The Cost of Doing Business Online: Trolls
There have been way too many instances of late in which online detractors or idiots (read: trolls) have shown up on my social media radar screen. I envision many of them looking like Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons, but I continue to be amazed at how people can take legitimate social media activities and turn them into their own personal platforms for extraordinarily insensitive commentary. Free speech? Sure. But exercising free speech still doesn’t excuse you from being a complete moron.
Example #1: Season Affective Disorder Twitter Chat
An agency of the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), has conducted several Twitter chats, covering a wide variety of topics related to mental health. I don’t have any scientific data to back it up, but I imagine that it’s hard for people to go on a highly public and visible platform like a Twitter chat, discuss their own mental illness or feelings of depression – and have their comments linked back to the personal profile. It must be really hard.
On November 13, 2014, NIMH conducted a Twitter chat about Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) – good timing as the amount of light available in daytime hours in going down many places and SAD affects a lot of people, especially at this time of year.
As I’m working, I’m watching the chat out of the corner of my eye, when one particular tweet showed up – and told me that the trolls have arrived:
— ZED (@ZedTrafficker) November 13, 2014
What? Racist? And what the hell are those pictures? I suppose that one could argue that the troll on the other end of the tweet may well have suffered from some form of mental illness, but then I saw another tweet:
As people were discussing how certain light boxes how shown to be very effective at helping those with Seasonal Affective Disorder, the troll posted this:
— ZED (@ZedTrafficker) November 13, 2014
Not cool. It then occurred to me that whomever was doing this was trolling a Twitter chat on mental illness – a tough topic for people to talk about, let alone in a highly public way. To their credit, no one, especially those at NIMH engaged with this troll and he/she eventually went away. I believe, however, that making light of mental illness during a social media event pretty much makes you a complete asshole.
Example #2: New England Patriots and Twitter
November 13 must have been International Troll Day. Ask the New England Patriots.
With a brand new Twitter account and in an attempt to quickly reach one million followers, their social media team created a clever way to attract people to their Twitter account and have people follow them – they created a Twitter bomb. The Patriots’ social media team enabled people to enter certain text and said text would appear verbatim on the back of a Patriots’ jersey in the form of a tweet. They were expecting people to enter their last names, a neat way to show your Patriots fever. A very cool idea for whomever came up with it:
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) November 13, 2014
And that’s when it went wrong. Very wrong. As the Boston Globe wrote,
99.99 percent of their fandom who just wanted to share in their social media celebration. But it’s always that 0.01 percent that causes 100 percent of the problems.”
And that 0.01 percent did exactly that, creating a jersey using the “n word” made up of letters and numbers. And unfortunately, it went viral. A troll had gotten through the keyword filters that the Patriots set up (I am not going to post the tweet as not to give the person further exposure) and before the Patriots’ social media team could react, the post went viral (it was up for more than an hour, which is the only thing for which I would criticize the effort – you have GOT to have a warning system in place if you automate an effort like this). After said hour, the tweet was taken down, but as I’ve said in the past, the Internet is forever and screen shots rule the day.
Trolls 1, New England Patriots, 0.
Much has been written about this mistake, so I won’t provide a lot of additional commentary. My only point would be that if the Patriots were looking to go from zero to one million followers using an automated method (and they were going to sleep at some point), there is no way possible that humans could have prevented this. Moreover, most of the social media accounts I manage have keyword filters as well, but the 0.01 percent of the trolls will always find a way to do 100 percent of the damage. Thankfully, no one got fired. And the Patriots social media team quickly apologized:
We apologize for the regrettable tweet that went out from our account. Our filtering system failed & we will be more vigilant in the future.
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) November 14, 2014
Like the Globe writer, Bill Speros commented this was a mistake fed by clever trolls:
“If every person in America was fired after they made a mistake at work, our nation’s unemployment rate would be 99 percent by the end of next week.”
Where there is the Internet, there will always be trolls. No matter how serious the subject, nor how insensitive the message, there will always be someone about .01 percent more clever and devious than a good social media team.
Does it mean we should stop? No way. I’ll keep doing Twitter chats, Google Hangouts and maintaining many social media properties – but I do so with the knowledge that on one particular day at one particular time, I’ll get trolled.
It’s the new normal, and the unfortunate cost of doing business online.
Image credit: Dr. Platypus, Flickr Commons