Growing up my Mom would frequently say, "If you don't have anything nice to say, then don't say anything at all." I’m still not certain whether she said this so often because I was a horrible kid, or because she was trying to teach me a lesson. I remain hopeful it was the latter.
Sadly though, in today's world dominated by social media, this is not the case. There is an alarming number of people who’s Mother apparently did not teach them this lesson. These people are now commonly referred to as Internet Trolls and Cyberbullies.
They believe, ostensibly, that the meaner and nastier things they write, the more attention they will finally receive. Most do this under the guise of free speech. These Trolls and Bullies have become the circus sideshow act for digital natives. Although most Trolls and Bullies do not seem to be in on the joke - one in which they are the punchline.
We all read every day about another horrific story of cyberbullying of a child who responds with some terrible act. This outcome is devastating for the families involved, yet the cyberbully is rarely held responsible. Similar to current stalking laws, new laws take time. Unfortunately, it took violent events to cause the legislature to create laws against stalking. The same is happening with Cyberbullying. Laws are being formed to address the perpetrators of these crimes, but it will take time.
This Cyberbullying is pretty straight forward. What isn't so obvious, is when the targets of Cyberbullying or Trolling are adults and corporations. There is NO comparing this to what a family goes through when a child is a victim. My goal here is to focus in on the growing trend of Cyberbullies and Trolls turning their sites adults and corporations.
How can Trolls and Cyberbullies affect you and your company?
Years ago, Procter and Gamble had a troll creating a movement accusing the company of devil worship. Because the company's logo resembled a symbol in that religion, it took a significant toll on the company's bottom line. Luckily for them, they were large enough company to fight back. They had a legal department and a social media division that helped them counter the accusations. Procter and Gamble did end up changing their symbol, and they did eventually recover financially.
If your company is not large enough or fortunate enough to have these divisions, the effect may be much more severe. Without that assistance, you can lose potential, as well as previous investors. You can lose customers; you can lose current and potential employees - all because of an Internet bully and troll who has nothing better to do than sit in their dirty boxers in their Mom's basement and comment all over the Internet or write their blogs and social media attacks.
What's the difference between a Blogger and a Troll?
Responsible business bloggers that stay on topic can help your company by pointing out negative issues or activities within your company. Their comments and posts focus solely on your business plan and business related issues. Your company can seriously benefit from listening to these blogs. You can use their blogs and attached comments to fix broken policies and establish more effective business practices.
Trolls, on the other hand, will pose as responsible business bloggers but they will not stay on topic. Their blogs will quickly turn personal, and they will attack every aspect of YOU, not just your business plan. As a business owner, many of your activities are a public record; so they will have access to facts about you and your company that they can modify and post. They will typically make negative and inflammatory comments about your family, your children, and even your marriage. They may also post images of you at your home or your children at their school. These topics have absolutely nothing to do with responsible business blogging. Hence their title, TROLL.
The worst of the worst, however, is a Troll who’s trying to promote their floundering business at your expense using defamation, bullying, trolling, stalking, invasion of privacy and harassment as their weapons.
Unfortunately, this behavior is not always illegal. In some situations, the target may meet the legal definition of “Public Figure”. Moreover, similar to celebrities, a public figure’s life is more open to public consumption.
“A public figure is a person of great public interest or fame, such as a politician, celebrity, or sports hero. The term usually used in the context of libel and defamation actions, where the standards of proof are higher if the party claiming defamation is a public figure and therefore has to prove disparaging remarks were made with actual malice.
A person may also be considered a "limited purpose" public figure by having thrust themselves to the forefront of particular public controversies in order to influence the resolution of the issues involved. The determination is made on a case-by-case basis, taking the particular facts into account.”
Credited to US Legal
Here’s one example: As recent as 2018, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai was the victim of a troll because of net neutrality policy and pending legislation. His troll regularly posted negative comments and vague threats. He even placed signs in the front yard of the chairman. All deliberately visible to his friends and family, to include his children. Sadly, none of this behavior was criminal, since the chairman was a public figure. Police finally arrested the Bully/Troll after he made specific threats to murder Chairman Pai.
Most Trolls are smart enough not to cross that line. Although, they certainly push it with extra-creepiness.
Therefore, from a law enforcement perspective, you are seriously limited to the actions available to you and your company. You may consider pursuing civil legal action, but this comes with a steep time and financial commitment. Moreover, if the Troll lacks any significant assets, what will you gain?
So what can you do?
The answer is that you’ll need to file suit, get an injunction or other legal structure forcing the Troll to take it all down or be held in contempt of court and go to jail. Most likely for defamation but here are the most common claims against Trolls and Bullies:
“Defamation is an act of communication that causes someone to be shamed, ridiculed, held in contempt, lowered in the estimation of the community, or to lose employment status or earnings or otherwise suffer a damaged reputation. Such defamation is couched in 'defamatory language'. Libel and slander are subcategories of defamation. Defamation is primarily covered under state law, but is subject to First Amendment guarantees of free speech. The scope of constitutional protection extends to statements of opinion on matters of public concern that do not contain or imply a provable factual assertion.
Under New Jersey law, defamation is defined as “(1) a defamatory statement of fact; (2) concerning the plaintiff; (3) which was false; (4) which was communicated to a person or persons other than the plaintiff; (5) with actual knowledge that the statement was false or with reckless disregard of the statement's truth or falsity or with negligence in failing to ascertain the truth or falsity; and (6) which caused damage.” Huertas v. United States Dep't of Educ., 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 89903, 17-20 (D.N.J. Sept. 28, 2009).”
Credited to US Legal
“Libel is published material meeting three conditions:
- the material is defamatory either on its face or indirectly;
- the defamatory statement is about someone who is identifiable to one or more persons; and,
- the material must be distributed to someone other than the offended party; i.e. published, as distinguished from slander.”
Credited to US Legal
“Harassment is governed by state laws, which vary by state, but is generally defined as a course of conduct which annoys, threatens, intimidates, alarms, or puts a person in fear of their safety. Harassment is unwanted, unwelcomed and uninvited behavior that demeans, threatens or offends the victim and results in a hostile environment for the victim. Harassing behavior may include, but is not limited to, epithets, derogatory comments or slurs and lewd propositions, assault, impeding or blocking movement, offensive touching or any physical interference with normal work or movement, and visual insults, such as derogatory posters or cartoons.”
Credited to US Legal
“Cyberbullying refers to any harassment that occurs via the internet, cell phones or other devices. Communication technology is used to intentionally harm others through hostile behavior such as sending text messages and posting ugly comments on the internet.
The National Crime Prevention Council defines cyber-bullying as “the process of using the Internet, cell phones or other devices to send or post text or images intended to hurt or embarrass another person.”
Cyber-bullying could be limited to posting rumors or gossips about a person in the internet bringing about hatred in other’s minds, or it may go to the extent of personally identifying victims and publishing materials severely defaming and humiliating them.”
Credited to US Legal
“A person who intentionally and repeatedly follows or harasses another person and who makes a credible threat, either expressed or implied, with the intent to place that person in reasonable fear of death or serious bodily harm is guilty of the crime of stalking. A person may be charged with aggravated stalking if they commit the crime of stalking while subject to a temporary restraining order, an injunction against trespass, or similar order.
Stalkers target public figures or celebrities, children, and sometimes even complete strangers.”
Credited to US Legal
Until then, it’s just best to ignore them - perhaps even look at is a compliment, adopting the mindset that It’s better to be Trolled than ignored.
Of course, this is not what you want to hear when you are the victim. However, unfortunately, it is currently the best advice available. You have to find peace in the fact that no person of value and worth would ever in a million years actually read the rants and raves of trolls. It’s simply other trolls who are attracted to their content - assuming there is anyone out there actually reading it at all..
Until the Governmental powers that be decide to address this pervasive problem all we can do is wait and continue business as usual.
Our great country cherishes our ability to have free speech. So it saddens me to see the First Amendment blatantly abused whenever an angry, lonely, likely mentally ill individual decides to take the regrets and sadnesses in their life out on to people they have never even met in real life.
Luckily, most normal, well-adjusted people see posts and comments by obvious Trolls and cringe. It is like walking by the scene of a bad accident, or hearing fingernails go down a chalkboard. The majority of the population finds merely it cringeworthy and want nothing to do with these Trolls. Hence the lack of comments on their blog posts and overall engagement. The very few that read the content produced by Trolls view it like they would a Circus sideshow act. In this case, most Trolls seem to be oblivious to the fact that they are effectively a punchline for a joke, rather than held in any higher regard.
It would be nice if, through evolution, this intrinsic need of Bullies and Trolls to attempt to harm or destroy those they sought to emulate and failed simply dissipates.
For now, all we can do is hope and pray I suppose. Stay safe out there.