When Trolls Attack!

You know, that sounds like the title for one of those B-movie horror films that are played at three in the morning. When Trolls Attack! “Don’t cross that bridge. You may not like who wants you to pay the toll!”

But all kidding aside, internet trolls are a hot topic as of late. With the anonymity of the internet to protect them, trolls go skulking around the forums and the discussion groups and the blogs and Twitter, using threats, name-calling, false reviews, and a plethora of other despicable tools at their fingertips for just one purpose: to hurt the targets of their e-bile. Authors seem to be a special target for these trolls. Get on the wrong side of one and they will take great pleasure in trying to bring down the rating of your books or leave hurtful comments on your blog.

And the world has not let this phenomenon go unnoticed: thousands of authors, self-published and traditional, large and small, have signed petitions trying to get Amazon and other retailers to take measures against the intentionally hurtful reviews trolls leave behind (I’m happy to have signed one myself). Authors like Anne Rice have taken to Facebook to encourage others not to be discouraged and to fight back against trolling. Articles have been written on blogs and in newspapers and magazines, and a recent study on trolls has come out, confirming what we already know about them: that the people who engage in troll behavior are “everyday sadists” who enjoy cruelty and seeing others in pain.

Yes, we are fighting the trolls as well as coming to understand them. However, it can still be pretty traumatic when a troll decides to target you. If, God forbid, one should set their sights on you, here are some tips in order to hopefully mitigate the damage and maybe even fight back:

1. Take a deep breath. If a troll leaves a nasty review on Amazon or a cruel comment on your blog, take a moment to calm down. Remember, trolls will target just about anyone, and what one is doing to you isn’t out of any personal grudge. So take a deep breath, get a cup of tea, do whatever you have to do to calm down and approach this rationally. When you’ve calmed down, talk to someone about it if you need to, preferably someone who understands the effects bullying can have on others.

Once you’ve calmed down a bit, the next step is to:

2. Create a record of the trolling. Even if the post or comment or review isn’t threatening or violent, it’s good to keep a record of the harassment. If this same troll keeps coming back to make you a victim, you cn use your record to prove there’s a history of harassment and fight back.

3. Try to get rid of the post, if possible. Once you have a record, you can delete the false review or cruel comment if you want. I certainly would, if I felt that it was in my interests. It might take a little work, but you can even get Amazon to get rid of a review made by a malicious bully.

4. If the harassment continues or starts to get threatening, don’t be afraid to contact the authorities. I know some people might be wary of approaching the police or contacting a lawyer, especially if the harassment is restricted to the Internet. However, not fighting back only encourages a troll, and no one should make you feel uncomfortable, especially not some coward who hides behind a keyboard to hurt others. So if the bullying doesn’t stop, and if it starts getting threatening, don’t hesitate to take action to protect yourself.

Now, sometimes those in the authorities will hear that this is happening on the internet, and will immediately stop listening. To them, you might as well be talking about Wonderland, Atlantis, or the planet Raxicoricofallipatorius, crazy talk that has no bearing on the real world. If this happens, don’t get discouraged. Ask for the supervisor, talk to a lawyer. Keep pushing, because this is your safety and your mental health at stake.

5. Fight back. Once you’ve taken care of yourself, it’s time to fight back. Talk aobut your experiences, advocate for ways to control or stop what trolls do. Signing that petition is one way. And remember, you are not alone. Other people have experienced trolling and survived. You can all band together and work together to stop the continued persecution that internet trolls revel in.

Now, I’ve never experienced trolling personally (and I hope this post doesn’t lead to me experiencing it). But I’ve talked and spoken to and heard from people who have been attacked by trolls, heard how they reacted and I’ve taken what I’ve learned from them to form this article. If anything I’ve said sounds inaccurate or like a bad idea, I do apologize for my inexperience and naiveté.

But if this post helps in any way to fight against trolling and makes it easier for you to deal with their sadistic tendencies, then I am glad to have been of some sort of service. Because if we wish for the world to change, we must be the agents of the change in the world. Nothing’s going to get done unless we do it, and I’m just trying to do my part.

33 thoughts on “When Trolls Attack!

  1. Miska (@cebelica111) April 13, 2014 / 7:34 am

    A great blog post, I agree with all points, but I would like to point out that you are advocating the sighing of petition which realization would expose people to real life harassment. Is this the right answer to stop the online bullying? Also, let’s not forget the that group that backened that up petition has a history of exposing reviewers real names, because they dare to write a not-glowing review, mark them as bullies and urge the people to ‘give them their own medicine.’ http://gossamerobsessions.blogspot.com/2012/07/return-to-neverland-bullies-stalkers.html

    • rami ungar the writer April 13, 2014 / 10:01 am

      I’m not sure that signing a petition would expose people to bullying. Usually Change.org keeps its signers anonymous. Thanks for your feedback, though. I understand your concerns about keeping people’s identities safe so they in turn won’t be bullied, and the last thing we want is for that to happen.

      • Miska (@cebelica111) April 13, 2014 / 11:31 am

        I sorry, it seems that I wasn’t clear enough in my statement. I believe that realization of the cause of the petition, which demands, if you have read the Anne Rice petition, the use of real names of all Amazon’s reviewers. Which mean that every time anybody wouldn’t be please with a certain review of a product, let that review be one star, three star of four stars, have enough of information, especially if the reviewer name is unusual, not to only bully reviewers online, but to stalk them in real life.
        When authors put their books on sale, they expose themselves. Do reviewers when they post reviews for other readers on books they love or hate, have to expose themselves too? Because if they will have to, that means that authors will have even a harder time in getting reviews (and not only authors but all Amazon’s suppliers, since many people probably wouldn’t want for their acquaintances to know that they just bought a new plasma TV or a new computer, or want for their employer to know that they enjoy watching erotic anime).

        The people signing a petition did expose themselves, since some readers over at the Amazon forum have decided to give them what they want and they are deleting the reviews they have posted anonymously on those authors’ books, and I think those reviews weren’t one or two stars reviews.

        • rami ungar the writer April 13, 2014 / 11:40 am

          Well now that you mention that, I see what the problem is. But I don’t think Amazon will force people to use their real names. If anything, I think they’ll take steps similar to YouTube to regulate comments in case the comments are in any way abusive or upsetting. That’s what I hope they’ll do.

          • Miska (@cebelica111) April 13, 2014 / 1:18 pm

            I might end sounding as a nitpick, but the thing is, the petition does mention bullying and lack of Amazon’s oversight and control on their site, but the petition is only about trying to get Amazon to implement “ a policy to remove anonymity in reviews and forum participation.” If you read it carefully, you will see that the petition is not requesting from Amazon better regulation of comments (which they are already doing with the help of report buttons), but implying that regulation of comments and reviews would happen if people are forced to use their real names, which means that everybody who signs that petition is not requesting better regulation, but that Amazon forces people to use their real names. Just thought you should know.

            • Ruth Ann Nordin April 13, 2014 / 3:44 pm

              I do agree that people shouldn’t have to give their real names when reviewing products or commenting on forums. This could cause a whole new set of problems, as you already mentioned. There are some honest people who would be negatively affected by this.

              • rami ungar the writer April 13, 2014 / 4:02 pm

                Most likely Amazon won’t reveal names. They and their lawyers understand the implications. Most likely it’ll be better controls when it comes to comments to prevent abuse (I hope).

              • Ruth Ann Nordin April 13, 2014 / 5:16 pm

                I can’t see Amazon wanting to use real names either, to be honest. I think it would hinder people from wanting to buy things from the store.

                I think there’s a good reason to believe they are looking into ways to stop the bullying. An author who sells very well was invited to talk to a KDP representative and mentioned the topic of people attacking book reviewers, and the representative said Amazon is trying to cut down on this kind of behavior. I imagine with a big site like Amazon, this kind of thing isn’t easy.

                It’s really unfortunate that some people have to bully others in order to feel important. I know we can’t get rid of all of it, but it’d sure be nice to curb it doesn’t happen as much.

                • rami ungar the writer April 13, 2014 / 6:07 pm

                  And that’s what I was hoping to help accomplish with this blog post. If it does prove to be helpful, we’ll know in time.

              • Miska (@cebelica111) April 14, 2014 / 4:08 am

                Yeah, that’s the reason why I’m against Rice’s petition and I’m not certain if the most of the signers know what they are petitioning for. The petition talks about bullying, but on the other hand its request would only serve the bullies and trolls, since it gives them a whole set of new tools. The possibility for people not only to be harassed online, but in real life, by some online trolls with too many time on their hand, could become very high.

            • Miska (@cebelica111) April 14, 2014 / 3:57 am

              “And that’s what I was hoping to help accomplish with this blog post. If it does prove to be helpful, we’ll know in time.”

              Yes, it’s a very helpful blog post about trolling and bullying, thank you for sharing it, but in the same blog post you are also promoting Rice’s petition, which realisation would in my opinion do more harm than good. The fact that Amazon won’t implement that, for me doesn’t change the harmful aspect of petition and with sighing that petition the authors are telling their readers and their reviewers, we don’t care about your safety. If the petition was about bullying, why not have it write that they demand from Amazon stricter rules and faster action when bullying occurs?
              This is just my opinion, but since you are soliciting that petition, I thought I should share it. What you do with it, that, of course, is your business and if your reply to that is “Amazon won’t implement that’ and still offer link to Rice’s petition and promote it, that fine.

  2. Colline April 13, 2014 / 10:14 am

    I have never experienced this myself – though I have had some people leave comments intended to hurt. The best is not to encourage hem in their behaviour by going on the defensive. As you say Chris, these people are bullies and they thrive when they can see they have succeeded in upsetting you. It is good to hear that well-known authors such as Anne Rice are fighting against this. After all, we all have the right to be treated with respect.

    • rami ungar the writer April 13, 2014 / 10:17 am

      Indeed, we should all be treated with respect. No one wants to be attacked by random strangers over the internet. There is obviously something wrong with the people who think it’s okay to do so. Thanks for commenting.

  3. Ruth Ann Nordin April 13, 2014 / 10:53 am

    I’ve been on the receiving end of this on a couple occasions. One person even went so far as to do a background check on me and emailed me to let me know. I had started a file on this person and printed the email out as further proof in case I ever needed to seek out a lawyer’s advice. Thankfully, it never went further than that.

    I definitely think keeping a file is a good idea. You just never know when you’ll need it, and it’s good to have proof on hand. I don’t know how effective ignoring trolls are, but that’s been my method in every instance it’s happened to me.

    I no longer have my email readily available for people to find, and I had to remove the contact me form off my website and blog because of this kind of behavior. I even have comment approvals for my blog. If someone wants to leave negative reviews on my books, fine. That doesn’t bother me anymore. It did back in 2009 and 2010, but after you’ve gone through enough of them, you really do have this numbing sensation that comes over you and you don’t even feel anything anymore. But I refuse to put up with the behavior in my inbox or on my blog. Those are my “home bases” where I relax and hang out with people I like on the internet.

    • rami ungar the writer April 13, 2014 / 11:42 am

      I’m glad I could get input from someone who has experienced this trolling. I’m glad you took steps to protect yourself Ruth and I hope you never experience this trolling ever again. Thanks for commenting.

  4. ajoobacats April 13, 2014 / 1:40 pm

    Thank you for an excellent and amusing post!

  5. tkmorin April 13, 2014 / 5:00 pm

    Well done! I’ve signed the petition, ’cause I totally agree with you! Thanks for the link! 🙂

  6. D. Parker April 13, 2014 / 6:18 pm

    Thank you. I get this one. I’ve only had one real problem since I started blogging, but wow, the bullying is so sad.

    • rami ungar the writer April 13, 2014 / 10:08 pm

      Indeed, and it’s sad that people have to feel good about themselves by making others feel horrible. But we have to do our best to stop their behavior so that we can use the Internet safely. Thanks for commenting.

  7. Norma Beishir April 13, 2014 / 7:51 pm

    I’ve been fortunate so far–as far as I know. I don’t go to Goodreads anymore, and the only troll I had at Amazon was someone I know who took a lame shot using a lame alias. I think if I did end up on the receiving end of a troll attack, I’d follow Ruth Ann’s lead and ignore the troll. Most are looking for attention. Why give it to them?

    • rami ungar the writer April 13, 2014 / 10:01 pm

      Exactly. The best thing to do with a troll is not to engage them. Keep a record of their harassment at the most, but don’t give them any reason to continue. Thanks for commenting.

  8. Nickolaus Pacione April 13, 2014 / 8:20 pm

    Reblogged this on An Author's Blog and commented:
    This is something I need to reblog because this holds true with what I had been putting up with as this. I think this something everyone who goes it themselves need to read for themselves. Especially when trolls like Brian Keene and Mike Brendan keep flooding my comments like a broken record. This includes Ramsey Campbell as he is a little old to be a troll.

  9. Ron Fritsch April 13, 2014 / 10:00 pm

    Thanks for this post, rami ungar the writer. If a bully resorts to threats or stalking, one should certainly contact a lawyer or the police. If the bully does nothing more than write a negative review, though, neither lawyers nor law-enforcement officials (in the US at least) can do anything about it. A negative review is, after all, free speech. Writers should place a high value on that.

    • rami ungar the writer April 13, 2014 / 10:20 pm

      Indeed we should value free speech. However, when it gets into the territory where someone’s well-being is threatened, then we should definitely get law enforcement involved. Thanks for commenting.

  10. Ron Fritsch April 13, 2014 / 10:45 pm

    But the “well-being” has to involve something more than irritation or upset resulting from a negative review.

    • rami ungar the writer April 13, 2014 / 11:03 pm

      Yes, indeed it does. “Well-being”, as I understand it, is threatened when the harassment becomes a daily thing, or starts to make you feel unsafe or depressed or anxious. There have been incidents where trolls have induced this in their victims.

  11. Ensis April 14, 2014 / 1:35 pm

    There’s such a fine line, though.
    I was following a few fellow writers I met on facebook, both of whom campaigned against internet trolls. Then I noticed ALL their posts were about trolls and trolling and I never heard them saying anything about writing, except to whine that a ‘troll’ had poorly reviewed their book.
    I took it upon myself to do some research into this person and found he had three reviews on his book (which he priced over $80, by the way) One was a negative review, but it was full of thought out commentary on the book and as far as I could tell from the synopsis, was accurate–showing the person had read the book and didn’t like it. It was also without any hurtful language–obviously not a Troll.
    The next was a three star review with few details.
    But the last was a one star review in which the reviewer stated she gave one star because the AUTHOR HIMSELF was posting one star reviews of others’ work, just to prove that he could. She admitted to not having read the work.

    I left a post on facebook for both gentlemen, indicating politely that I was no longer subscribing to their blogs and why.

    But the question this raised for me is thus: Who is the REAL Troll?

    I like Smashwords’ system best–you can’t review a work you havent’ at least purchased. That way, even if you want to post a nasty comment, it’ll cost you five bucks a pop, and the author gets his royalties. I think that would help a great deal, but we’ll never SOLVE this problem.

    Great article, by the way–I agree that the best way to prevent trolling is by behaving as professionally as possible. Don’t attempt to take up the troll torch and seek “justice” for your own percieved slights; you’ll just be perpetuating this vicious cycle.

    Wow, that was a long comment. Sorry, but I had a lot to say.

    • rami ungar the writer April 14, 2014 / 1:54 pm

      It was a long comment, but it does contain a very good point. Sometimes people overreact and claim that a negative review is from a troll, or may be trolls themselves and are trying to shift the focus off themselves and make others into the bullies (boy, where have I heard that before?). We have to use our own intellect and judgement to figure out who the real trolls are and then work from there.

      Boy, did my comment get long as well. Thanks for commenting.

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