Fellow Gen-Xers will happily remember trolls as those ridiculous bulbous-eyed pointy-haired toys that we sat on our desks at school, whose popularity made about as much sense as their contemporary, the shell suit. Sadly, over the last decade or so, the term troll has regressed in meaning to something more akin to its folkloric roots as an ogre-like supernatural creature of myths and fairytales known for terrorizing villagers and eating children.
Today’s internet trolls are less about the eating and more about the terrorizing, and what most of them look like remains a mystery, hidden behind their keyboards. Still, the damage they wreak is equivalent to the nastiest tales the Grimm brothers could dream up. A modern definition of a troll is “someone who leaves an intentionally annoying or offensive message on the internet in order to upset someone or to get attention or cause trouble.” There are no supernatural shenanigans here, but the willful desire to cause harm and disruption remains.
Online trolling is inarguably out of control. With reams of newspaper and magazine articles, books, and academic studies dedicated to rooting out the causes of trolling and defining the best preventative measures to take against trolls, this amorphous mass of anonymous internet hate has, in its growing ubiquity, become increasingly normalized.
Trolling was primarily limited to public figures, celebrities, and politicians in its early days. Still, as online discourse has become increasingly fraught and polarized, we have reached a point where anyone is seen as fair game. According to a 2021 report, 41% of Americans have experienced online harassment, which is growing in intensity and severity, with 25% citing physical threats, stalking, sexual harassment, and sustained harassment. Trolling is the new normal, and as any regular users of beer social media will be aware, our community is far from exempt.
So, why do large numbers of human beings with internet access mimic the behavior of storybook villains? And why are they so ubiquitous in the beer world?
I spoke to six beer industry professionals with significant experience in trolling in online beer communities to get their perspective on how to spot a troll, the specifics of the beer industry that encourage trolling, why it has become normalized in our social media spaces, the different ways we can respond to different trolling situations, and the best ways to safeguard ourselves from the damage that trolling causes and push back against it.
But first, a short introduction about what constitutes trolling and some common factors attributed to troll behaviors.
What is trolling?
According to Wikipedia, internet trolling entered popular parlance in the mid-1980s but was first documented by the Oxford English Dictionary in 1992 in reference to a Usenet habit of ‘trolling for newbies,’ with veteran site users laying traps for new joiners by asking common questions that other regulars would know had already been discussed. So far, so harmless.
But as the internet took off, so did the trolls, and trolling evolved from a search for ‘lulz‘ – a sense of joy and satisfaction at causing someone else distress online – to large-scale pile-ons that can be motivated by pretty much anything. If you say the wrong thing and the wrong person picks it up, they can harness their Twitter army to rain down abusive messages on you until they get bored and move on to their next target. If it hasn’t happened to you by now, it’s almost certainly happened to someone you know.
Since the mid-2010s, there has been an explosion of interest in the psychology behind trolling in academia and the mainstream media, as the phenomenon has become so entrenched in our everyday lives.
One of the most common explanations for why people troll involves the dark tetrad of personality characteristics – sadism, psychopathy, narcissism, and Machiavellianism. An academic study cites trolling as “an Internet manifestation of everyday sadism.” In other words, to take pleasure in hurting others.
Another highlights the role of psychopathy – a callousness towards the feelings of others and a lack of personal responsibility. But these character traits become a perfect storm of hate when empowered by the online disinhibition effect of the internet and the group-think mentality that characterizes Twitter pile-ons.
The sense of anonymity offered by online interactions means that trolls have the luxury of zero accountability for their behavior. Many operate using fake names and/or with multiple accounts to magnify the potential harm they can cause. In the real world, be it at work or socially, this kind of bullying would have consequences, but hiding one’s identity online emboldens trolls to be as vicious and cruel as they like. Their anonymity inhibits any sense of social propriety. The positive reinforcement they get from each other encourages them to keep upping the ante – this behavior reflects that of bullies in the real world egging each other on.
To be clear, trolling is not like disagreeing with someone online. Whatever the motivation a troll may have, be it political, ideological, personal, or just random, they post messages designed to distress and provoke – not to engage in a sensible, informed, or logical debate.
Trolls desire attention and response, both reinforcement from their fellow trolls and distress from their victims. This is why much of the online advice you’ll find about trolling centers around the motto ‘don’t feed the trolls’ – as in, don’t respond to them and give them the attention they crave.
However, ignoring trolling can have adverse consequences, from reputational damage resulting from troll misinformation to mental health impact and even personal safety, should the trolls in question be willing to follow through on their online threats. With social media sites offering little to no protections against trolling, particularly since Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter, victims have few means to recourse.
While cyberbullying is illegal in most countries, prosecutions are rare, difficult to prove, and expensive. Trolls know this and are further empowered by the lack of means to recourse their victims face, which is how we’ve ended up in a place where these behaviors are so normalized.
And, about beer?
Moving on to beer. While online beer communities have made huge strides to support the industry and forge connections and friendships, they can also be toxic environments. Rarely a week goes by when I don’t see people trolling, and having been on the receiving end of it myself multiple times. I wondered why something as inherently joyful as beer could attract so much hate.
As a beer writer with a strong identity of supporting marginalized groups’ rights in and outside the industry, you might say that I am voluntarily opening myself up to online attacks, and you might be right.
Some of my experiences of trolling have been direct responses to my work. Still, others have come from members of the beer community but have had nothing at all to do with my work, including repeated unsolicited and inappropriate comments relating to my father’s dementia. Blocked. Why do beer people think they have the right to behave this way online, and what does this say about us as an industry?
Of course, there are hateful people everywhere, and the jury is definitely out as to whether the beer community is significantly worse than other online spaces for attracting trolls. What is indisputable is that we have a problem with trolling. Its causes and solutions are slippery and complex, some of which apply to the wider problem of online trolling and some industry-specific.
If you’re in any doubt about the seriousness of trolling in the beer world, here are a couple of recent examples of threatening and hateful trolling within our community, a racist attack against a beer writer of color [David Jesudason] and bigoted attacks on two breweries [Catawba Island and Heathen] for hosting family-friendly drag shows.
In his recent VinePair article, Dave Infante highlights that physical attacks and death threats are becoming terrifyingly common in our industry. And trolling is where this behavior starts.
Why does the beer community troll?
We associate beer as a beverage with pleasure, relaxation, and celebration. Still, beer is also a cultural space and an industry, both of which bring different sets of baggage – expectations among certain groups and individuals as to who and what are acceptable. Therefore, when other groups or individuals don’t fall into those expectations, either actively through what they say or do or passively, simply by being in the beer space, this can be enough to trigger instances of trolling.
Dr. J Jackson-Beckham is a former professor of Communication Studies, founder and executive director of educational DEI-focused non-profit Craft x EDU and Crafted For All consultancy, and the Brewer’s Association’s DEI lead and equity and inclusion partner. Dr. J explains the beer community’s imperative to troll as being rooted in the nature of being a space where there are different interpretations of the stakes regarding online behavior.
“Many people think of beer and think it’s alcohol so it should be fun, that it’s not serious so people should lighten up, and if you do say anything serious, you deserve to be trolled – they think it’s a low stakes space so they feel justified.” She also highlights the construction of power within the beer community and how it can be conferred by drinking particular beers and visiting particular places, creating a status hierarchy that can empower groups and individuals to troll.
Alison Wisneski is a journalist and social media professional expert who manages social media at Lady Justice Brewing. From her perspective, the lack of professionalized social media management in the beer industry makes it an easy target, as with other small businesses.
For journalist, author, and beer professional Melissa Cole, the industry culture also plays a significant role. “It directly stems from the bro culture in beer… it filters down into the public psyche, and that creates an environment where abuse flourishes,” she says. Cole also emphasizes a lack of accountability that remains pervasive in the industry that has also migrated online.
With so many contributing factors colliding, we can see how the online beer community has become such an unsafe space, but what are people angry about?
What do beer folks troll about?
Aside from the reprehensible personal attacks that seem to be the baseline of hate-based trolling across the internet, I wanted to understand what gets beer trolls so worked up that they use time and energy attacking others within our community. My research brought up four common areas of attack, all resonating into wider patterns of online trolling and ongoing issues in the beer industry.
You don’t know anything about beer – undermining professional skills and capabilities
For anyone who isn’t from a ‘traditional’ (read cis straight white male) background, having your beer credentials questioned is unfortunately par for the course, both online and in person. In addition to my own experiences, Dr. J, Melissa Cole, and Alison Wisneski commented on having their beer knowledge and experience questioned, attacked, and undermined.
“I already knew I was at least as good in comparison to a lot of my contemporaries earlier in my career, so I wasn’t about to waste my time being better and less rewarded,” says Cole, discussing the way she pushed back against these attitudes and assumptions, which have manifested themselves online throughout her career.
With many female and non-binary brewers using social media to document the struggles they have faced to be taken seriously in the industry, from interviewers questioning their ability to lift a keg to colleagues second-guessing and undermining them to being paid less than their male counterparts, choosing to speak about their experiences online has come with the unfortunate price of trolling. This is taking that discrimination from the industry straight into the online community.
At Lady Justice, owner, brewer, and co-founder Betsy Lay was so fed up with the constant trolling the brewery received about how ‘women can’t brew’ that she made a tongue-in-cheek YouTube video as a comeback, which inevitably received the same old trolling digs about getting back in the kitchen.
However, marginalized groups are not the only victims of this type of trolling. At British non-alcoholic brewery Impossibrew, the trolls have attacked their beer as ‘not real beer’ and ‘pointless.’ “There is still a lot of negativity in the industry towards non-alcoholic beer – the perception hasn’t fully changed yet,” says Freddi Mckinlay, who manages Impossibrew’s social media. “Some people don’t understand the point of the product – they think it’s Gen Z and scammie.”
Having your beer knowledge and professionalism challenged and diminished online can be frustrating and disheartening. Being publicly undermined can lead to imposter syndrome, harm mental health, and even force people out of the industry.
Constantly questioning someone’s credentials and telling them they aren’t good enough or don’t know enough ties in with trolls’ desire to exert power and control, as well as cause both psychological and reputational damage. For those whose status in the beer world has been hard-won and often precarious, this trolling is particularly stressful.
Beer is not for everyone – the consequences of brewing with a conscience
As previously discussed, much trolling is ethics- and values-based, with politics and religion acting as two major catalysts. In Time magazine’s excellent trolling exposé, proud self-confessed troll Jeffrey Marty describes becoming ‘addicted to the attention’ and the power of having an audience pay attention to his political views.
“Let’s say I wrote a letter to the New York Times saying I didn’t like your article about Trump. They throw it in the shredder. On Twitter I communicate directly with the writers. It’s a breakdown of all the institutions,” he says.
We find the same motivation in the beer world, with political disagreements fueling trolling attacks and a separate group of trolls who think that politics should be kept out of the beer community altogether.
Kirk Bangstad, the owner of Minocqua Brewing, has experienced both in spades. Bangstad puts his progressive politics at the forefront of his brewery’s raison d’etre [read his story here] and is trolled on a daily basis by those who disagree with his ethos.
“A lot of right-wing personalities with strong followings didn’t like what I had done and directed their followers to descend on me and give me bad reviews and it felt like getting carpet bombed,” he says, referencing his first foray into political territory – hanging a giant Biden/Harris sign outside his brewery. “We have a Super Pac that raises money to make Wisconsin more progressive – I wear my politics on my sleeve because I really care about making Wisconsin not a wacky state again,” he explains.
His attacks on local politicians and policies have brought a swathe of right-wing extremists to his door. Bangstad has had his Google and Yelp ratings targeted, his Facebook page crashed, and he even received death threats, which he duly reported to the FBI.
A remarkably strong character, Bangstad remains undaunted and intends to keep his politics at the forefront of his business. “I think it’s very important to push back,” he says. “And if you plan on bullying a company with 70,000 followers you should have at least as many as well or it will go badly for you.”
At Lady Justice Brewing, the attacks on their politics – and misinterpretations of their politics – started before they had even opened. “If you look at old news articles about us, every single one is about us being a women-owned business making ‘beer for the ladies’” says Alison Wisneski with a sigh.
This attitude is abundant in the quantity and content of the trolling that Lady Justice receives as a woman-owned, queer-owned, non-profit community-supporting brewery. “These things happen more regularly for us because at no point are we hiding parts of our identity – we don’t turn it on and off – so our sole existence pisses some people off,” Wisneski explains.
“Plus, we are a mission-based organization giving back to our community for social causes a lot of people don’t believe in,” [read Lady Justice’s story here]. Lady Justice’s focus on community and inclusivity means that they regularly receive sexist, racist, homophobic, and political abuse, the most severe of which happened after Lady Justice was profiled on CBS This Morning. Following their feature, they received vicious threatening hate correspondence online and in the mail. The ignorance and bigotry that follow Lady Justice, both online and at times in person, indicates how reductive yet persistent politically-motivated trolls are in the beer world.
You’re taking up too much space
Territoriality is a prevalent trolling trigger across the internet – often related to issues of representation and ideas about who ‘owns space’ and has the right to a platform in any given sector or community, as occurred in the well-known Gamergate trolling campaign in 2014.
In beer, we see it constantly, with the ongoing online pushback against the presence of members of marginalized groups and not just their presence but the right to take up space within the beer community.
From the huge backlash CAMRA faced for implementing its diversity initiative to the pushback that May 2021’s ‘craft beer reckoning’ was an overreaction, the idea that those from marginalized groups cannot just exist in but actually control space in the industry gets the trolls hammering away at their keyboards.
The explosion of stories about sexism in the beer industry is an example of large numbers of industry insiders making it clear that marginalized groups, in this case, women, did not have the right to take control of the territory they considered theirs. It was all very well to have women exist in the beer world, but that they should have the power to call venerated brewers with ‘singular male genius’ status in the industry to account for inappropriate behavior and insist that they publicly apologize and/or step down was a bridge too far.
The battle between those fighting for equality, transparency, and consequences for the many high-profile perpetrators and those who believed that the beer, brewers, and breweries they loved should be shielded from any penalties purely due to their status in the industry exploded across social media, including accusations of lies, misinterpretation, ‘feminism gone mad,’ and, sadly inevitably, rape threats.
The trolling of women who spoke publicly about this, including Brienne Allan, Siobhan Buchanan, Charlotte Cook, and Melissa Cole, offers substantial evidence that toleration is not the same as genuine equality and inclusion. The demands for which will unleash the trolls who cannot stomach the idea of sharing any power or control over their territory and certainly cannot fathom any kind of accountability for their behavior.
“The spaces and branding and public faces [of beer] has encouraged the idea that beer is for dudes, and that is the biggest problem of all,” Cole explains, “From the continual circle jerk of collaborations to supporting beer festivals held by breweries with unrepentant sexist branding, to not privately holding their ‘pals’ to account.” The quiet rehabilitation of many of the perpetrators named and shamed back in 2021 indicates this sense of entitlement to take up space and not be held accountable, which filters into our online community, manifesting itself as the right to troll.
A more subtle form of forcing someone out of your perceived space is to subtweet about them, or to criticize them without engaging directly, as with this thread about my article Dual Identity, Death and Decolonisation [Beer is for Everyone]. I was privileged enough to have esteemed beer writer Jeff Alworth share this piece on his social media with very kind, positive comments.
However, one of his followers took umbrage not just with my article but with the fact that Alworth had chosen to recommend it in the first place, addressing his criticisms to Alworth as though he were responsible for the article, copying me in but refusing to acknowledge my existence, never mind my authorship, even when I addressed him directly.
By cutting me out of his commentary and making it a conversation between two established white male beer writers, I was being effectively trolled out of the space, shown I wasn’t even relevant enough to engage with, and dismissed as not a ‘real’ beer writer. The tweeter’s critique of my personal perspective also highlights the way that trolls feel empowered to censor and/or proscribe what is or is not acceptable content within ‘their’ community, again exerting ownership and power.
Dr. J asserts that asking questions and offering critiques in bad faith is how trolls weaponize their power to assert their authority over a particular space instead of engaging with genuine curiosity and interest. This ties back to the trolls who undermine and dismiss their victims’ knowledge and expertise to the same end.
Anyone would think that the internet would be big enough for everyone to have an opinion and that democracy grants us all the right to express ourselves in our own voice, but for trolls who feel they have the authority to dictate what is and is not acceptable in the beer-niverse, that isn’t the case.
Not in my taproom
When Edgar Preciado realized his ambition of opening his own brewery taproom, Beer Thug Brewing Co, just four months ago, he had no idea that his commitment to making his space inclusive and diverse would result in a barrage of online hate and abuse, with posts calling him a groomer and a child molester. “I didn’t even know what a groomer was before then,” says Preciado.
The cause of the furor was his decision to host the brewery’s first drag show. Soon after Preciado shared this on his social media, the abuse began to flood in. “I received four death threats – they were telling me ‘we’re gonna come and get you, you’re gonna die tonight,’” he says. “But I hadn’t done anything wrong.”
An ex gang-member who has spent time in prison and gained notoriety in the craft beer world through his popular craft-chugging videos before developing his brand and starting the brewery [read Preciado’s story here], he had experienced trolling before but was still shocked by the level of violence, intensity, and misunderstanding he found himself confronted with.
Particularly disappointing for Preciado was when several people he had considered friends joined in the pile-on. “It’s unbelievable how naïve people are – they are closed-minded and don’t ask questions. But good riddance to them,” he says. The abuse that Preciado experienced was spearheaded by the group Gays Against Groomers, a nationwide conservative ‘anti-woke’ non-profit that opposes drag queen story hours, the teaching of gender theory, and rights for trans kids and teens.
With 207K Instagram followers, this is a large group with strong social media clout. Once Preciado was on their radar, the pile-on spread thick and fast and soon involved members of the online beer community and regular brewery visitors. “I was very very angry,” says Preciado, with reason. “At first I was pissed off and I talked back, but my wife and social media manager advised me not to. However, by then, it was too late, and he explains that I’d added fuel to the fire and given them more ammunition,” he explains.
When the day of the event arrived, Preciado eschewed police assistance but did hire armed security and metal detectors. But Preciado’s story had a positive ending when members of Gays Against Groomers attended the busy and successful event and came to apologize to Preciado, having witnessed how family-friendly it was.
“I told them they could have ruined my career by calling me a child molester – they should have done their research before going crazy.” Although the women promised to remove their negative posts, the effect of the pile-on means that there are still trolling comments and negative Google and Yelp reviews up, including from people who have never visited Beer Thug Brewing Co. Still, the overwhelmingly positive response he received from the majority of his local community has more than compensated.
“I never had any intention of backing down,” he asserts. “I knew I would do the show no matter what. Maybe someone who has been through less would have quit,” he explains, “My brewery is in a Latino community with a lot of homophobia. Still, when I’m preaching about inclusivity that is for everyone – all are welcome here.” Preciado is proud to have stuck to his principles and to have expanded his customer base within the LGBTQ+ community. His experience gained him positive coverage on local radio and television, which along with the retraction from Gays Against Groomers, means that the trolling has now stopped.
Preciado’s experience is by no means unique. As the culture wars hit the beer world [see Dave Infante’s article cited above], breweries are being placed under increased pressure to choose a side, and that choice now inevitably leads to a trolling pile-on.
Conroe, TX’s Southern Star Brewing faced a similarly unpleasant online attack when they canceled an event where Kyle Rittenhouse, the teenager who shot two people dead at a Black Lives Matter march in Kenosha, Wisconsin, was due to speak. The brewery, which describes itself as ‘a place of inclusivity’, canceled because they said it ‘does not reflect our own values,’ sparking a huge wave of right-wing outrage, encompassing accusations of censorship, succumbing to ‘woke’ pressure, and again, physical threats.
As trolling becomes ever more accepted and acceptable in the online beer community, trolls increasingly use their collective weight to effectively force their own agenda on the kinds of events breweries can host.
As we’ve clearly established, trolling in its multiple incarnations is a major issue in the beer community. It has far-reaching and often severe consequences, ranging from reputational damage, psychological and mental health repercussions, and threats to life. So, what can we, as an industry, do about it?
There is no one right answer or clear consensus about the best or most effective way to respond to trolls. Still, there is substantial received wisdom based on experience and training about identifying and handling different types of trolling that will minimize the impact on yourself and/or your business and discourage trolls from continuing their behavior.
Do the work
Acknowledging that trolling is a problem is the first step in handling it effectively. As a DEI and communications professional, Dr. J clearly understands why this is important. “We always say ‘do the work’ when we talk about making the industry more inclusive – but part of what ‘the work’ is is exactly this – putting in the effort and time to manage the backlash of impact justice-driven work,” she says, “It’s a hard reality that we have to be prepared to deal with trolls because I don’t think we can shut down trolling without shutting down the internet.”
As with most every other form of bullying and abuse, it’s not fair that the victims of trolling are the ones who have to do the work. But by openly flagging the seriousness of trolling, we can take away any justifications that a troll may make that it’s all harmless fun while also pro-actively protecting ourselves from the potential harm trolls can cause.
There are multiple ways that we can do the work to minimize the impact that trolling can have – those will vary depending on the type of trolling you are experiencing, your role in the industry, how you personally choose to respond to a situation, and the resources you have available to you, but understanding that you are the victim of unacceptable and abusive behaviors which are not humorous or insignificant is an important first step. “When trolling is used from a position of privilege and power it is weaponized and we can’t give it space and when it’s meant to be humorous we must take the humor out of it,” says Dr. J.
When to ignore them and when to respond
The debate about if or when you should ever respond to a troll is almost as old as trolling itself. There’s no right or wrong answer because everyone has different thresholds of the abuse they can take without responding and what in particular gets under your skin. While it’s agreed that trolls court attention and responding can be seen as giving in to them, in some circumstances, a response can be used to hoist the troll on their own petard.
At Minocqua Brewing, Kirk Bangstad has learned to turn his trolls to his advantage, screenshotting and reposting attacks to show poor logic and factual inaccuracies – “People eat it up and it helps to grow the business. The funniest are the people who give terrible reviews on the quality of our food because we haven’t been making food since Covid!” he quips.
Melissa Cole’s clever pithy comebacks are also well-known for taking the wind out of trolls’ sails. “I’ve spent a long time educating myself on the issues, not just from my perspective by hearing, and more importantly actively listening to, the experiences of other people, which gives me a breadth of come backs to people who have no other perspective than their own,” she says. “Also, to be quite frank, sometimes it’s fun watching people twist themselves into knots!”
Alison Wisneski varies her approach – occasionally resharing particularly silly or bizarre comments but mostly ignoring or deleting anything offensive or hateful. “Our rule is to channel Michelle Obama – when they go low we go high,” she explains. It isn’t easy, though. “I have to separate my personal voice from that of the brand – they are two different things which can be hard to reconcile. Sometimes feel like naming and shaming, but it’s not right for Lady Justice to do.” Wisneski sometimes uses Instagram and TikTok reels to send an offensive post without resharing it, working around the ‘troll-feeding’ conundrum.
At Impossibrew, Freddie Mckinlay’s strategy is to ignore the trolls. “It’s not a good look for the brand to be arguing on social media,” he asserts. Whether you choose to engage or step back and block, thinking through your response and how it will impact you will help you make the right decision.
Putting your mental health first
Being trolled is, effectively, being under attack, and that can have a huge psychological toll. Trolling can escalate whether or not you have chosen to engage, and the constant barrage of abuse can be very difficult to deal with. It can be tempting to dismiss trolls as insignificant, be it out of a desire not to give them the satisfaction of affecting you or from a delayed reaction to the impact. Still, it’s important to acknowledge that the hurt is real.
“People sometimes think they have an infinite capacity to absorb abuse online but they don’t – they are human,” says Dr J. “You may be engaging in self-preservation so your first response is to disconnect but then you may not be paying attention to what’s going on inside yourself so may not be taking the best care of yourself,” she explains. “It’s hard, but to take care of yourself you need to accept that this is hurting and be open and vulnerable to the condition of being hurt.”
Alison Wisneski agrees. “You need to protect yourself and know when to step back, and save your time and your mental health,” she says. Melissa Cole also emphasizes putting your mental health first. “Tell your community why you are logging off and log off completely. Delete the apps from your phones to resist the temptation to pick the scab and let your community deal with it,” she advises. “You are already doing so much unpaid labor there’s no shame in stepping back and allowing others to step in from time-to-time when it gets too much.”
While the need to take our mental health more seriously is, albeit long overdue, becoming more understood and taken seriously within the beer industry, there is still an understanding gap that both allows and encourages trolling and can mean that we lack the necessary tools to deal with it effectively on either a personal or professional level.
Education and training
As a trained journalist and social media professional, Alison Wisneski is adamant that employers must ensure their staff is adequately trained and protected against trolls. “Many breweries are small businesses, often with friends or family managing their social media who are not trained to deal with trolls,” she says.
“As an industry, we’re not equipped to protect our businesses or social media staff to prevent them from burning out or having panic attacks,” Wisneski emphasizes that while professional training cannot stop trolling, it can significantly minimize its impact on businesses, and individuals.
“Even with my training, I’m still deeply affected when [trolling] happens – it doesn’t hurt any less,” she says, “If people are not equipped can push them out of the industry and damage their mental health.” Wisneski asserts that, as an industry, we need to rethink how we approach social media. “It’s not a career for an intern or a child,” she explains, “It’s the front face of your brand, and you need to know what you’re going to say and what you’re not.”
Dr. J also reiterates the importance of professionalism and active leadership when handling trolling. “Leaders need to take seriously what it takes to be prepared for [dealing with trolls] as an occupational hazard,” she says. “Personally, I felt my knowledge and skills and my desire to participate in the work would push me through it but over time it takes a tremendous toll, and it takes active work to withstand it and become resilient.”
Having internal support from within your organization is crucial. Having or being a supportive manager and enacting as many protections for yourself and your staff as possible is a key way to protect against trolling.
“Social media managers need space, for example a paid hour at the end of the day to decompress – they need to be supported so they feel able to walk away and come back the next day,” says Dr. J. Wisneski agrees. “You need to ask if you feel comfortable and safe in this place of work,” she says. She recommends asking potential employers how they deal with trolls and cites the support she receives from the Lady Justice board when things get tough. “They know how stressful this is and are supportive and helpful, and we reinforce each other and our stance to go high.”
Sticking your neck out
As we have seen, our industry is particularly prone to trolling for many reasons, and there are several ways that we can work towards protecting ourselves and our community from the impact of trolling.
While there is no question that individuals and businesses with strong personalities and opinions find themselves trolled more frequently, no one is immune from trolling. It can happen to anyone for any reason.
‘Not sticking your neck out’ can be seen as a way to avoid being trolled. Still, in a world with a fast-moving news cycle where your posts can ricochet worldwide in seconds, there is no failsafe against receiving a deluge of hate. Changing your opinions, politics, or how you present yourself won’t stop you from being trolled.
Instead, we should take action as a community to show that we do not find trolling acceptable in any form, as we should with all other forms of bullying and abuse.
Dr. J provides some context when considering the bigger picture of what we’re dealing with. “When someone creates a new technology, there is an interesting moment when it gets put into the world which bangs it around and decides how it will be used, and frequently it is not used as the creator intended.
For example, Edison invented the phonograph to record lectures – he was aghast that it was used for entertainment! Cellphones were supposed to be the mobile telephone, but no one uses them for conversations anymore – there is a precedent of misuse. Social media is still in this place. We have created a technology that is so robust – it’s out there, and we’re still dealing with the repercussions of its unintended use. Right now, that is the building of power – it is a power platform in a world where people are more disempowered than ever. In social media, you can feel empowered with little effort or investment – this is what trolling has become.”
Whether we feed the trolls or not, they will still be out there, so as a community, we need to be vigilant, resilient, and supportive of one another while we seek ways to disempower them. And if, in reference to a different ancient myth, our community works together to cut off the head of the hydra, we will make it a safer, happier space for everyone.