How to handle trolls and negative reactions on social media

Writing about your research online means that people might share their views in response, via the blog platform you chose or via social media. In most cases, this feedback will be nice and helpful, but sometimes you might have to deal with negative reactions. In this video, Dr Sterre Leufkens explains how you can best deal with negative responses or trolls online.

Sterre Leufkens explains how you can deal with trolls and negative reactions on your blog

Tips and tricks

Sterre shares her tips & tricks for handling negative reactions as a result of your blog(s): 

Realize that it’s not about you

People often respond to some predetermined idea about science, your field or your topic – not to what you said. 

Realize that people who like the story mostly don't react

People are more prone to respond if they are angry than if they are happy. For all the negative responses you get, there are more people who like your story, but are silent. 

Limit your responses

If everyone wants to have the last word, social media discussions can go on forever. Accept that you will not change the other person’s mind and no one will benefit from further discussion. Respond once or twice, then stop.  

Block, mute, and report on social media

Use the block, mute, and report functions on social media when people are rude. As a scientist you might feel obliged to always discuss everything, but when someone violates the ground rules for a constructive debate, you don’t owe them anything. Create your own ground rules and enforce them. 

  • Mute: The person will still be able to talk to you, but you will not see their posts any longer. Others will still be able to see their responses to you.
  • Block: The person can no longer see your posts or respond to them. This also prevents their tweets from being liked and shared further across the medium.
  • Report: The platform will investigate whether the person has violated their ground rules. If so, the person may be banned temporarily or permanently. 

Moderating comments

Some people say ‘don’t read the comments’. That is a good idea if you’re on a general website or social media page, but if it’s your personal blog, you are probably there (in part) for the interaction. So read comments, but moderate them: you have the right to determine the rules for comments on your platform. 

Ask assistance

It doesn’t happen a lot, but if you happen to become victim of a true troll storm, mobilize your community. Share what’s happening with colleagues and friends. Don’t look at social media for a while. Tell your communication officer, and perhaps your boss about it. No one can stop a storm, but it helps to feel supported. 

Keep writing!

Your work in science communication is necessary and valuable. Don’t let negative responders ruin that. What you do is much appreciated.

Online intimidation via (social) media

Utrecht University encourages scientists to participate in the public debate through (social) media. This offers opportunities to reach a broad audience and to engage in dialogue with that audience. Besides opportunities, there are also risks. For example, scientists who enter the public debate in this way must be prepared for negative reactions and sometimes even harassment. With intranet page Online intimidation via (social) media (login required) the university supports its employees in situations where things take a negative turn.