How to protect yourself against social media trolls without resorting to the law

The Government is considering a change in the law that could see internet 'trolls' face up to two years in jail, but what are the alternatives to using the law and how can you protect yourself?

Protect yourself before calling in the law, says Chris Woods at Hanover
Protect yourself before calling in the law, says Chris Woods at Hanover

There are two common tactics employed by well-known individuals against those who stalk them spitefully on social media: leave or get legal.

But if, like many communicators, business leaders, sports stars, politicians and celebrities, you find social media to be more useful than not and want to avoid the financial and reputational hurdles involved in calling the lawyers in, what can you do?

Earlier this week I Googled 'Facebook Troll Help' and 'Twitter Troll Help', hoping to find official advice, based on the assumption that most people being trolled will take this route.

I found two search results on the first page of Google from the official Facebook help forum where small business owners had suffered one-star reviews from people they alleged were not customers.

Looking at the comments, the advice failed to help with the threat to their reputations.

With a search for Twitter, I found nothing useful on page one.

I’d like to see both social networks offer more help to the victims of trolling and make every effort to have their advice search engine optimised.

I contacted the Facebook and Twitter press offices for some guidance, mentioning that I was writing a piece for PRWeek.

Both responded swiftly – one more helpfully than the other.

Facebook pointed me to its Family Safety Centre, which details "practical advice on what people should do if they are targeted online, from blocking someone to social reporting".

Its tools page succinctly explains how to block someone from communicating with you on Facebook and how to report a post that you consider to be from a troll, which Facebook promises to investigate.

There are three main routes to protecting yourself on Twitter. Firstly, block the troll’s Twitter account by clicking on the three dots [...] below a tweet, then select Block @username.

This will prevent the troll from following you and messaging you.

There are two ways to report a tweet.

The first is again via the dots, where a range of appropriate options are presented and the second is via this form.

The form guides you through the process of reporting harassment on Twitter.

Twitter also points out that if you are threatened via its platform, blocking or reporting the alleged individual’s Twitter account may not solve the problem.

It suggests people contact their local law enforcement agency and guidelines are made available for police and other authorities to follow, which include contacting Twitter in an emergency via a web form or fax.

As any good PR agency will tell you, it’s also beneficial to have a direct route into the teams working at social networks when alleged illegal or suspect activity threatens its clients.

It may not necessarily speed things up but in the world that hides behind ‘ones and zeroes’, it’s certainly reassuring to have a conversation with someone influential.

While the tools on offer from Facebook and Twitter appear to be well-thought-through and easy to use if a little hard to find, I’m interested to hear from PRWeek readers whether blocking users or reporting content has led to improvements, or if the trolling continued in another guise.

Chris Woods is head of digital at Hanover Communications

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