Emily Post in the digital age: Social media etiquette and trolls

Our Social Media Manager, Sarah A. Parker, likes to opine on all things social media from time to time, so we’ve given her space to do just that here on our blog. She’ll cover everything from the new and unusual to the outdated and annoying. Got something she missed our something you’d like her to cover? Find her on Twitter @SparkerWorks


It’s a funny thing about humans that sometimes we figure out where lines are only after we cross them— especially when it comes to social norms and things like etiquette.

Researchers like Harold Garfinkle often purposefully violate these norms in order to establish that they are norms:

“Garfinkeling is when a researcher knowingly violates a social norm while interacting with other people to reveal how commonly accepted social knowledge is left unquestioned in everyday life.”

How does this translate to our digital lives? Much like real life, everyone exists on a sort of spectrum of social expectations that are being established as we all spend more time Online in more capacities, including business and personal. Some people think digital life should be as close as possible to life in the real world while others seem to regard even a small amount of online anonymity as permission to leave all normal rules of human interaction behind.

That would be the trolls.

Mashable just wrapped up Troll Week and covered everything from categorizing different types of trolls to challenging the age old advice of “don’t feed the trolls”.

As with most things in life there is no simple, one-size-fits-all, black-and-white rule you should always apply. The crux is this, from Lauren Hoffman, a clinical psychologist and instructor at Columbia University who spoke to Mashable for their Don’t Feed the Trolls piece:

“Pick your battles and set limits for yourself. . .Decide what you’re willing to ignore, what you might reply to, and what you will block or report.”

This is a good rule of thumb for those running brand accounts as well as for personal accounts. Don’t be afraid to block and report a troll who starts by going after a brand you’re representing online and starts making it personal; your personal safety is the most important thing. Discuss this with your team before any kind of trolling event so you’re prepared. Trolling situations can easily snowball into a crisis comms situation, so make response parameters part of your overall crisis strategy. (We wrote up some guidelines you can start with earlier this year.)

Mashable’s piece makes another very important point we need to pay attention to even if it’s not something we as users can change right now:

“Ultimately, it’s a framing issue: we as a culture put the impetus to improve a toxic situation on the victim.”

It’s unfortunate that the person being targeted by a troll has to fix the situation as social media platforms struggle to address the problem in a comprehensive and scalable way.

I don’t have an answer to this other than the general, trite ask that we all try to be just a little bit nicer to one another.


Photo by John Schnobrich on Unsplash