Growing up the golden rule was instilled in me as "If you don't have anything nice to say, then don't say anything at all." 

Sadly, in today's world dominated by social media, this golden rule has been forgotten. The meaner and nastier things you say, the more attention your post or blog will receive. Since we live in a country that celebrates free speech, 'Cyberbullying' is now becoming an ordinary part of our lives.

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 point is only to discuss how 'Cyberbullies/Trolls' can cause other devastating effects on adults and corporations.

How can these 'TROLLS' affect your company?

Years ago, Procter and Gamble had a troll creating a movement accusing the company of devil worship/ satanism. 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.

Unfortunately, this behavior is not illegal. Once you become a business owner, you become a public figure. Moreover, similar to celebrities, your life is now for public consumption. As recent as 2018, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai was the victim of a troll because of net neutrality. 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. The may become 'Creepy,' but they know to not cross into criminal behavior. Therefore, 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 financial commitment. Moreover, if the blogger has nothing, what will you gain? Also, the burden of proof that the troll's blogs are specifically causing significant damage to your company is on you and your legal team. Established case law shows that proving this to a legal threshold is extremely difficult.

So what can you do?

Unless you can secure a legal or public relations firm, or your company already has divisions designed to address this issue. The answer is nothing. Law enforcement and civil law attorney's advice consists of 2 words, "Ignore them."

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 hope that your investors, customers, current and potential employees will take the time to do solid research before they make their decisions. Again, it is not very comforting when you consider these individuals can easily decide to put their time and money towards a business that is not the subject of a troll.

So until the Government powers that be decide to address this pervasive problem all we can do is wait and continue our 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, 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 dancing monkey rather than held in any higher regard.

It would be nice if, through evolution, this intrinsic need of Online Bullies and Trolls to attempt to harm or destroy those they sought to emulate and failed.

For now, as Trustify's CEO Danny Boice says, all we can do is hope and pray.

Russell Beatty
Russell Beatty

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