An Exercise in Dealing With Trolls

My  brother is an independent insurance agent in Holt, MI and had the unfortunate luck to run across a troll (we suspect it’s an individual who was caught attempting to commit fraud by insuring a home containing a business with a standard residential policy – he was caught and the policy was canceled and in spite of the fact that his money was refunded he’s still holding a grudge).

As the family’s online reputation  management expert, I’ve been doing some pro bono work to my brother rehab his online presence as a result and it’s a great reminder of how messy a loser with a little bit of free time on their hands can make things.  The breakdown of how to respond to these sorts of things is fairly simple (for those who may not already be familiar):

  1. Investigate the scope of the problem.
    1. You can start with a Google search and go from there depending on what you find (the more content, the liklier it is that you’ll want to use other search tools to detect negative references).
    2. Given how incestuously data is handled on the web, it’s likely that one reference in one location is showing up in other locations (for example the reviews were being included with Google’s reviews) so you’ll want to make sure you’ve found the source when you begin the purging process.
  2. Take action to clean up or minimize the damage.  This will take a number or forms depending on what the problem is and the earlier you can act, the better – the longer content stays up the more likely it will be indexed or scraped and reappropriated elsewhere.
    1. Review / Directory Site: Contact the people who manage the review platform (these sorts of things are routine so if they’re a credible operation they usually have an easy way to reach them to initiate a review process) and write them a polite, adequately-detailed and entirely factual request to remove the content.  Most of the time this should solve the problem.
    2. Personal Blog / Website: Occasionally trolls/griefers will create websites (usually with free services like Blogger or WordPress) to continue the harassment.  Again – contacting those who maintain the site with a polite and factual request usually does the trick.
    3. If you have the means or the defamation is serious enough, you may want to investigate legal remedies.  Technically, as a result of the language in Section 113 of the Violence Against Women and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act, it’s illegal to anonymously “annoy” someone online.  A lot of people (including me) doubt that this law will ultimately stand up if it’s ever challenged, but it’s on the books nonetheless.  As a good example of how nothing online is truly anonymous, some people have been outed and sanctioned for defamation under this law.  For more info, Declan McCullagh did a good writeup a few years ago on ZDNet.
  3. Monitor the situation. Occasionally trolls have stamina and will continue the harassment.  You should already be using tools like Backtype , Bloglines , Google Alerts , Google Blogsearch , Social Mention , Steprep, Technorati , Yacktrack , etc. to monitor what is said about you or your organization online – but if you’re not they can be used to set up RSS feeds or automated email notifications when content about you is published.

Back to the current situation with my brother, the troll in question has been posting false negative reviews with a variety of online directories over the past month or two, including:

We identified the problem a couple of days ago, and have begun contacting the various directories to dispute the reviews (which are obviously false; the pseudonyms used have only ever published one review a piece and they’re all posted within the same span of time – in some cases on the same day and using some of the same sequence of numbers in the name).  He’s become somewhat more sophisticated than the typical troll by actually returning to his fake reviews and posting comments of agreement or supplemental reviews under other pseudonyms.

Right now I’m incredibly impressed with two companies:

  • they reviewed and removed the bogus negative reviews in a matter of hours!  They also sync with Facebook (which is not only convenient, but has the benefit of more solidly establishing a reviewer as legitimate by anchoring them to their social media profile).
  • (which is owned by AT&T) they reviewed the content and began the process of removing it less than a day after I submitted my request.

Curiously, the slowest to respond has been Google (which usually has outstanding customer service).  I haven’t given up on them though.  I’m also still waiting to hear back from

For posterity, here’s a list of usernames they’ve used thus far:

  • | BrianMonroe on 08/30/2009
  • | jason.hansen on 08/21/2009
  • | SarahConor2122 on 08/15/2009
  • | “Jason” JasonX001 08/18/2009
  • | “John Adams” John5178 08/14/2009
  • | “Kent Black” Kennie517 08/14/2009
  • Google Maps | saraho39conor – Aug 15, 2009‎
  • | Sarah O. – Aug 15, 2009‎

One thought on “An Exercise in Dealing With Trolls

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