ASHA Civility Digital Toolkit: Civility Scenarios

How to Handle a Troll

Example: Cheryl is the author of a blog for SLPs who work in early intervention and has an accompanying Facebook page. As her audience has grown, people have joined and the conversations have been generally constructive. One follower, however, is constantly attacking the group, no matter what the topic or who is participating in the conversations. The identity of the person and whether the criticizer is an SLP are unclear.

An Internet troll is someone who posts off-topic, aggressive or unnecessarily controversial complaints. Usually they are anonymous. Cyber bullies (those who take trolling to the next level) can be aggravating and detrimental to your online brand and image. Dealing with them, therefore, requires a careful approach that quells quarrels but maintains your dignity. Following are five anti-troll tactics worth trying:

Starve the Troll

Trolls gain satisfaction not from posting rude comments, but from the reactions they elicit. Therefore, when confronted with an Internet troll, one’s first response should be silence. Ignoring the poster and refusing to engage will likely bore the troll and persuade them to go elsewhere. 

Kill the Troll with Kindness and Facts

Try being nice. Trolls thrive on aggression and anxiety. If you become defensive and confrontational, the more entertaining and enticing a target you become to trolls. Being polite, therefore — thanking them for their constructive criticism, for instance — can be a surprising reaction that neutralizes the situation. Cyber-bullies often perpetuate misinformation or intentionally skew data to promote their agenda and gain traction. If you confront such a situation, address misinformation by sticking to the facts (and ignoring their rudeness).

Befriend Troll Hunters

Trolls aren’t intimidated by the author of an article or blog, or by the company they’re following on Facebook or X. Peer pressure from fellow users, however, can be a powerful deterrent. Instead of expending energy on trolls, invest that energy in advocates. For instance, don’t respond to negative comments from trolls; rather respond — vocally and graciously — to positive comments from supporters.

Police the Troll

If you don’t already have a commenting policy on your blog or social media page, write one now. Or, if you’re participating in a third-party, non-ASHA social site that doesn’t have a commenting policy, but is experiencing problems with uncivil posts and behaviors, recommend to the host that they implement such a policy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is one example of a standard commenting policy. Commenting policies should clearly state what will and will not be tolerated and expected actions against violators. You can require that users provide a valid email address before they can participate in public fora to ensure that you can contact someone privately about inappropriate comments; requiring a valid email address also discourages trolling by preventing users from hiding behind the veil of anonymity. Likewise, you may want to moderate comments — to “approve” comments before they’re published — to set the ground rules for what comments won’t be approved.

Ban the Troll

The final defense against trolls is banning them, which you can accomplish by blacklisting their IP address (i.e., their computer’s “fingerprint”). Although an IT person can help you easily, such an action should be considered only in extreme cases and when other tactics fail, because IP banning may cause you accidentally to block legitimate users from your website. Doing so may also send the wrong message to other users, who could view the action as censoring differing opinions.

How to Agree to Disagree

Example: Jeremy is an audiologist who is very passionate about early hearing loss detection legislation. He often sees misinformation posted on various social media sites and comment sections of blogs, some of which is posted by individuals equally passionate about the legislation, but holding a different viewpoint. Jeremy doesn’t want to get into an argument with such posters, because he’s worried how that might affect his private practice. But he still wants to participate constructively in these online conversations.

We all hold our own thoughts, opinions, and values — which means disagreements occur.  However, a distinction exists between disagreeing and disagreeing respectfully. The first may cause hurt feelings and only fuel an already tense blow-up. But the second approach can lead to new ideas and a much more productive discussion. Here are five key tips for disagreeing respectfully with someone.

Focus on Facts

A strong argument is one that uses facts over opinion. A respectful — not to mention compelling — disagreement is one that prioritizes logic over emotion about the situation. Emphasize your reasoning and the information supporting your disagreement. Not only will that make you much more convincing, but that will also reinforce that the disagreement isn't personal.

Don't Get Personal

Speaking of getting personal: Try to avoid personalizing disagreements — particularly in a professional setting. Focus on illustrating why you hold that particular position. Remember, your goal is to present your ideas effectively — not to just poke holes in the other person's reasoning.

Recognize the Good

Yes, you're disagreeing with this person. But, rarely is a suggestion so bad that you can't find a single hidden nugget of wisdom. Before launching your argument, try to preface your statement with something that you like about that person's original suggestion — and then use that as a launching pad for your own ideas.

Remember to Listen

Don’t fall into a trap when you’re in the middle of a disagreement: Rather than actively listening, you're simply waiting for your chance to respond. Unfortunately, conversations where you're completely tuning the other person out are never productive. So, remember to listen to (or read) carefully the points your conversational partner presents. You may be surprised — you might end up reaching an even better, collaborative solution.

Knowing When to Move On

That cliché catchphrase "agree to disagree" is oft-repeated for a reason: It can be a handy sentiment to articulate when needed. One of the most important ways of respectfully disagreeing with someone is knowing when to call it quits and move on. While walking away is not easy to swallow — particularly when you feel passionately about your points — sometimes it's the smartest action to take.

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