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HOW TO: Effectively Manage Hate and Anger on Social Media Sites

March 21, 2010

I normally try to leave politics and religion out of my work with nonprofits, but this time I need to make an exception. A month ago I launched a Facebook Page called Accomplishments of President Barack Obama. In just that short time it has become abundantly clear that I have been living and working in social networking bubble of nice, friendly, supportive nonprofit folks. My advice to nonprofits has always been that mean people on social networking sites are few and far between, so don’t worry so much about them. You’ll have to deal with them maybe 2-3 times a year. And for most nonprofits, that’s still true.

BUT over the last month I have gained a new respect for social media staff that work with nonprofits who tackle controversial issues like reproductive rights and abortion, health care reform, immigration reform, marriage equality, and peace and war. In this political climate, they have to develop a very thick skin and just accept that their cause will be attacked by people from all sides of the political spectrum every day – sometimes many times a day. It’s exhausting and can be quite depressing and stressful.

I have run a lot of online communities over the last 10 years, but never one as challenging as the Accomplishments of President Barack Obama Facebook Page. It’s really testing my community building skills. You have to do more than just post a few links and say “Thanks!” :). You have to moderate. You have to weed out the hate. You have to witness and try to reverse the demise of civil discourse. As someone who studied political science and has long believed in the power of the Internet to create positive social change, I am quite disturbed by what I am witnessing on this Facebook Page and others like it. My skin is not that thick. I am much bothered by it.

That said, I have been trying to find that thin line between freedom of speech and when it’s appropriate to “Report” and permanently block people from your social networking communities. Lessons learned thus far:

1) If they use hate or racist language, report/block them.

These folks are rare, but they sadly exist. They are not interested in discussing the issues. They only join your page to rant and incite. They want a fight. The more people argue with them, the more active they will get on your page. Not only will they bring you down, they will bring the entire community down. I can’t stress that enough. Giving such a person their freedom of hate speech will ruin it for the rest of your community. More people are reading your Status Updates on Facebook than you might think (I have discovered). The vast majority are silent.

When asked, your fans want you to block the haters and racists because at a certain point your fans become so disgusted that they disengage from the Page to avoid seeing the hate. Out of 8,600 fans, I have now had to block a little more than 30. They were blocked for either really foul, hateful language full of 4-letter words, for uploading obviously racist images, or for being repeat offenders (see #5 below).

On Facebook, simply click “Report” by their comment. Select “Attacks Group/Individual” and check “Permanently ban this person from this Facebook Page.” Then delete their comments. You will immediately feel a sense of relief knowing that you won’t ever have to see their hateful, stupid words again.

On Twitter, you can “Block” them from following you. Once blocked, you will no longer see their ReTweets/Mentions and they will no longer see yours. Poof. They are gone.

On MySpace, select the setting that you require that you view the comments before posting, then don’t post and remove them from your friends.

On YouTube, “Block User” and delete their comments.

On your Blog, require comments to be reviewed before posting, then don’t post and report the person’s comment as Spam. You won’t see their comments anymore.

Finally, report the racists to the Southern Poverty Law Center and right before you block them, let them know you did it too.

2) Collapse Threads and restrict your Wall on Facebook.

It’s taken me almost two years to build a community of 8,700 fans on the Nonprofit Organizations Facebook Page. I have found it a difficult community to engage. There are few Comments and Thumbs Up. There is very little need to restrict any activity because: 1) it does not get a lot of activity; and 2) there are very few hateful and angry people that participate on that Page. To date, I have only had to block one person. One really crazy person.

The opposite is true for the Accomplishments of President Obama Facebook Page. The Page has grown quickly and there is lots of action and feedback – and not all of it good. Since I can’t monitor the Page 24/7 for hate and anger, I have learned it is best to collapse comment threads and default to the wall settings to comments only Admin posts. Doing so limits the visibility of the hate. It’s a necessary trade-off to avoid depressing your fans.

Thus, go to Options > Settings > Do not check “Comments on stories will be expanded by default” and set the “Default View for Wall” to “Only Posts by Page”.

It is important to remember that these settings should only be in place if you are a nonprofit that regularly receives hateful activity on your Page. If not, these settings are too strict for 99% of Pages out there. You want to encourage more activity on most Pages, not restrict it.

3) Create and post “Community Guidelines”.

Lay down some ground rules and post it a Facebook Note. Ask your community to help monitor the hate and anger. Refer to the rules often by reposting them on threads where uncivil discourse spirals out of control.

4) Guide your community to kindness.

When a discussion between fans turns heated and people start insulting one another, it is a good practice to intervene and remind people to please try to be respectful and to keep it civil:

Hey folks! Just a friendly reminder to please keep it respectful and civil. Thanks! 🙂

Something this simple does help and usually changes the tone. When those that are arguing realize that someone is listening and watching, they usually cool down. Remember: Fans can disagree and argue. The only time to delete and/or report and block is when their content is racist, hateful and/or vulgar or if they are a repeat offender.

5) Trust your instincts on blocking repeat offenders.

Some people fan your page only to argue and they repeatedly post contrary statements to everything you post. One person can easily usurp your community. They may not post hateful or racist language, but they argue all the time and can easily change the tone of every single Status Update you post. A good way to tell if you should block them is to go to their profile and browse through the Pages that they have fanned. What Pages a person has fanned says a lot about who they are as a person, namely, if they are legitimate fan of your cause.

Freedom of speech is important, but you have to make a tough decision about when one person’s inflated ego and political or social beliefs trumps thousands of others in your community. There are many, many other places on the Web where they can go rant. You will need to decide when you no longer want them ranting on yours for the greater good of your community. I usually give someone 3-4 chances to actually participate in a discussion rather than just incite, beyond that I make the call to block them. You’ll never miss them and neither does your community.

6) Take a break.

I had some sleepless nights over running this Page. You will too. Take a break. Stay away from it at night and on the weekends if you can. Try to share the responsibility of the Page with another staff person. Good luck. Stay strong. Your work is important. Make sure your boss knows that. 🙂

30 Comments leave one →
  1. March 21, 2010 7:58 am

    Excellent article and some very useful tips. Thank you!

  2. March 21, 2010 8:37 am

    Thank you for taking the time to create Accomplishments of President Barack Obama and this post! I will be sure to join your FB page and look forward to participating appropriately.

    Your post is right on target, especially as you say for nonprofits working in controversial areas. As always your insights and solutions are very useful. I plan on sharing your post (with credit of course) at a social media workshop I will be facilitating. This post and NY Council for Nonprofits Social Media policy will always be a part of the curricula!

    Thanks so much!

    • March 22, 2010 5:15 pm

      Ditto to Barbara’s post. Although I am an ex-pat American who is now an Australian citizen, I immediately joined your list of fans at “Accomplishments of President Barack Obama “.

      Your post is very helpful, as I have encountered very unexpected vitriolic responses from Facebook “friends” when advocating they support Obama’s health care plan.

      The USA is the only western country without public health care. After living in the USA for 30 years, then Australia and England for the last 18 years, I have come to the opinion that every person has the same right to public health care as they have a right to a public education. When you combine tax rates, health insurance costs, and out-of-pocket health care expenses, Americans pay twice as much as Australians.

      As a roundabout way to make my point, I compiled a list of statistics: Comparison of Countries – charitable giving, living standards, health care and development and taxation rates at

      Apologies for getting carried away … access to public health care for my relatives in America is something I feel very passionately about.

  3. March 21, 2010 1:51 pm

    Thanks so much for putting together a post with the “real” suggestions on how to deal with this sensitive and difficult topic.

  4. Jen permalink
    March 21, 2010 8:16 pm

    Thanks for the advice! I could certainly use it being an admin of a Facebook page myself.

  5. March 22, 2010 2:21 am

    It’s a sad truth that these people exist and are keen to spoil everyone else’s party. The advice-point I agree with most keenly is an expansion of point 3 – empowering your community and *positive* advocates to police these forums for you. It’s worked for years and years on old-school forums and message boards, but it doesn’t seem to have taken off as much in Facebook – mainly due to the difference in abilities to give people different ‘powers’. But the facility IS there if you can find the right people – make a few advocates ‘admins’ on your page, for instance, and empower them to help you keep the peace. People LOVE power, even in this little way, so you’ll usually find they relish the opportunity to help!

  6. March 22, 2010 6:02 am

    good article,actually need of the hour,more should be done,so keep the good work,going

  7. March 22, 2010 6:28 am

    Great article – thanks for the tips! I am fortunate to not have to deal with this challenge (yet), but certainly that day will come.

  8. Julia Yaffee permalink
    March 22, 2010 7:39 am

    Excellent post. I hope you find the time and energy to keep up the good work!

  9. Kerri Goldsmith permalink
    March 22, 2010 7:41 am

    Great article and tips. The relative anonymity of social media makes it far too easy for people to blast others. I’m all for freedom of speech, but people should still be respectful of others’ viewpoints. Have submitted this as a meeting topic idea for our local Social Media Club. Thanks for posting!

  10. March 22, 2010 8:07 am

    Thanks for the very helpful article. Like yours, our cause page is not very active. We have just over 400 members and mostly just get a few “Likes”. I don’t see our cause having much controversy, but this will be good to keep in mind as we grow.

  11. March 22, 2010 8:09 am

    Thank you for this wonderful posting and for the Obama Accomplishments page- Today is a great day to celebrate that!
    I really appreciate the great work you’re doing for non profits and for people on social media in general. Thank you!
    May this spring bring you all gold things!

  12. Mary Lou Troy permalink
    March 22, 2010 8:11 am

    Nice post. A thoughtful analysis of a very real problem and good practical tech info for admins. Nothing changes in this world if you can’t convince people of the need for change. You can’t create positive change by beating people over the head or calling them names. You can’t have discourse when people are shouting at each other. It’s hard to have a rational discussion in the midst of a war. Those of us who prefer rational discussion need to continue to speak up.

  13. March 22, 2010 8:33 am

    Thanks for this post. Due to all of the crazy misinformation and stirred up anger over health reform, we’ve gotten a lot of racist, hateful things posted on our site. We’ve struggled with what to do with those posts, so this really helped me.

  14. March 22, 2010 9:01 am

    Thanks for the tips – as always very helpful!
    Keep up the good work.


  15. March 22, 2010 9:52 am

    I disagree with you policially but think the article is indeed a good perspective. Nicely done.

  16. Cadenza permalink
    March 22, 2010 9:55 am

    Excellent and timely advice. At some point the negative diquisitors will erect their own anti-social site or Twitter page where they can rant to and at each other. I have been following activities in congress. Over the weekend, a newbie to Twitter set up an account and attempted to engage social activists on Twitter with his abhorrent race baiting, fear mongering, assassination tweets. Enough people took notice and remanded the tweets to the FBI and other authorities. When you enter a public forum to exchange information, ideas or criticism that data is subject to scrutiny by more than clients and associates. It behooves anyone who utilizes social media to think before they hit “update”. I try to utilize the 3 Rules : “Is it kind? Is it honest? Is it necessary? That generally weeds out my impulse to respond to negative posts and avoids the temptation to “feed the monster”.
    Keep up the fine work.

    Best regards,


  17. Lisa Borok permalink
    March 22, 2010 10:23 am

    The Air Force Public Affairs Agency released an interesting flow chart last year on crafting blog responses and dealing with unhappy and hateful replies. The NY Times ran an op-ed on it:

    It’s intended for Air Force staff managing various public AF sites and blogs, so it may seem overly formal to us in the civilian world. Even so, I found it a useful way to think about how we move through a series of decision forks in responding to comments, both positive and negative. Unfortunately, their solution for repeat offenders (“Trolls”) is to “Notify HQ.”


    • nonprofitorgs permalink
      March 22, 2010 1:51 pm

      Wow. This amazing! THANKS.

  18. Mary S. permalink
    March 22, 2010 10:28 am

    This is such a helpful post. Definitely a keeper. Thank you. 🙂

  19. March 22, 2010 5:59 pm

    as someone who works in the more controversial areas of political discourse im all to familiar with gibberish hate. ive grown a tough hid but my rule of thumb is, if you wouldn’t allow it in your house, why would allow it on your FaceBook or social media page. further it has to be a party. how far do u let the party go?

  20. March 23, 2010 1:38 pm

    Thank you! I’m in the immigration reform movement, and I certainly appreciate your shout-out of our work and your guidance, as well as the recommendation of notifying the groups that do excellent work monitoring individuals and organizations engaged in really racist, destructive activity. Thank you, again.

  21. March 23, 2010 2:02 pm

    Great post! Thankfully we have not run up against this too often but I imagine we should all be prepared just in case. Great reminder though for me to post our community guidelines (we had them written already for our blog) on our Facebook page too just in case we run into this in the future. Also, I think some good advice is that if you do wind up deleting something a person has said or posted to take that moment to remind everyone on your page of your guidelines. I think sometimes we all try to just delete the comment as quickly as possible and pretend it never happened but I think I always appreciate when the page moderator responds to it appropriately and uses it as a learning experience for the rest of the fans of the page.

  22. March 23, 2010 8:00 pm

    I’m really glad you were able to turn this to advantage with a great blog post like this. Keep it up! You’re the best.

  23. March 28, 2010 1:46 pm

    Thanks for this great advice .. which is helpful guidance for a forum that I manage as well!

  24. April 7, 2010 3:11 am

    Thanks so much for these insights and great tips on how to manage the social media “dialogue”. Having these communications tools available is another version of a focus group for CatholicTV. It has also become a forum for those attacks, and mean-spirited comments. Your recommendations are quite helpful and take a reasonable approach.



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