Digital Well-Being: 4 Steps to Take When Twitter Trolls Swarm

A necessary digital capability

April 18, 2017

Last week, 3 of my tweets garnered more than 2,000 replies. This was an unusually high number of replies and almost all of them were exceptionally hostile, malicious, offensive, abusive and/or puerile. Having been the target of trolls in the past by way of my personal blog, I'm used to dealing with this particular brand of internet nastiness.

However, the volume of responses to these tweets was quite overwhelming in that they basically rendered Twitter useless in terms of my ability to interact with non-troll folk.

An aspect of being active on social media is engaging in the practice of digital well-being. Part of the Digital Capabilities framework from Jisc and Helen Beetham, digital well-being is an essential element of being capable with all things digital. Being piled on by a swarm of Twitter trolls definitely made me think about digital wellness. I can only imagine what it must be like for celebrities like Leslie Jones who have faced a seemingly endless stream of Twitter-based abuse.

According to Beetham, to care for our 'digital wellbeing' is to:

  • look after personal health, safety, relationships and work-life balance in digital settings;
  • act safely and responsibly in digital environments;
  • manage digital stress, workload and distraction;
  • use digital media to participate in political and community actions;
  • use personal digital data for wellbeing benefits;
  • act with concern for the human and natural environment when using digital tools;
  • balance digital with real-world interactions appropriately in relationships;

What was perhaps most fascinating about last week's barrage of troll tweets was that they didn't just stick with one platform. I received threats and abuse via email, Facebook Messenger, and in comments on YouTube.

So what should you do when you're faced with an overwhelming amount of Twitter-based hostility? Here are my recommendations:

Mute: Twitter is usually a manageable platform in terms of digital engagement. Volume isn't an issue for most people. However, when every single mention that you receive is vitriolic, the "140" becomes less than friendly. What saved my timeline and made Twitter go back to being Twitter was the "Mute this conversation" option. When you mute a conversation on Twitter, every single notification for a particular tweet (or thread of tweets) disappears from your timeline. It take a little while for the mute function to completely activate, but when it works, it's a powerful way of reclaiming your ability to use Twitter (and not be submerged under an onslaught of deplorable commentary).

Block: Trolls, while not necessarily the brightest of all Twitter users, do understand the basics of how digital well-being works and how users can shut them down. They go around the "mute this conversation" defense by simply creating a new tweet that mentions your account that isn't connected to the original thread/conversation. In that instance, the best thing to do is to swiftly use Twitter's block function. Note that it's much easier to block accounts using Twitter's mobile app than it is on a desktop/web version due to the ridiculous amount of clicks you'll have to make if you use a mouse.

Report: When one troll tweeted "kill yourself" at me, I immediately selected the "report tweet" option. Additionally, several trolls directed offensive language in my direction and they also were immediately reported. One particular troll even decided to find my email address and emailed me a note that was deemed “malicious communications with an element of a threat” by the Metropolitan Police Service Contact Centre (MetCC). I used Twitter to file a formal report with the MetCC.

Ignore: Social media offer up fantastic spaces for teaching, learning, community building, and connection-making. Fortunately, if/when trolls arrive at your Twitter doorstep, you can always do your best to ignore them. Eventually they will go away.

Knowing what to do if you're ever faced with a horde of trolls is an essential aspect of digital well-being.

Don't feed them. Don't engage in arguments with them. And, don't hesitate to block, mute, report, or ignore when necessary.


Do you tweet? Let's connect. Follow me on Twitter.


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