How to do digital outreach and troll patrol

When we take action, it attracts attention. Across the internet, our actions provoke bemusement, jubilation, support and abuse. This provides excellent opportunities to spread our message, support our rebels taking actions and engage with people in a respectful way that they might not expect.

When the digital rebels go in with love and humour it has surprising and effective results. Doing outreach and tackling negative comments can be rewarding, funny, frustrating and challenging all at the same and this quick guide will help you.

No time to read? A quick summary

  1. Think about setting up an alternative social media profile – it’s easier and safeguards your privacy.
  2. Outreach is usually needed on XR Scotland’s own social media channels or on the Facebook groups of newspapers such as the Scotsman or the Herald.
  3. We are all normal people worried about our future, our communities, our jobs, our families.
  4. Be respectful, kind, humorous. You’re not trying to win arguments but win over people.
  5. Don’t set yourself up as the ‘good’ environmentalist – we are all comprimised by the system which is why we want system change.
  6. Don’t bother with climate deniers – you can just say we agree to disagree and send them the link to XR’s Tell the Truth.
  7. If it gets too much, stop.

Why it’s worth challenging negative comments and trolls

  • It amplifies and promotes our actions and messages.
  • Getting a few positive comments into a comment pile-on can change the environment of discussion to allow other people to come in with positive comments.
  • You’re not trying to win over a troll but targeting your messages for the greater numbers lurking and watching the comments unfold.
  • If you take on trolls with humour and typical XR love, it can change hearts and minds.
  • Trolls are often not challenged – so when they are it can produce surprising results.
  • Negative comments are often simply wrong and can be easily corrected. For example, accusations of leaving a mess at action when you know that after an action rebels tidied it all up.
  • Sometimes, people agree with our message but not our tactics – they may simply be looking for reassurance or to be listened to.
  • It’s a bit cynical but the more we generate debate and comment on media pages, the more they will report on our actions in the future knowing they get good engagement.

First of all, a warning

This is not for everyone. Things affect people in different ways. I love tackling trolls but I can barely watch a David Attenborough documentary. Don’t take anything as personal, never lose your cool, don’t worry if you don’t seem to be winning an argument and if it becomes too much, stop doing it! Your wellbeing is far more important.

Get prepared

  1. Know what you’re dealing with. You’re not often dealing with facts and reason. Behind negative comments lies fear, anger, tribal loyalty and emotion. If you’ve got time, these articles are fascinating reads. Psychological barriers to climate change and Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds.
  2. You might want to think about setting up alternative online XR profile so there’s a separation between you and your personal information, your family and your friends. I have separate Facebook and Twitter accounts – it’s just easier and my friends don’t have to watch me endlessly repeat the same replies and lines. At the very least, make sure your settings are private.
  3. Register to add comment to newspaper articles. Not all newspapers enable comments as they don’t want the hassle and cost of moderation, but those that do all seem to use the same subscription service. So if you register for the Glasgow Evening Times, you can use the same login for other UK local media such as the Isle of Wight’s County Press.
  4. We suggest you set yourself up with Google Alerts for phrases such as Extinction Rebellion Scotland or Scotland climate protests. When there’s a new article, you’ll get an email notification. If you’re on Twitter, take a lot at Tweetdeck to set yourself up with alerts for phrases such as Extinction Rebellion Scotland.

Where to do outreach

XR Scotland attracts negative comments on its own channels so you can start there. Even if there’s no negative comments, we love to get messages of solidarity and support anyway. Find us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Facebook is a real hotspot for outreach and troll action. Many newspapers will dump their articles on their Facebook pages and let Facebook take the responsibility for moderation. almost all local and national (Scottish) papers will have a Facebook profile where there is plenty of opportunity for outreach. These are just a few media outlets.

The Scotsman: Facebook | Twitter

Glasgow Times: Facebook | Twitter

Herald Scotland: Facebook | Twitter

Scottish Sun: Facebook | Twitter

Our tips on tackling negative comments

Extinction Rebellion have produced some excellent resources on social strategies and a Rebel Responders Online Outreach Handbook (Troll Patrol). The latter handbook is an excellent resource for helping you deal with specific arguments and comments. Here are just a few points from our experiences.

  • Be authentic – argue in your voice.
  • You don’t have to be a scientist or an expert, just someone concerned about your community and your future. We are all ordinary people who value our security, dreams, family and jobs.
  • Self-deprecating humour is an excellent way of disarming hostile comments.
  • Remember that people have been gas light by culture wars, media propaganda and misinformation. When you start talking (reasonably) to people, it’s often not XR they’re angry with, it’s a whole load of other things.
  • Don’t set yourself up as the ‘good’ environmentalist. One of the most common internet troll attacks we receive is being hypocrites, say for driving to actions in cars or using plastics in banners. You can respond by saying we are all compromised by modern living which is why we need govt to bring about change. Just because we have to live in the modern world (drive cars, take trains, use computers) doesn’t mean we can’t demand change. Remember that individuals can make choices, but are not to blame – 100 companies are responsible for 71% emissions.  BP created the carbon footprint to shift the blame onto the individual.
  • Don’t bother with climate deniers – you can just say we agree to disagree and send them the link to XR’s Tell the Truth.
  • If someone’s getting ever more abusive and I want an out, I just say something like “well you seem like someone who needs the last word so I will let you have it.”
  • Don’t lose your cool, we are not necessarily aiming to win the argument, we want to win the person. Social media is never private so what really matters is how we look to all the people reading the thread later on.
  • Ask ‘what positive social changes would you like to see’. Ask what they would do to get politicians and leaders to tackle an emergency. Asking them what they think and want opens up debate. Listen with respect.
  • Don’t insult people even if they are very very wrong or mean. Don’t always feel the need to reply, trolls are in this for fun – often responding to a troll with a reasonable comment and then not engaging in an argument will look excellent in the eyes of other people reading your interactions.
  • Sometimes it might be easier to link to a blog or youtube video and say “this explains it much better than I can”.
  • I like signing off a chat or exchange of comment with a “well it’s been lovely chatting with you. Take care.”

And get prepared for these kind of insults – the Rebel Responders Online Outreach Handbook (Troll Patrol) has all kinds of useful replies.

Extinction Rebellion Insult Bingo card

Talking to conservative and right-wing values

Research suggests that to speak to a wider audience, our language needs to morally reframe arguments. So liberals respond most strongly to messages about equality, compassion and justice, while conservatives respond more to messages about loyalty, way of life, jobs, authority, purity and patriotism. This is not to warp the science but to find different messages that encourage people with different political values to come together. It’s a fascinating topic if you want to find out more.

Liberals and conservatives speak different languages

How to reach conservatives on climate

How to speak your opponent’s language in a political debate

To get conservative climate contrarians to really listen, try speaking their language

And finally

Even just a couple of comments every now and then, especially during big actions, is a big help.

Good luck, remember to breathe and do your regen!

Love and digital rage.