Online marketers, community managers and celebrities need to know how to deal with Twitter harassment and cyberbullying, but the following tips might be also useful for any user who spends time in the platform.
Why is there so much harassment and cyberbullying on Twitter?
Twitter is different from other social networks and its characteristics make it especially permeable to abuse, harassment and cyberbullying. On Twitter, any person can create anonymous accounts quite easily, and the platform also allows anyone to create and manage multiple accounts at the same time. Official tools like Tweetdeck allow you to manage dozens of accounts without needing to login and log out to change between them, making trolling even easier.
Instead, Facebook for example only allows one account per person, and the name in the profile has to be your real name. Another characteristic that makes Twitter different is the fact that any person from any place in the world can read and respond to our tweets if they are not “protected”, that is, if your account is not set to private. Public tweets are public even for those who do not have a Twitter account.
The fact that anyone can read and respond to our tweets is not to be taken lightly. “Anyone” includes also people who are not socially functional, and trolling on social networks might be their only way to interact with other people. There are psychological studies like “Trolls just want to have fun” that link abusive behaviour on social networks with mental illness. Also, insulting strangers and celebrities on Twitter could be a release, a cathartic experience, for common individuals who are experiencing personal problems.
How to deal with Twitter harassment and cyberbullying
1. Don’t take it personal
An insult from an anonymous stranger on Twitter has the same value as an insult from a random drunk in the street. Responding to any provocation we receive is, no doubt, bad policy, and a waste of time and energy that could be used in something more productive and/or enjoyable. So the first consideration is to keep calm. Avoid tweeting in the heat of the moment.
2. Know that popularity attracts Twitter harassment
Popularity attracts attention, and attention is a double-edged sword. Celebrities and big brands on Twitter usually get positive as negative tweets on a daily basis. Ascending stars are especially subject to aggression. As popular wisdom holds, “Haters gonna hate”. So if you are planning to regularly read tweets that mention you, do it with a cup of tea next to you and get used to ignore most of them.
3. Consider reporting it to Twitter
Some serious cases of Twitter harassment and cyberbullying can be reported to Twitter as abuses and violations of Twitter Rules. One notorious incident occurred in 2014 involved the posting of horrifying images related to Robin William’s death targeted to his daughter Zelda. The Twitter accounts responsible for this behaviour were banned. For more information on how to proceed in these cases on Twitter and other platforms check our article How to report content on social networks.
Keep in mind that the Twitter Rules keep changing. So certain behaviours that were violations might be now acceptable. And the opposite is true: some behaviours that were acceptable before can be now reported. For example, posting someone else’s personal information on Twitter —known as “doxxing”— is currently not allowed and can result in a suspension or permanent ban. A good way to quickly keep up to date with current policies is to read the information provided by Twitter when you click on “Report tweet”. During the reporting process, a list of potential violations will show up, with the corresponding explanations.
In cases of death threats, consider reporting it to the police. Make sure to take screenshots as evidence in case the tweets are later deleted either by Twitter or the authors.
4. Do not validate the harassment with a response
Separate harassment from criticism. Criticism might deserve a response and an exchange of ideas. Instead, harassment never starts meaningful debates. Also, if you have hundreds of thousands of followers and you reply to a heckler that has only 100 followers, you are giving him an audience he did not have in the first place. Your followers are interested in what you have to say and share, not in reading you arguing with random people. Even worse, by replying you might also attract more trolls who will want to get a mention from you too.
5. Rectify misinformation
There are few cases that do entitle a public response, and that is when the Twitter harassment has started as a result of a misunderstanding, misinformation spread by the media or an actual issue we have to take responsibility for. It doesn’t mean to respond to every heckler that mentions us on Twitter, but to post a public response in the form of a tweet or a link to a blog post addressing the subject. Writing an article and linking to it is especially recommended if the matter can’t be addressed in only 280 characters.
Many cases of harassment and bullying justify a block. If a user is merely insulting and not contributing in any positive way, you can block him. I would recommend doing this only in extreme situations, when the intent is particularly aggressive and clearly malicious, and especially if the user is responding to your tweets, because then their tweets are visible to your followers. That doesn’t mean you should always block any user who has posted a negative tweet. Don’t confuse harassment and bullying with criticism.
7. Hide responses
There’s a simple and very straightforward way to deal with annoying and unproductive responses to our tweets. You can simply hide them! Click on the dot next to the tweet you want to hide, and then click on “Hide reply”. The reply will only be visible to his original author, and hidden to anyone else. That allows you to keep a clean timeline, and also prevents you from losing followers, because you’re not blocking accounts.