How to Spot a Social Media Troll
And What to Do About It
While watching this month’s football play-offs, and to help pass the time, I started scrolling through Facebook, reporting “fake accounts” to Facebook. “Yippee Ki Yay…” I said in my best Bruce Willis impersonation. “What are you doing?” my husband asked, perplexed by my strange outburst. “I’m reporting all these fake trolls on Facebook,” I replied. “Do you realize there are 2.3 billion people on Facebook?” You‘ve got quite a job ahead of you,” he said.
Okay, so maybe not the best approach. And really, like whack-a-mole, for every troll I report, 10 new fake accounts spring up in the comments sections spewing their manipulative rhetoric and turning us all against each other.
According to Urban Dictionary, “An Internet troll is someone who posts controversial, inflammatory, irrelevant or off-topic messages in an online community, such as an online discussion forum or chat room, with the primary intent of provoking other users into an emotional response or to generally disrupt normal on-topic discussion.”
Savvy community sites already know to patrol for fake accounts or vet new users before they can join. The NY Times reviews every comment before publishing. This is a very smart practice, and politicians, activist groups and businesses should take note because social media sites are not up to this task.
Why should we, a marketing company, care?
Because this type of invasion tears at everything we hold dear – starting with the truth. As a content developer and social media expert, I see how well these trolls succeed at exploiting our vulnerabilities, fueling hate in our social interactions and screwing with our opinions and beliefs. They not only affect politicians and social movements – they go after US business as well.
Take for example, the recent Nike ad featuring Colin Kaepernick. Clearly there are folks on both sides of this issue, both for and against his protest supporting #BlackLivesMatter.
I’m not here to take sides. I already know a lot of people stopped buying Nikes because of this ad. Nikes are perfectly good shoes in my opinion — but whether that ad helped or hurt Nike’s sales is unclear.
Importantly, let’s look at what type of people fueled this debate. We’ll start with Daniel D.’s posting of the Nike ad:
Here is just one of the 1.4K comments posted in response:
This is a typical troll comment. I clicked on Una Barbee to see more about who this person might be:
Sure enough, I found a typical fake profile. Not much content, but a lot of updated profile pics. Next, I clicked on her friends:
As expected, no friends, but lots of updated profile pictures, a fireplace shot (this is typical) and some bizarre videos and other posts.
When you look at these accounts, you begin to see a pattern emerge. Fake accounts use strange pictures, changing profiles often. Most have no friends (I mean, why be on Facebook if you have no friends?) If they do have friends, look closely at their profiles — many follow the same pattern.
Other things I’ve noticed about trolls: 1) their command of English is poor, or 2) they reference too many weird facts when responding to political statements, and 3) they become overly aggressive when you criticize them. I am sure once I post this blog, they will be all over me. Look for them.
When I was young, we used to have drills where we were required to huddle under our desks while an alarm screeched loudly at us 5-year-olds of an impending nuclear attack. Like many kids of my generation, I had regular nightmares because of these drills.
But what is obvious to me now is that these aggressions against our country will not come from the outside. Rather they are hitting us from within. Because savvy despotic leaders know that the best way to destroy a country is through civil wars, turning its people against one another. We see these civil wars destroying so many countries – think Syria or Sri Lanka and, coming soon, Venezuela.
This week the national security council stated that foreign influence on social media was one of the biggest threats to our society. But, what to do? Wait for the social media sites to fix this problem? Let’s not hold our breath. As users of social media, it is up to us all to be ever vigilant of these dark players. It is easy to report them as fake. Simply do this:
But, since more fake accounts are likely to pop up for every one you eliminate, the best thing to do is simply ignore them. Don’t engage with them. And most of all, do not let yourself be influenced by their hateful rhetoric.