Don’t Let the Trolls Get You Down
By Capt. Stephen Jones
Let’s say your agency is in a serious and committed relationship with social media. Your Facebook account is growing and the majority of your followers are true fans. You’re solving crimes as your posts are spread far and wide and the positive stories about your agency are making your local news outlets jealous of the clicks and shares you receive.
You’re wondering how you ever lived without this great social media partnership. And then it happens; one of the few haters who watches your feed–an Internet troll who has nothing better to do with his time than make snide and disrespectful comments on your posts–that creep pushes your social media coordinator a little too far. Your coordinator, we’ll call that person Sgt. Admin, raises his or her index finger and violently strikes the keys to delete the troll’s comments and block them from “liking” your page. I know. So what! The troll didn’t really “like” your page to begin with, so they shouldn’t miss the access you just shut down. But it was all a troll’s trap.
Now you receive an Open Public Records Act request from said troll who wants all your social media posts and a complete printout of all hidden post responses and users blocked. Uh-oh. You watch as Sgt. Admin coughs and sweats. Turns out there’s not one troll, but a small colony of the creatures he or she exiled and never kept track of because “they were being nasty and deserved to be banned.”
And it gets worse! Mr. Troll, Esq. (Sgt. Admin didn’t know he was a lawyer when the banning took place) also filed a lawsuit claiming that you violated his First Amendment rights by blocking his access. Wait one stinking minute! These are your agency’s accounts. He is free to say whatever he wants to the three so-called friends on his own Facebook page. Your page is not there to provide him with a bigger audience for his rants.
Next, make sure you have a healthy selection of forbidden words defined in your Facebook settings. This will immediately and without prejudice to any viewpoint prevent people from replying to your posts with the F-bomb in all its glorious forms, and block an endless variety of potty-mouthed name calling.
You can hide responses by users when they have violated your Terms. Don’t take this action too lightly. You must allow opinions contrary to those who honor a free and lawful society, even if you know they are idiots. You do not have to allow comments that incite violence, threaten, harass… Read our Terms and you’ll get the idea. You can also block users (mostly bot generated) that post links to IQ tests or other inane ad sites, which could actually be malicious programming in disguise.
Make sure Sgt. Admin has some PIO training before saddling him or her with the serious responsibility of managing your social media. There are some who, by their funny but reckless posts, have generated large Twitter or Facebook followings only to have those accounts closed after a judge finds in favor of the stupid criminal that resented being called stupid in front of 100,000 of your fans.
Lastly, if you’re going to hide and block trolls, keep a file with screenshots of comments and even your own posts that you take down. When we as law enforcement officers make records, even on social media, there’s a good chance a judge may ask us to cough them up.
Now, with your new social media parameters tightly set, go crazy like a kid in a moon bounce, rather than one on a trampoline with no net. You’ll find you last longer and have more fun.
Captain Stephen Jones is the Director of Communications for the New Jersey State Police, where he runs the Office of Public Affairs. As a dectective, he received commendations for document fraud investigations prior to his assignment to Public Affairs. Steve holds a B.A. in communications and a Masters in administration. He will be retiring and looking for his next career late this summer.