Book Promotion, Marketing, Social Media, Writing Business

How To Handle Online Trolling & Harassment: Author Edition

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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.