Book Promotion, Indie Publishing, Marketing, Publishing, Social Media, Writing Business

How To Handle Online Trolling & Harassment: Author Edition Part 2

Image by StockSnaps via Pixabay

Yesterday, I discussed reputation monitoring but today, I’m moving on to reputation management.  In this post, I’ll give you the tools to go on the offense if you find you’re being target by an individual or group looking to harm your business.  This post goes a little beyond social media and deals with general online harassment but I still believe it’s something authors need to know.  I hope these posts will empower you to take control of your online image and grow your publishing business with confidence.  

P.S. I am in no way affiliated with the products and services mentioned in this post.

Reputation Management

Did you know that there is an entire industry built around managing online reputations?  There are quite a few services that work with individuals to help them either deal with a crisis or monitor the internet for any negative press.

Unlike reputation monitoring, a reputation management service influences and controls a person’s or business’ public identity.  They scan the internet using special software or just use Google, then start a campaign against anything that can be considered damaging to their clients.  For example, actor Charlie Sheen, allegedly paid a fixer (A PR manager who specializes in crisis management), to scour the internet for anything that pertained to him having HIV years before his public confession in 2015.  Later on I’ll discuss some services that can help you with an online crisis but right now let’s explore the dark side of the internet.             

Worst Case Scenario: You’re Being Attacked

Okay, let’s pretend that someone is actively campaigning to make your life hell, what can you do about it?  Well let’s figure out how bad things on the internet can get first:   

#1: Doxxing (Info Dumping)

This includes publically announcing anything such as bank account, social security (e.g. national identity numbers), and credit card numbers.  If you find that your personal information is being shared online there are ways to get it taken down by contacting the owner of a given site and request they remove the info.  If your info is dumped on social media you can report the post or contact the site directly and request it be removed. Most will comply since they don’t want to face any lawsuits nor do they want their website’s rank to be demoted in the search engines.  If this is a website and there is no contact information you may have to resort to contacting the hosting company of the website.  You do that by Googling the words: WHOIS and the website’s URL.  If you can’t find the name of the owner, you will most likely find the host company.  Feel free to shoot off an email to them requesting the removal of the content.

Now let’s say you’ve completed these steps and the information is still appearing in search results, even days after the content was taken down.  Did you know you can request that companies such as Google and Bing take it down from their search engine?  Below is a list on where to find that information:  

*More Useful Tips*

Information like your address, phone number, and names of your family members are freely available online on sites such as; FamilyTreeNow.com as well as Spokeo and the search engines like Google and Bing can do very little about that.  Data is a big business and many times it’s being scraped by various corporations you’re doing business with such as credit card companies, social media sites, and retailers so it’s nearly impossible to remove those things completely from the internet.  If you really want to find out how much of your data is floating around in cyberspace just Google your name as well as your city then see what pops up.  Fortunately, most sites allow you to request the removal of information but you do have to contact them directly or fill out forms. 

If you don’t want to spend time doing all that, there are services like DeleteMe, and OneRep that will go to these sites and fill out all the paperwork for you, however, they do charge a fee.  Also, keep in mind, they can’t rid the internet 100% of your data.  

Now that’s just the tip of the iceberg once your information is out there, you are at risk of identity theft.  There are companies that will monitor your social security number and monitor your credit line for a fee such as LifeLock or IdentityForce and they will even provide you with legal consultation if your personal information is ever compromised. 

 

#2:  Harassment

Harassment can include such things as ordering 100 pizzas in your name and sending it to your house or someone making insulting or inappropriate comments.  However, that’s small stuff, because cyberstalking is considered the most serious form of online harassment and it includes someone who is always making contact with you even despite your protest.  That means making comments on your social media posts even after you’ve blocked them.  (Lots of stalkers just create another account and proceed with their harassment.)  Stalking is considered serious because the harassment can wind up offline.  Case in point, several years ago, there was an author that admitted to stalking a book reviewer who gave an unfavorable review on Goodreads.

Important Tip: If you find online harassment going offline, you must document it and take that evidence and contact your local law enforcement in order to file a report.         

#3:  Reputation Damage

There have been many cases of people being defamed online and if someone is campaigning online to damage your reputation you may need to go on the offense and start countering the damage.  You can use the internet the same way a troll does by drowning out their content with your own by doing interviews on blogs, podcasts and even do guest posts for major websites.  Sounds an awful lot like marketing, doesn’t it?  Anyway, this won’t cost you any money but it does cost time.  However, if you are too busy and don’t have time, you can hire a service to do this for you.  Like celebrities, you can hire a firm to wage war against the reputation damage.  It’s costly, which is why many people don’t bother with it but if you’re determined to fight, there are services like ReputationDefender and BrandYourself that will help by posting positive articles and even build websites that will help you reclaim your reputation online.    

#4:  Hacking Websites, Social Media & Email Accounts

It’s not rare to hear of a celebrity’s phone or social media accounts being hacked.  Most of the time these types of hackings include posting gibberish or pornographic material to the victim’s account, it’s rarely personal.  In fact, the terrorist organization ISIS (ISOL) was targeted in 2016, by the hacker group Anonymous, who posted gay pride images on the terrorists’ Twitter accounts.  They (Anonymous) are also engaging in information doxxing by collecting financial records of terror groups and giving them to various governments around the world.  This is a clear example that no one is safe from hacking not even terrorists.        

So how do you protect yourself from a hacker?  Well having a strong password is a start, which means a password that includes numbers, symbols as well as upper and lowercase letters.  For example, it’s a bad idea to use your initials and address because that’s too obvious, that information can be found online as I said before.  However, something like your nickname, plus your kid’s school bus number, and a random symbol make for a pretty strong password.  Even short phrases like: ItIsWhatItIs2019$ is stronger than your pet’s name and address.    

Also, don’t forget to change your passwords often because when you’re under attack, security should be your first priority.

A Balanced View

I hope this post empowered you to pursue social media without fear, after all, there are over 3 billion people using social media worldwide. This is expected to grow as the internet becomes globally accessible.  And as more people use social media, the drama will become more common but we authors don’t have to be sucked into the dysfunction. We can handle ourselves with confidence even when the waters of social media are churning all around us.  I hope you never have to use any of this advice or experience any of the scenarios I discussed but if you do, you now have the tools to fight back and take control of your online reputation.      

 

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Book Promotion, Marketing, Social Media, Writing Business

How To Handle Online Trolling & Harassment: Author Edition

Image by Geralt via Pixabay

This post is based on a chapter in my latest book: Social Media Hacks: What The Other Authors Already Know. I plan on discussing this book and more with author Marsha Casper Cook, on her podcast: Michigan Avenue Media – World of Ink, Tuesday, May 7th, at 4 p.m. (EST). Join us and learn the real deal about marketing books on social media.  

It’s a sad fact but according to a 2017 survey taken by the Pew Institute, 41% of U.S. adults claim to have been victims of online harassment. Respondents also said the most common forum for it to take place is on social media.  Case in point, in June of 2015, E.L. James, author of the bestselling novel 50 Shades of Grey, held a Twitter Q&A session where she received an avalanche of verbal abuse.  Surprisingly, several of the disparaging comments didn’t just come from random trolls but from those within the publishing industry!              

Though a few authors did come to James’ aid, it did little to slow down the insults and vitriol.  In fact, this Twitter Q&A was such a disaster that it made the news!  Media outlets such as; USA Today, Time Magazine and Us Magazine all covered the Twitter fiasco.        

So How Do You Prevent A Disaster Like This?

Sadly, there is no way to prevent trolling 100% but there are ways to be prepared in the event that anyone wants to hijack your online events.  One tip an author shared with me was to invite your family and friends to your online events just so that there is at least one friendly face in the crowd.  Also, an important fact to remember is that trolls generally attack in groups and responding to their comments just keeps the altercation going indefinitely.  That’s why you always hear the advice, “Don’t feed the trolls” all over the internet.  Now would this have helped in E.L. James’ case?  Probably not, but her situation was very different.  E.L. James is an international star as well as a controversial figure in the publishing industry.  This type of individual will always attract trolls.   

The Why Behind It All: The Psychology of a Troll

Most trolls are trolling because of their ego, while some trolls are part of a greater trolling community and are encouraged to do as much damage as possible.  Trolling can include anything from lies, insults, and even humiliation.          

Internet trolls were the focus of an article in Psychology Today where a Canadian study focused on profiling internet trolls.  It was discovered by scientists that people who troll are generally sadists that enjoyed making others suffer.  The study also implied that many trolls fell within the; Machiavellian, narcissist and psychopathic range.  So there’s a wide spectrum of trolls who lie, insult or actively try to do damage to random people they find on the internet.               

 

Who’s At Risk?

As I revealed earlier, 41% of U.S. internet users reported having experienced online harassment.  The main forms of harassment include things like; name-calling, intentional humiliation, stalking, and threats.  The biggest groups to experience online harassment are young people 18-29 years at 67%.  Men are more twice more likely to experience general harassment while 53% of young women (18 – 29) reported being sexually harassed.  Another interesting thing to note is that half of the participants of the survey claimed they didn’t even know the person harassing them.  So this isn’t personal, at least not for the troll.                   

What To Do If You’re In the Crosshairs     

If you are the target of trolling on social media there are several ways to deal with it.  For example Facebook, Instagram and Youtube allow you to moderate the comments of a post.  If someone is sending you direct messages privately, you can report those as well.  The good news is that almost all of the major social media sites allow you to block an individual completely so don’t be afraid to use any of these features if you need to.   

But what if you’re facing a more organized attack?  What if you have several people trying to get your social media accounts banned or taken down?  Like it or not, this is a popular method of trolling where multiple people will repeatedly report an account or page.  They’ll falsely report that a page or group is posting offensive material or is even linked to terrorism!  The most popular accounts on social media have had this issue at one point or another.  Sadly, it can take days or weeks to get the account back after an investigation.  If you find that the trolling is too intense, you may want to step back and set your account or page to private on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter until the smoke settles.           

Going on the Offense

If you’re truly afraid of stalking, and trolling the wisest thing to do is to pick a pen name.  Many online writers do it to protect their privacy as well as their egos from the insanity of the internet.  It creates a mental barrier from the praise as well as criticism that some authors find intrusive.     

To take things a step further, and remain anonymous to even agents and editors is to create a company and sell your intellectual properties (books) to publishers through it.  Some of the really crafty authors go further and hire a trust company then, put all their assets into the trust for further anonymity so that nothing can be traced, not even their copyright registration.                

Monitoring Your Reputation

Even if you manage to remain anonymous you are still responsible for maintaining your image especially, since you’re considered a brand.   There are a lot of tools available to you to monitor what’s being written about you online.  I don’t recommend it to people who are sensitive or highly anxious.  However, if you’re a masochist like me and are curious enough to brave the unknown you can gain insight into what readers really think about your work.      

Free Tools

To Respond or Not To Respond?

So what happens when you find something like a negative review or a scathing article?  Do you defend yourself or walk away?  Believe it or not, most situations don’t require a response.  If someone is just saying mean things then, it’s best to let it go.   However, if someone is spreading lies and making untrue allegations which is considered libel language or even slander under the law, then you may have to act.  That could mean anything from sending a cease and desist letter or even an email demanding corrections or retractions be made. Just remember to keep the tone professional and not whiny or childish.    

Now before you start writing emails to all your haters (reviewers) just remember that they are allowed to have their opinions about your book.  They are allowed to hate the book, heck, they’re even allowed to hate you!  Just because they don’t like your work that doesn’t make them tacky or stupid, it just means they don’t like your book.

Wrapping it Up   

Okay, I know that was a lot but tomorrow, I’m going further into this topic and give you tips on how to defend yourself from online abuse and harassment. Trust me, it’s not what you think, there are ways you can manage your online reputation like a pro and they don’t include you giving up all human interaction.   

Book Reviews, Social Media

Why You Shouldn’t Worry About Trolls

trolls-finished-pixabay

This week, in one of my Facebook groups a teen author asked about marketing her book on Goodreads and I was stunned by the reaction of some of the adults in the group.  Many discouraged her from using the website citing, trolls and bullies.  Granted, some of them had been trolled but to discourage someone from trying to market their book just on the off chance that they may run into an a**hole is stupid.  If that’s the case, let’s all avoid the internet because a**holes are in season year round!

Yes, we’ve all heard about the various smackdowns involving readers and authors but those incidents represent only a tiny fraction of interactions between authors and readers.  In fact, many authors have successfully used Goodreads without any problem.  It’s sad but, Goodreads recently had to upload tutorials for authors to cut down on the confusion and prevent drama.

Looking back, if I could, I would’ve handled the situation with this newbie differently, here’s what I should’ve said…

Your Book Will Get Panned

I wish I had the guts to tell this young author, that she needed to be prepared for the inevitable trashing of her book.  However, the poor kid was already getting an ear full, I didn’t need to add to the hysteria.  But if I had been honest, I would have told her the publishing world isn’t all rainbows and kittens.  I’ve been the target of trolls first, as a freelancer and recently, as a blogger.  Do you know how I handled that?  I just kept writing!  Let your anger fuel your creativity, not destroy it.

Even Your Online Reviews & Blurbs are Subject to Criticism

For example, if you give too many 1 star reviews, you’re jealous, but if you give too many 5 star reviews, you’re on the payroll.

Several of my author friends have been accused of being paid reviewers simply because they review books.  I guess it’s hard for them to imagine the writing community as a  supportive place where we often help one another.  Instead, they’d like to envision us desperately trying to vote each other off the island—professionally speaking.

Also, the recent sock puppetting scandals have many readers skeptical about online reviews. So if they sense anything awry, they’ll dismiss or attack it.

Google Alerts: The Instrument of Fear Mongers

There are many publicists who insist authors get Google Alerts on their names and their books in order to monitor their online reputation.  Seriously, who cares what people are saying about your work?  Sure as an indie author it’s your job to get a few positive reviews, but it’s not your job to control the whole damn review section of Amazon!

For example, Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch released a self-publishing book called APE and I was interested in purchasing it.  However, when I looked at the price it was a whooping $7.99, for the ebook.  In order to justify spending that kind of money on a digital book, I decided to look at the reviews.  I came across this lonely one-star review which was titled: “rubbish.”  Scrolling down, I saw there were multiple responses to the reviewer from the co-author himself.  I still to this day, don’t understand why?

Some Reviews are Total BS:

Here’s a secret you need to know, not everyone who reviews a book has actually read it.  In the past, I’ve read reviews where the person actually admits they didn’t even read the book they’re trashing.  Need proof?  Here’s an article in the Huffington Post that lists the most popular books people pretend to read.

The Stats

For those of you petrified about groups of trolls trashing your books and your reputation, relax.  Most readers don’t discover their books on Goodreads and rarely do they get it from some blogger.  In fact, most readers I’ve spoken to don’t even know what Goodreads is.  I found this out this when I went on a quest for reviews.

There are multiple statistics that tell us how readers discover books and authors.  One was done a few years back on Mobilereads, another by Goodreads, and one by NYT bestseller Marie Force.  So stop giving online trolls power over your career.

Let Em Talk: You’re Too Busy Being Fabulous!

When Nina Davuluri was crowned 2014 Miss America, a few hundred racist Tweets popped up on Twitter.  How did she handle it?  Not surprisingly, with the grace and dignity of a beauty queen.  Now, if you want to find those Tweets you have to look hard because many of them have been deleted or made private.  Shame is a powerful thing.

Believe it or not, most of the world still takes place off line and thank God!  Could you imagine if Douchey_McDouche85 was relevant in the real world?

Final Thoughts

I’m not making light of when someone intentionally hurts your feelings but I am diminishing the power those words hold over you.  You are not allowed to be brokenhearted over something a mentally deranged/miserable/ignorant/pathetic individual said.  Your career is too important.

The best revenge against any troll is to write the next book.  You know, so we can give them something else to talk about. 😉

Now it’s your turn, what would you have said to a young newbie?  Tell us in the comments.