied, berated and flamed for merely existing. In other cases, trolls (perhaps competitors), post outright fabrications and fake reviews. It takes only a glance at Amazon and eBay to see the extent of the problem. Gartner reports that about 10 to 15 percent of reviews are fraudulent.

It’s safe to say that human behavior can be quite appalling and, with the shield of online anonymity, some people will say and do things they would never dream of doing in public. Likewise, some competitors will stoop to incredible depths to disparage another business rather than spending time bettering their own. In some cases, they use overseas labor to generate fake reviews.

Tackling the problem can prove extraordinarily difficult. So, what’s a business to do? Most importantly, it’s critical to recognize that authentic bad reviews aren’t necessarily the same as trolling. Forcibly removing them—something some companies now do routinely—will likely result in bad publicity and bigger problems as word leaks out on social media.

Instead, savvy business leaders use legitimate feedback to shape products and services. Then also take steps to address the problem of fake reviews. This may include: requiring account registration, monitoring accounts for unusual activity, avoiding the temptation to engage with trolls, establishing policies and guidelines for the tone of posts, crafting internal policies for dealing with problems and using community policing.

Samuel Greengard
Samuel Greengard
Samuel Greengard writes about business, technology and other topics. His book, The Internet of Things (MIT Press) was released in the spring of 2015.

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