Ahh the internet troll – a maturing breed of annoyance not only for people using social media but also brands running an extremely reactive customer service process via their social channels.

Although some trolls bring a bit of humour by making fun of the brand and just acting a bit immature, some can devolve into depressing figures of hate speech, potentially scaring off customers who otherwise would be interested in engaging with brands online.

Bigoted, racist and xenophobic comments have driven some news outlets to turn comments off completely either throughout the whole website or on certain articles.

Technology news website Wired even put together a timeline chronicling other media companies’ moves to make the same decision, saying the change was possibly a result of the fact that, “as online audiences have grown, the pain of moderating conversations on the web has grown, too.”

It’s understandable that brands and publishers are concerned. Unlike consumers who visit an online community to voice a concern, share an insight or promote great service they’ve received, trolls “aren’t interested in a productive outcome.” (See infographic below) Their main goal is to harass.

 

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Although it’s a big step backwards for social interaction – it’s easy for a brand to eliminate the comments section on its own website so why not just do that and end it there? Well, brands are no longer engaging consumers on their own platforms but increasingly on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other third-party social media platforms, where they typically do not have an ability to prevent negative user comments. In light of this, some platforms are taking steps to rein in trolls or eliminate their opportunities to post disruptive comments altogether.

Blog comment hosting service Disqus, for example, unveiled a new platform feature that allows users to “block profiles of commenters that are distracting from their online discussion experience.” The live video streaming app Periscope who had huge issues with trolls when they launched also took measures to rein in trolls, enabling users to flag inappropriate comments during a broadcast. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter have also stepped up their efforts to help users deal with harassment and unwanted messages.

Although these are some huge and positive steps in the war against trolls, Brands, are still seeking a greater degree of control over user comments than what is being offered. Understandably, branded content and advertising are crucial factors of many social media platforms’ business models, we can expect to see platforms working with brands a lot more closely and willing to provide them with necessary tools to address their issues.

Reddit who have a notoriously bad trolling problem has already taken steps in this direction so it can begin leveraging its huge and passionate user base. In October last year, in an effort to capitalise on the ability to highlight trending content and create a space where brands wouldn’t be afraid to advertise, Reddit launched Upvote. A news site that pulls news stories from Reddit’s popular subgroups and doesn’t allow comments.

It is likely that other publishers will follow Reddit’s lead in creating comment-free spaces for brands. Although this is good news for many brands, one can’t help but feel a bit let down that the trolls have won. The single most revolutionary aspect of social media for companies – the ability to engage with their customers and prospects is being censored and ruined by a few low lives that enjoy the attention. Hopefully publishers will come up with some ideas on how to remain authentic but eliminate online trolls for good.

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