Tips for dealing with trolls on social media

How to preempt and combat abuse online.
A group of people all using their phones.
Trolls may be anonymous, but you can fight them anonymously too. camilo jimenez / Unsplash

This story has been updated. It was originally published on July 23, 2017.

On social media, you get to catch up with old friends, make new connections, and coo over cute baby photos. Although you’re supposed to enjoy these visits to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, a single persistent commenter or obnoxious “friend” can ruin your experience. That’s why these services provide ways for you to fight back. Take these steps to protect your privacy and slay trolls on three of the world’s biggest social networks.

How to combat trolls on Facebook

Unlike Twitter and Instagram, which we discuss below, Facebook doesn’t make your posts visible to the whole internet by default. Users will only see all your photos, links, and other information if you have chosen to friend them. You can adjust this extra layer of protection every time you post by choosing to make the update public or to restrict it to only a certain number of friends. Edit this setting by tapping the Share with dropdown menu under your name at the top of a draft post. For published items, hit the three dots in the top right corner of the post, then select Edit Privacy.

You can select who gets to see your own posts, but that doesn’t stop your friends from tagging you in public posts. To prevent people from posting on your timeline or tagging you in photos, limit this activity from your main settings page. Under the Audience and Visibility heading, you’ll see Profile and Tagging. Tap or click on that and you’ll see an option that lets you review any posts you’re tagged in before they appear on your profile.

If you’ve friended someone, but they start giving you unwanted attention, you can easily cut off their access: Head to their profile page and click on the Friends button (it may just appear as an icon that looks like a person) to find the Unfriend option. That person won’t get an alert that they’ve been unfriended, but they might notice if they visit your profile and see the option to add you as a friend.

How to unfriend someone on Facebook.
You can unfriend anyone. Even a suspicious baby. David Nield

To keep people even further away, you can block them. When you do this, they can’t see anything you post, add you as a friend, send you messages, tag you in posts and photos, or invite you to events and groups. It’s a pretty comprehensive way of keeping someone at arm’s length. Simply click on the three dots on the right side of their profile page, then choose Block from the menu.

The same menu offers the option to report someone. You should only take this step if you think the person in question is violating Facebook’s community standards. Reportable offenses include bullying, harassment, and direct threats—so if someone’s going too far, tell Facebook about it.

[Related: How to uncover what Facebook knows about you]

Now you can pick and choose who gets to see your information on Facebook. But what about the information you get to look at? You can also tweak the sort of content you see in your News Feed by clicking on the three dots next to everything that appears in your feed. These menus let you hide certain types of posts, stop seeing updates from certain people, and report specific posts. Check out our full guide to cleaning up your News Feed so the content you see will appeal more to your personal taste.

How to fight trolls on Twitter

By default, Twitter lets the public access all of your posts. However, it does give you the option of making your profile private, which means only approved followers will see your tweets and be able to contact you. In private mode, you miss out on some of Twitter’s features—for example, your followers can’t retweet your tweets—but it minimizes the amount of unwanted attention you’ll get right from the beginning.

If you want to set your account to private, head to the Privacy and safety menu in your Twitter settings and tick the box marked Protect your Tweets (it’s under the Audience and tagging heading if you’re using a web browser). All your existing followers will automatically get into your private club; you must specifically approve new ones. People without approval will still see your profile page on Twitter, but they won’t be able to read your tweets.

The option to protect your tweets on Twitter and make them private.
If you’d rather tweet to a select few, protect your tweets. David Nield

If another Twitter user starts to harass you, you have two ways to shut them up: muting and blocking. When you click or tap the three dots on an individual tweet, a drop-down menu that includes both options will appear. You can also access these methods by clicking the three dots on their profile page. On their profile, you can also report them for violating Twitter’s rules and terms of service—and “hateful conduct” certainly counts as a violation.

Here’s what each choice does. If you mute someone, you simply won’t see their tweets. Why can’t you just unfollow them? Even if you don’t follow a person, you’ll get notifications about any of their posts that mention or reply to you. To avoid seeing all of their tweets, you must both unfollow and mute them. (If you still want to follow the account you’ve muted, notifications from them will continue to appear and the person will still be able to send you direct messages). Muting is a gentler way of hiding someone from your Twitter experience without blocking them.

Blocking, on the other hand, is much more comprehensive: Blocked accounts can’t follow you or be followed by you, and they can’t send you direct messages either. If you block someone, they won’t receive a notification, but (unlike with muting) they will be able to see that they’ve been blocked if they visit your profile page—because none of your tweets will show up. You won’t receive any notifications from accounts you block. If someone blocks you, you won’t get notifications when they mention you, unless their conversation threads pull in other people who currently follow you.

Don’t remember whom you’re avoiding? Open your Twitter settings, enter the Privacy and safety section, and you’ll be able to view lists of the accounts you’ve muted and blocked. If you want to reverse your decisions, you can do that there.

If a large group of Twitter users begins to harass you, you can take steps to protect yourself from the pile-on. For example, the Notifications settings let you hide alerts from accounts you don’t follow and accounts that don’t follow you (activate the Quality filter). Perhaps people are creating new accounts just to troll you—in that case, open the Advanced filters menu and try hiding alerts from new accounts, accounts with the default avatar, and accounts with no confirmed email address or phone number. These broader blocks give you another way to tidy up your Twitter experience and hide troublesome users.

How to shut down trolls on Instagram

If your Instagram feed is set to public, any Instagram user in the world can happen across your photos and like or comment on them. Thad said, some people on the platform would prefer to reach as wide of an audience as possible, even if that means compromising on privacy. They can leave their accounts public.

For those who want to make absolutely sure that only certain people can see their pictures, Instagram lets you set your profile to private. Simply open the app and go to the settings page, where you can adjust the privacy. This should head off most unwanted attention before it starts.

Whether your Instagram is private or public, specific users can still creep on you. Head them off by opening their profile pages, tapping the three dots in the top right, and choosing Block. They won’t get an alert that you’ve taken this action, but they’ll no longer be able to message you, see your Instagram feed, or find your profile page on the network. If their behavior crosses a line, choose Report from the same menu to flag inappropriate or spam accounts to Instagram’s powers-that-be.

[Related: The best hidden Instagram tricks]

What if people have left inappropriate or abusive comments on your pictures? Open the settings menu and go to the Privacy section to hide specific words and phrases from your post comments and decide who can comment on your posts. Instagram will block “comments that may be offensive” and you can add extra words you don’t want to see as well. Any comment that contains a word that matches the list of forbidden phrases will be automatically hidden from view.

The comments settings on Instagram.
You can filter out offensive or inappropriate comments via Instagram’s settings. David Nield

For extra security, you can turn off comments completely—but only on a photo-by-photo basis. Go to one of your posts, tap the three dots in the top right, then choose Turn Off Commenting. If you change your mind, you can turn it back on the same way.

Finally, you hide your Stories from particular people by going to your profile page, opening the settings menu, entering the Privacy section, and selecting Story. The option at the top of the menu lets you hide Story posts from particular followers. Whether or not you make your feed entirely private, these options will help you handle most forms of unwanted attention.