Tag Archives: community management

Trolling isn’t outlier behavior, and we can stop it

Large troll standing over a house

For years the picture painted of trolls was pretty straightforward: while most members of online communities are good people, there are a few horrible, unchangeable, malicious people called “trolls” who live to make everyone’s life terrible. Our job was to try to keep them out, ban them when they showed up, and sigh and accept that they were an inevitable part of any online community.

What has become clear is that we were wrong; most trolls are regular people.

Two recently released studies have shown that the majority of “troll” behavior is actually generated by normal people who have been triggered into acting negatively, usually through a combination of their own mental state (i.e. having a bad day) and social norms (e.g. seeing other people troll and get away with it).

  1. The famously toxic League of Legends found that only about 1% of their players were consistently toxic, and those produced only about 5% of the toxicity. “The vast majority was from the average person just having a bad day.”
  2. Scientists from Cornell and Stanford found that people are more likely to troll if they were in a negative mood, late at night, and if the first comment on a thread was a “troll comment”.

This is a game-changer for several reasons.

One, it means we may have been banning or punishing a large number of normal people who were just doing what they saw others doing. It’s likely that we only reinforced their negative behavior, rather than helping them adjust it.

Two, it means there’s a lot more we can do to prevent trolling. A recent experiment on Reddit found that rule posts stuck to the top of a thread increased rule following by 7.3 percentage points and increased newcomer participation by 38.1%. League of Legends found that some simple priming “reduced negative attitudes by 8.3%, verbal abuse by 6.2% and offensive language by 11%”. Some people are further down the rabbit hole of negativity, but even they may be saved. We are not helpless to decrease trolling, and continuing to act like we are is irresponsible.

(You can find my much longer post on ways to create positive online spaces here.)

Three, it means community managers are even more important in any organization that has an interactive online space. We are no longer just reactive janitors, apologizing for the mess. We can be proactive social designers. (Be sure to go seek out some behavioral psychology books and classes, folks.)

To me, this is extremely exciting. It means our online communities can become more positive, safe places. And it means that our work is far from done. Complacency happens in every industry. The community industry has finally started pushing through our complacency about ROI. Next, let’s tackle trolling.


It’s important that I note that these findings don’t mean there aren’t real, horrible people on the internet. It doesn’t mean we need to put up with harassment just because someone had a bad day. I’m not condoning bad behavior – I’m just optimistic that we can change much of it.


Troll photo courtesy of EE Shawn

What we learned (about ourselves) at CMX Summit

David Spinks‘s CMX Summit did something rare yesterday. It gave us the usual community management tips and cheerleading, which are always appreciated…but it also gave us perspective. We learned from seasoned veterans and psychologists. We talked to people from every type of company and every size role. And we discussed community management as a real career, not a novelty.


From Robin Dreeke we learned that empathy, which many of us have considered a cornerstone of community management for years, is not only a powerful way to accomplish goals but so important that it can get you a “head of” title at the FBI!


David McMillan taught is that for a true sense of community there are a lot of elements necessary : shared experiences, complimentary skills, risk, and the much-maligned turnover…a lot more than you’re going to get from simply tweeting cute stuff to your audience a few times a day!


Emily Castor showed how very intentional – and often very tiny – elements can help set the whole culture of a community.


Ligaya Tichy showed us how communities and community management must evolve with a company.


Josh Miller reiterated what even Buzzfeed has admitted: clicks aren’t engagement.


Nir Eyal showed us that getting folks to regularly contribute to a community is not just about good intentions, it’s about carefully building habits.


And Ellen Leanse showed us that none of this is new, that permeability is better than bottlenecking, and that we must persevere.


Who knows what the #%*& Dave McClure taught us.


What I came away with was a much better look at how our skills are more crucial than they’ve ever been…but also a keen sense that we need to step up to our potential and actually hone these skills, use these frameworks, do and read research, push for the right things instead of accepting the status quo, and go kick some ass. We are in such a position to help companies succeed and stay on top…but we need to put on our big person pants. We have the power. Let’s use it.