Dealing with Trolling: Update for 2023

October 19, 2023

The more time you spend on the internet, the greater the chance you will either witness or become a victim of trolling. Trolling is defined as antagonizing others online by deliberately posting inflammatory, irrelevant, or offensive comments or other disruptive content. Internet trolls aim to provoke an emotional response and are trying to engage in a fight or argument. A few negative comments do not equal trolling. Trolls will persistently harass their targets, especially if they know they’re hitting a nerve.

The following are some trolling behaviors:

  • Attacking or criticizing something you’ve posted, praised, or agreed with
  • Posting personal insults meant to humiliate you in front of others
  • Escalating verbal aggression when the target responds
  • Making statements designed to upset others
  • Hate speech

There is no policy on how MIT schools, departments, labs, and centers (DLCs) should respond if a staff member or student is being trolled online. It’s possible that if a DLC gets involved or comments publicly or in platform, that could further incite or motivate the harasser. I do not recommend DLCs engaging or intervening in any way on a public platform.

But there are some steps you can take to combat social media trolls:

  • Ignore them. DO NOT engage—that’s what they want, and it will motivate them to continue. Trolls seek attention and if they don’t get it, they might move on.
  • Block them. Almost every platform allows you to block users. Blocking users can mean different things on different social media sites, but generally it stops them from seeing your content and vice versa. Blocked accounts cannot follow you, find your posts in a search, or direct message you.
  • Report them. Almost every platform has a policy against abusive language, behavior, and hate speech. Reporting them could get their post removed, or get the account suspended or deleted depending on the site and the situation. Simply reporting a user won’t block the person from reaching you again, so make sure you block them as well.

You can consider removing their directory listing, including their MIT email address, office phone number and location, from your websites to help prevent trolling from moving offline. If the trolling moves into a person’s real life on campus, for instance through emails or phones calls, or escalates in the following ways, it should be reported to the MIT Police (617-253-1212):

  • Threats of violence, bodily harm, or death
  • Following a victim from one channel to another to purposefully harass them
  • Posting information that could compromise a person’s safety, such as a home address
  • Engaging in stalking behavior or hate crimes

Trolling is not a federal crime, but under many state laws, harassment, stalking, and bullying are illegal. In Massachusetts, laws prohibit several acts of harassment and stalking—committed in-person, by mail or phone, or through the use of electronic communications. Electronic communications can include conduct or messages communicated by email, text message, instant messaging, phone, on the internet, or through a website or social media application.

A few reminders

When posting on personal social media channels, be clear that the views and opinions expressed are your own, and do not represent the official stance or policy of MIT. But even when you are clear, understand that your audience may still attribute your comments to MIT, so be mindful of how they will reflect on the Institute and its reputation. Here are MIT’s policies on personal conductracism, and harassment for your reference.

As mentioned in a blog post in 2019, follow MIT’s policies and procedures when using social media to promote an MIT event, initiative, or academic program.

These incidents are distressing and are never cut and dry. Social media managers are encouraged to contact Jenny Fowler, MIT’s director of social media strategy, at to talk through these incidents on a case-by-case basis and consult with other colleagues across the Institute as needed.