When to Ban Social Media Trolls and Prevent Harassment

What should you do if you or your brand account on Twitter, Facebook or another social media platform faces targeted harassment?

How do brands decide when to ban someone from their social media accounts? What are the criteria? There’s a need for brands to have social media guidelines in place to discourage harassment and trolling, and then take action against those in violation of those guidelines.

Recently, Twitter banned high-profile users over harassment (or incitement to harass). After Ghostbusters and Saturday Night Live star Leslie Jones and Teen Vogue contributor Lauren Duca escalated these issues, the users trolling and posting profane and abusive content directed toward these women were removed from the platform. Martin Shkreli was one of the offenders suspended on Twitter for harassing Duca.

So what should you do if you or your brand account on Twitter, Facebook or another social media platform faces targeted harassment?

Brands should carefully consider whether they decide to block users from interacting with them or ban them on Facebook based on their social media posts.

Comments to their brand pages on Facebook or Instagram should not be removed if they refer to genuine customer-service issues or contain criticism posted by legitimate activists. If the company does begin to censor those posts, its current and potential customers will judge the brand based upon the way it handles negativity and complaints. In fact, these interactions should be treated maturely, with facts, politeness, and empathy. This is a clear demonstration of your ability as a business or executive representing the brand to learn, grow, apologize unreservedly if it’s called for and do better in the future.

While this advice is based on patience and understanding through communication and conversation, it does not apply to persistent trolls and those intent upon abusing the brand, its employees or your customers. You do not have to show “tolerance” for this kind of discourse, and you are within your rights to remove inflammatory or profane content and ban or block those who perpetuate its spread.

As a user, and not as the administrator of a dedicated online community, your brand’s social media properties reflect the company and what it represents. This includes being a welcoming interactive space for all. Removing harassment and trolling improves the social environment and enables your customer-service agents and social marketing teams to focus their attention and time on real conversations and issues in order to serve them better.

Take appropriate action across social media channels

Twitter presents a unique challenge, as it is a less-controlled platform. Brands should first try to ascertain whether the user is a real customer venting because they’re legitimately upset, or if the company failed to deliver their mom’s birthday present on time. If you can constructively listen and assist them, you can often defuse their anger, change that customer’s point of view and possibly win them over.

On any platform, you can also invite the customer into a private conversation and ask for their contact details to address their complaint via email or a phone call.

However, if you’re being mentioned repeatedly without @name tagging (“Brand X sucks. I hate their widgets!”) and the person does not respond to attempts to engage, you can mute the offender. And if they are tagging you by name and/or pestering the brand while ignoring your attempt to assist them, you can filter out their mentions by shadow-blocking them using available software solutions.

If your brand is being attacked with profanity, offensive slurs or personal harassment, block the account and report the user to Twitter using the platform’s reporting tools. Blocking will also remove the user’s ability to respond under your tweets and engage negatively with customers with whom you’re having legitimate product/service-related conversations.

Some brands, like @Wendys, may choose to engage humorously with less vicious trolls. If you plan to be irreverent and commit to this course, be aware that your replies will be retweeted and will become screenshots and shared—widely.