“There’s harmless crazy and then there’s out-and-out crazy. The problem is, by the time you realise which version of crazy you’re dealing with, it’s often too late.” - AR
Small and medium sized businesses have benefited enormously from the internet and social media in recent years. The opportunities to promote brand awareness and increase sales at little or no extra cost have never been greater.
However, there is an inherent vulnerability in this very public marketplace and which could eventually affect us all. Namely, the rising threat of internet trolls, stalkers and creepers.
Online trolling and stalking is nothing new, but it is becoming increasingly common for both individuals and businesses to be targeted through their commercial social media profiles. It can be as subtle as perpetrators continuously making their presence felt by constantly refreshing their status on your page (with the intention to assert control and intimidate), or as overt as regularly ranting on your posts in acts of outright aggression.
‘Handle with extreme care’
One thing many experts seem to agree on is that, whilst manipulative and often clever, stalkers and trolls are not necessarily rational or predictable, and their behaviour will often escalate over time if their psychological needs go unmet. Some stalkers become emboldened to the point of complacency or recklessness if left unchallenged and, to make matters worse, many perpetrators are known to their targets. One thing is for sure - they all need to be handled with extreme care, so what steps can you take to minimise the risks to you and/or your business?
‘Screenshot all suspicious activity’
The first step is to take any potential threats seriously. No matter how trivial they may seem, especially at first, document them. As time goes by, you may be glad you did. Screenshot all suspicious activity and don’t forget much of the activity can be corroborated through your Notifications and Insights pages on social media - screenshot and save them all!
Whilst the authorities may not be able to do anything initially, if legal lines are crossed, the information gathered may prove invaluable to cement your case. For example, deniability is often the creeper or stalker’s first line of defence but with screenshots identifying them and their online behaviour, they will struggle to justify their actions.
Although there is no specific UK law which makes cyber-bullying or trolling illegal, it can still be deemed a criminal offence under legislation such as the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 and the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. Stalking (cyber or otherwise) became a named offence in England and Wales for the first time in November 2012.
‘Blocking the offender’
At the overt end of the scale, if the posts become particularly offensive and/or vitriolic, you may want to consider blocking the offender from your page. But be aware that they may find other ways to retaliate, so ignoring them initially may be the best option. Most social networks have a means of reporting abuse but you may find that the mass outrage of your online community will police the troll far better than you ever could.
Make sure that all your social media activity is courteous and professional. That is not to say that you should always avoid controversy and debate. If topical and well handled, they can add interest and ‘bite’ to your posts, but do acknowledge and respect any counter-arguments your readers may make.
‘When it’s out there, it’s out there’
Check the privacy settings on your personal profiles and be ultra-cautious about what personal information you release into the public domain. As the saying goes, when it’s out there, it’s out there and may ultimately be visible, and therefore useful, to stalkers as well as friends.
Check the security settings and firewalls on your websites and devices. Whilst this may not seem immediately relevant, do not underestimate the skill and determination of your troll to make your life a misery if other avenues are blocked to them. If you have a comments section on your website blog you may wish to disable it temporarily. Change passwords regularly, encrypt sensitive data and always keep anti-virus and other software updated.
The troubling thing is, trolls, stalkers and creepers can strike in the most unexpected and insidious ways and often appear, to the outside world at least, to be perfectly reasonable and sane. Do be vigilant, and if you have any fears or concerns for your own safety or the safety of those around you, do not hesitate to contact the police. Check out the following links for more information on how to minimise threats and stay safe: