How to deal with Trolls!

Let’s cast ourselves a classic video game. The shining hero and companions have been trusted with the safety of our village and the folks living there.  The sun is shining, the birds are chirping and all is well in this virtual world.

Ominous music begins to build, as some things in chat seem a little...off. Unfamiliar usernames that seem pretty random start to show up, putting the hero and companions on alert.  The first wave hits, a few random shots are volleyed rapidly. Trolls. Naturally, you make short work of them. Some heroes will disable with a timeout, often matching the length with the number and severity of the attack. Others will ban(ish) quickly. There is no reason to waste any time talking with them or even acknowledging them, which merely increases their power.

The horde regroups and takes one of several routes.  They might get reinforcements in the form of new usernames and continue the volley. They may thwart the protective moat that is the twitch username automatic screening and follow with thinly disguised hate, spewing toxic waste across the screen, forcing the hero and the loyal companions to spend time scrubbing the community to remove the vile substance and minimize the damage inflicted. The more scheming trolls may probe the village for other weaknesses in defense.  Our hero might be left reeling by attacks that come through an open discord channel; other alerts may be used, even going so far as to cheer for our hero, the cheer turned putrid with rot.

Or they may bring a few of the troll boss baddies out to try to take on our hero and their companions.  But these boss baddies have that fatal flaw, common to big baddies from Bond villains all the way through to Bowser at the Mario land castle have the need to talk.  They need to gloat, to make our hero, the faithful companions and the townsfolk feel their impending defeat, the demise of their nice, safe community. All the while, they are gathering power.  Our hero, however, knows something Mario and Bond never seemed to learn: we don't have to wait for the dialogue to finish before mounting a defense. Our hero and companions can wield those emerald swords forged by twitch from the moment any enemy of the community appears.

They swiftly dispatch the big baddies and any of the lingering horde, then begin to take stock of the damage.  This is the part the classic game often misses. Our Hero does not get thanked by a lass and ride off into the sunset. They begin to take stock together. Whose wounds need tending?  Which wounds are less visible, which need special lenses to see? The companions and townspeople pay special attention to the damage taken by the hero, who has stood tall between the trolls and the community.

Our hero and companions begin the process of patching up the community.  Scrubbing the toxic waste and shoring up gaps in defense, both those exploited by the trolls and those identified by closer inspection. New companions may be knighted with that gleaming sword.

The community is intact.  They are more battle tested and stronger bonds may have been forged.  They may show up en mass for the next gathering, a show of strength and survival. The sun is again shining, the birds singing and all is well in the world.

‘Aren’t trolls just part of streaming?’ Ah, what?

Verbal abuse and harassment are not okay.  Ever.

So what am I talking about? Teasing a friend?  Calling out that epic fail? Social awkwardness, poor timing with a silly comment, accidentally hurting someone’s feelings? Taking a joke a little too far? Disagreeing in chat?

No. Trolls spew hate.  They intend to cut down. They are not funny. It’s not an accident.

Recently, two streamers close to me experienced hateful, abusive and harassing trolls.  These are kind people, playing their games, talking to their communities, enjoying putting positive, friendly, welcoming content out into the world. Despite different methods employed by the trolls, in the immediate aftermath, the steamer was shaken and found themselves second guessing their handling of the situation.

So let’s talk about trolls.  I dug into my communities to find a number of streamers from different areas of Twitch to discuss their experiences with and responses to trolls.

All the streamers interviewed had experienced trolls that were disturbing and disruptive at least once, regardless of the game they played, gender of streamer or tags that might be used. Individual stories include those targeting people using the LGBTQIA+ tag, a stream posted on a Reddit for people to hit with hate, racism, use of other languages and even people that were acquaintances irl.  Almost all involved multiple accounts and seemingly multiple trolls descending on a channel at once.

The experience of having viewers hurl hate aimed at you or at other community members, is for most people, disturbing. So what do we do?

As the streamer:

‘Do not feed the trolls.’

  • Streamers approach this a few different ways. Some ban and move on. Use those swords!  Others timeout, because they feel like banning might draw attention or they believe in second chances. In both cases, not acknowledging them is important.  Remember, as in our classic game, they gain power when we pay attention to them.

  • Streamers may also choose to attempt to cut the trolls down to size a little more slowly. They make sure to have fun, laugh at the comments and tell them they are being idiots and show the trolls they have no power over the streamer (cue David Bowie in Goblin King garb).  This tactic works best when the streamer has the energy and amour to handle the potential for escalation.

  • As much as possible, try to avoid showing anger and frustration.  This also feeds the trolls. If stream needs to be interrupted to deal with things tell chat you need a minute, deal with it and resume chat as quickly and nonchalantly as possible. 


Remove evidence of them as quickly and thoroughly as possible

  • Obviously removing them from stream is important, as well as any that may have found their way into your  discord (having a role assigned to new incomers so they have no option but to read messages until you assign them a roll).  Depending on the nature of the attack, you may wish to delete vods, check your channel clips, and see if you have been tagged in anything inappropriate in social media.  You can block them everywhere. Consider it an added wall of defense for your community.

Report them to twitch

  • Be as descriptive as you can, tell them if it appeared to be people evading bans, give them the time and name of the streamer. Report each username, each time.  If they have used external means of targeting you, such as a Reddit or discord, provide that information too. 

Tend to the community

  • If the trolling was especially disruptive, consider acknowledging it in your discord, as it will give your community a chance to process (and possibly provide mutual support to you as well).  If anyone seems particularly bothered or was somehow targeted, be sure to check in with that person personally.

  • Discuss the issue with your mods in a private forum. If they weren’t there, give a synopsis of the events, how it was handled, what went well and discuss strategies for next time if needed. Thank them for their work and support.

Take care of yourself

  • Debrief with someone if needed.  Discuss what happened, how it impacted you.  If there is something you need to feel comfortable with streaming again, ask for it. Consider mainly doing this with your mods or a few individuals, rather than the entire community.

Reinforce defenses

Look for flaws in security that were or could be exploited. Some hints:

  • Have mods enable “Mod Tools” in their Twitch Settings.  Ban, Timeout and Delete Message icons will appear for them beside each message.  This allows them to delete single messages for things like accidental spoilers, but also to delete inappropriate bot messages prompted by trolls. For example, the announcement of a follow with an inappropriate username.

  • Disable “Send TTS Messages” in all channels in discord.  This keep inappropriate messages from being read from discord in anyone’s live stream.

  • Use the “Blocked Terms and Phrases” section in the Moderation tab of your Twitch dashboard and check your bots for similar settings.

  • Instruct your mods in when to ban, timeout or delete. They need to know how to wield the mod powers.

  • Try to have mods in chat when you are playing games that tend to attract trolls, such as Jackbox Party Packs.

What viewers can do?

‘Do not feed the trolls’

When in a chat it can be tempting to engage with trolls.  You might want to defend the streamer, you may be shocked and wish to comment, or you may be looking to talk about and process what happened.  Unfortunately, as well meaning as all of this is, it feeds the trolls and gives them power. People who are banned can still watch a stream, may create new accounts to continue hurling hate at the stream.  Or it may make them feel powerful and encourage them to move on to the next streamer with the same tactics.

Check in with your streamer after

This one really does depend on several things, including your relationship with the streamer.  I am sure streamers with large audiences don’t need 832 dms, checking in with them. Leave that to their mod and admin teams.  But many small streamers appreciate a few words of support. Some welcome this in their public discord, others prefer not to have the town crier announce the battle. If you aren't sure, ask.

Some hints: Focus on the fact that the streamer didn't do anything wrong and handled it the best they could in the moment (if you have suggestions for next time, save those for another day). Remind them that they have people who like them and counteract that hate.  Communities have different norms in how affection and camaraderie is expressed, follow those, but make sure the streamer knows that they are appreciated.

Report to twitch

The more report Twitch gets, the more likely they are to investigate.  It only takes a few seconds to report an account and note the streamer and time of the issue.

Outside our classic game, the reality is, trolls are a fact in streaming. Prepare yourself, don’t accept any blame for their behavior, and keep on streaming. Your community and content creation can persevere and even level up!

Special thank you to the following streamers who contributed ideas to this article: