Is It Time to Strike Back Against Internet and Talk Radio Trolls?

I went into talk radio with my eyes wide open.

It’s not a profession for the feint of heart. Every day my radio show on WPHT 1210-AM is three hours of lightning-rod, controversial topics. People get quite passionate and opinionated. You get angry callers, letter writers and what we call in the business- “cranks.”

But sometimes, people cross the line.

I used to ignore it. I figured I had it easier than the family members, co-workers and neighbors who had to deal with these insufferable fools every single day.

But last year I made a resolution to stop this creeping (and creepy) anti-social behavior. For instance, I put on my teacher’s hat and started to aggressively police my Facebook page. I have something like 4,300 Facebook “friends” and get a lot of people directly posting on my Facebook wall, which is then visible for all to see.

I cannot control what people post on their own Facebook wall, but I began to get increasingly annoyed at the rudeness and crudeness of some truly thoughtless people. So like a nightclub bouncer, I began to let people know on Facebook that I would be strictly enforcing some rules:

  • If you post something on MY Facebook wall and it contains profanity, you’re gone.
  • If you publish a crude or tasteless image on MY Facebook wall that is disrespectful or offensive, you’re gone.
  • If you exhibit rude or hostile behavior to me or a member of MY Facebook community. you’re gone.
  • If you publish comments on MY Facebook wall that are intolerant or disrespectful of another group (be it a political party, ethnic, race, religion, sexual orientation), you’re gone.

    I have encountered a lot of trolls online and in talk radio.

    I have encountered a lot of trolls online and in talk radio.

Over the past year, I have purged approximately 200 people this year from my Facebook community and “Insider’s Club” e-newsletter, as well as people who submit comments to this blog. I occasionally “publicize” to my Facebook community when I have blocked and un-friended someone. I do so for two reasons:

To let them know that I am doing as best I can to keep my Facebook wall a place of civil and respectful discourse

More importantly, to remind those people who are getting seriously close to crossing the line that they better shape up

When I do this, I get an overwhelming number of people who support this, as judged by the numbers of Facebook “Likes,” comments and even personal e-mails. It is validation to me that people are sick of this aggressive, hostile online behavior.

One person I quietly unfriended wrote to me and complained I was censoring him and robbing him of rights granted to him under the constitution. Nope, those rights belong to Mark Zuckerberg. He invented Facebook. It’s his platform and he grants individual users like you and I the discretion to filter and block content, commentary and images we find to be offensive.

Another person wrote and said he did not think his posts were that offensive. Again, another person who either chose to ignore my well-known standards/expectations for my Facebook wall…or just felt that my rules for MY wall did not apply to him. And further, he recognized his posts fell somewhere in the mildly offensive category. So what makes you think it is justified to offend anyone? How socially clueless is that?

Crossing the Line

One guy in Philadelphia crossed the line. He began to harass me electronically. I said “enough” when he brought my wife and sons into his vile attacks. I decided I had enough of the hate and contacted the Philadelphia Police because it was starting to seriously concern me.Dont feed trolls

The Philadelphia Police were great. Within days the found the electronic stalker and visited him personally. They conveyed the message for me that if he did not stop all contact, I would press charged.

For a year, he abided by those terms. But guess what? After a year, he starts up with the hateful harassment. It looks like I will have to take the next step. I will keep you posted.

Another Ethical Dilemma

One Facebook crank that I had to block and un-friend was particularly vile and hateful. I noticed that the Facebook posts and the private hate-filled e-mails he was sending to me after I blocked him were being sent at all hours of the day and night. The majority of his hate messages were coming during the hours when my radio show was on and well through the rest of the afternoon.

I noticed that his Facebook profile indicated he worked for a local company. It was very possible, and probably likely, that he was using his company’s computers to send this vile and harassing messages to me. I do not think the company or the guy’s manager would like to know that one of their employees is using company time and possibly company computers to harass someone.

You can probably see where this is going.

I am seriously considering contacting this company and asking to speak to their president and/or person in charge of Human Resources to ask if they are aware of this employee’s actions on company time.

But before I do anything, I thought this might be an opportunity to have a discussion on ethics with you. I would like your thoughts on either or both of these questions:

In your personal experience, do you think that rude behavior on the internet/social media has gone too far?

Should I contact the harasser’s employer and inform them and show them evidence of this troll’s hostile and vulgar correspondence to me?

39 Responses to Is It Time to Strike Back Against Internet and Talk Radio Trolls?

  1. Tom Dougherty February 16, 2013 at 5:05 pm #

    Dom – I would send a cerified letter to him at his employer’s address. Warn him that if there is any other contact from him to you or you family that the next letter will be to his boss with a copy to the police and District Attorney. That is the “legal” plan of action. Any others will not be submitted in writing.

    Tom

    • Dom February 16, 2013 at 5:12 pm #

      Tom, I may appoint you the official lawyer of DomTown, USA and provide me with legal advice and counsel. Thanks!

  2. Lori February 16, 2013 at 5:05 pm #

    Yes, Dom. By all means, contact the harasser’s work — his boss. I’m sure that the boss would like to know that his/her employee is using company time, and company computers, to say hateful things in a public forum. If the harasser is using vile/perverse language, then you have even more reason to report this person to his/her boss. And, yes, American society has gone too far using the Internet as a means to “anonymously” voice it’s opinion, and even what’s not it’s citizen’s opinions (in other words, they use it for “theatrical” purposes). I support you, and your show.

    • Dom February 16, 2013 at 5:14 pm #

      Great points, Lori. I have dealt with harassers and stalkers for years, and believe it or not, the rising cost of postage has resulted in a decrease in hate mail. But the amount of online cranks and trolls I have had to deal with has skyrocketed.

  3. Tom Dougherty February 16, 2013 at 5:28 pm #

    Dom:

    I would be honored. I will work for free but I must remind you that you get what you pay for.

    Tom

    • Dom February 16, 2013 at 5:36 pm #

      That’s how we keep takes low in DomTown- pro bono, free, barter, trade!

  4. Rhoda February 16, 2013 at 5:29 pm #

    Dom,
    I think some cowards feel safe hiding behind the erroneous perception that their posts are free from public view, etc. it is just like “bullying”. You need to get rid of these hoodlums. I go with Tom.

  5. Doreen McGettigan February 16, 2013 at 5:50 pm #

    I agree with Tom, yet I’m concerned this nut is still so full of hate after a year that he is finding other ways to threaten you. He sort of reminds me of one of those ex-husbands that have been ordered not to contact their ex-wives and that is just creepy, scary.
    Perhaps you should ask the advice of the police??
    I have had my share of trolls this past year and have shed many tears over the vile hate that they have spewed my way. My skin is getting thicker. However any e-mail, review or face book message that threatens my children, grandchildren or any other friend or family member gets reported to the police immediately. That is were I draw the line.

    • Sylvia February 17, 2013 at 6:03 pm #

      I agree!

  6. FrustratedTruthSeeker February 16, 2013 at 5:51 pm #

    I second the motion for Tom’s suggestion. I also agree that you should send it by certified mail with a return receipt (e-receipt is also OK). Keep copies of everything. I would add that, after you get the return receipt, tell the world what you did. If you wish, you might also want to demand an apology -publicly. I would be interested in hearing the apology interview on the radio or a podcast. I think that interview would go viral.

    Just don’t eat any of his candy or donuts if he gives you a gift as penance.

    With such a wide audience, it seems that it would take all of your productive time to police everything. Maybe if you document all this and make it available on the web, wackos would know what they are facing.

  7. Pina Bruni Sperry February 16, 2013 at 6:05 pm #

    In answer to your first question, as far as social media goes I only use Twitter. With Twitter I find it simple to follow what I am interested in and avoid what I don’t want to be exposed to, for the most part. I am not a fan of Facebook and frankly do not see the appeal of it. For commercial use yes, but personally I don’t like to advertise my life.

    I would tend to say yes, rude behavior has run amuck on the internet. Reading the comments section of any news item certainly has proven to me how rude and insulting folks can be to one another in the process of expressing their feelings on a topic. In my opinion, these people have a good time going back and forth with their nastiness.

    As far as contacting the harasser’s employer, that would be my next step after informing the harasser directly of my knowledge of his place of employment, giving him one last chance to shut the *BLEEP* up! If that doesn’t work, than yes follow through and let the employer know what is happening.

    Dom, I just want to let you know you have a special place in my heart. Although I only listen to your show sporadically these days, back in your WWDB days working the overnight, I considered you my friend. I worked many overnight shifts back in the 90s and you were my only co-worker. Oh how I appreciated your company! I’d miss you on weekends and when you’d go on vacation.

    Keep up the good job on the radio and I’ll continue following you on Twitter as @Berry_69

    PS As far as profanity goes, I don’t believe in “bad words” only words that are used in bad ways. One can insult just as sharply by omitting so-called profanity. That being said, I am one aspiring fiction writer who believes all words have their place…just not on your Facebook page! ;)

  8. Jim R. February 16, 2013 at 6:06 pm #

    It’s your page. You can and should do what you want with it. What you should consider is that you’re a hateful, intolerant and vindictive person. (at least on the air) and probably have the most anti-christian values of anyone who proudly considers themselves a christian. You are friends with and a promoter of despicable people. You are on the public airwaves proselytizing for 3 hrs a day. While the vast majority of your listeners are joiners and will agree with whatever you say, there are a certain amount (like me) who listen simply because we want to know what the enemy is thinking / promoting. The majority of us will never do anything more than speak badly of and to you. Of course there is that tiny fringe that may be an actual threat. They should be dealt with accordingly and to the fullest extent of the law. Again…It’s your page. You can do what you want with it. No one of decent character would say otherwise.

    • Dom February 16, 2013 at 11:26 pm #

      Hi Jim, I appreciate that you listen to the show and for taking the time to write. Clearly there iz nothing I can say or do to change your opinion of me, but I appreciate your expressing your opinion in a respectful manner.

    • Bill February 19, 2013 at 4:37 pm #

      hateful, intolerant and vindictive person

      I always find it amazing how these words are thrown around when their is disagreement. I disagree with your point of view somebody is hateful and intolerant? I always know I made a point when I am called a name.

  9. Dottie Morse February 16, 2013 at 6:12 pm #

    Dom…I am in total agreement with Tom. Once warned, if it continues, then legal action is your only recourse. I’m sure given his history, you are not the only person he is harrassing.
    Dottie

  10. Ann February 16, 2013 at 6:17 pm #

    Dom,
    Freedom of speech does not give a person the right to be vile. It sounds like the person who is harassing you could not get through to you the way he planned so he decided to attack your wife and family knowing that it would have an adverse affect and that you would notice him. Owning a small company myself, if this person worked for me, I would surely want to know what he is doing on company time in my place of business. Especially if what he was doing was destructive.
    You have every right to defend yourself and family against this person. Go for it.
    Ann

  11. steven jerome February 16, 2013 at 6:20 pm #

    My dearest Mr. Dom,

    As a former pupil of yours, one of the great points that I learned in your class was debate can be carried forth with respectability and proper decorum. As we have had several debates on topics that we were both passionate about and yet we were able to maintain our respect for each other and others.
    As a child I was taught that when a person becomes rude, nasty, hostile, using profanity and belligerent, that person has run out of anything logical or important to say.
    I believe that in this matter you should contact this person’s employer. Their employer should be made aware that this person is violating company policy and mismanaging his time when he should be productively working.
    Our constitution does give us the right to the freedom of speech, but our constitution does not give us the right to be rude to others.

    • Dom February 16, 2013 at 11:22 pm #

      Steven, so nice of you to write. I remember those teaching days fondly!

      • Sylvia February 17, 2013 at 6:06 pm #

        :) I still miss that too.

  12. Keith Barger February 16, 2013 at 6:28 pm #

    You could do the American thing & sue him! On another note, I just read where Facebook posted a $1.1 billion profit, paid no Federal Income Tax & filed for a $451million refund!!! Write Congress & get the tax break for stock options changed.

  13. steven jerome February 16, 2013 at 6:33 pm #

    Too bad we no longer live in the days of our American founding fathers, when if a person insulted us we could either take them to the barn and have them horse whipped or go out on the back forty, have a duel and shoot them!
    See things were simpler in the 1700′s
    (LOL)

  14. Bajeerao Patil February 16, 2013 at 7:12 pm #

    Dom,
    Sometimes it’s best to ignore the idiots. Don’t allow anyone to get in your skin. Look at the situation differently and use this person as a guinea pig to learn from his stupidity and come out as more profound human being. If I were you I would have used his certain dialogues in my talk show to point out the error in his thinking and would have attempted to make others laugh.
    Best
    Bajeerao

  15. Donna Peters February 16, 2013 at 7:18 pm #

    Dom – You wrote, “It was very possible, and probably likely, that he was using his company‚Äôs computers to send this vile and harassing messages.” Is it possible the messages were sent via his personal device and not his company’s computer?

    If contacting his employer results in his dismissal the situation might escalate. Anyone who engages in that type of behavior is dangerous. For your personal safety and the safety of your family, you should get the police involved.

    • Connie February 17, 2013 at 1:29 am #

      Donna, I agree with you.
      You never really know exactly who you are dealing with online & what they might do to you personally or to your family. There are some pretty unstable people out there – just look to the news to see it.
      I got a letter in the mail at my home last year from anonymous who told me they did not agree with my politics. I had recently had a letter to the editor published in the Philly Inquirer that this person did not like. It frightened me to know this person took the time to find where I live. I took the letter to the police dept. to show them just in case something ever happened in the future. I didn’t know if this person was watching me or following me. It scared me very much as I do have a family. Thank goodness nothing has happened but it pays to be smart & report things to the police dept. Be safe.

  16. Irenecats February 16, 2013 at 7:38 pm #

    Hi Dom,
    In my opinion, I think that you should seek police advice on this matter. Someone that aggressive sounds disturbed.

    Most of the time when I encounter this kind of person, it is usually when that person finds out I am either Republican or that I belong to the Tea Party. Then the insults start flying. As long as they can spew their propaganda, then there is no problem.

  17. Jeff Weber February 16, 2013 at 7:57 pm #

    Dom,

    I would definitely inform his employer. If he is using company resources to carry out harassment, it also portrays the company in a bad light. Additionally, he is probably in violation of his company’s usage policy. People have to realize that the First Amendment only applies to the government, and that “free speech” usually has consequences attached to it.

    Jeff

  18. Charlie Quinn February 16, 2013 at 8:19 pm #

    As a retired atty at law (52 years post-graduation ) I can say that there is a far greater inclination with this generation than with mine (THANK GOD!) to envision and even anticipate the potentially harmful future actions that spring from a warped , angry , mind. My generation was so obsessed with protecting freedom of speech that they erred on the side of indulgence (not tolerance). This generation , particularly those in the legal profession, are more inclined to treat hate mail and hate artists seriously. They are light years ahead of my generation in that regard. If you know that this guy is using company computers strongly suggest to him that , if he doesn’t stop, retaliatory– but unwanted — measures will have to be taken and that might include contact with the employer.

    • Larry Cohen February 18, 2013 at 7:06 am #

      Dom,

      I hate the thought of threatening emails for you but you must go
      with Charlie Quinn’s advice and most of all his wording
      on any certified letter you send
      and not use your own instincts and ability
      to out reply the guy .

      The potentially warped mind that is posting
      is just that warped , but his atty
      will portray you as a guy who incited
      him and if you don’t like him his atty
      may be worse.

      And if he replies make him ” reply to you at a special
      email address for complaints about you
      which you promise to read to have proof of what he
      wrote that often really validates his insanity
      for law enforcement who can then scare
      him with arrest just on that evidence.

      When I get a real nut on the phone
      in business with a threatening tone
      I ask him : before I answer you can I
      record this ?? And they hang right
      up every time.

  19. Don in Bucks February 16, 2013 at 8:29 pm #

    Dom, you cited two examples of people going well beyond reasonableness. I think Tom D has the proper approach… you get the point across without jeapordising the guy’s livelihood… for now. The next action is entirely up to him.

    That said, and in deference to your public image, obligations to advertisers, etc., sometimes I think the treatment is a bit harsh. I have witnessed when a person is attacked by a troll, instigator, etc. and finally reaches their breaking point… lashes out using profanity, then gets banned.

    While your policy is strict and remedies are uniformally applied, I still think there’s a place for DomJail, for those rare instances when someone loses what has otherwise been their better behaviour… Think of it as a Pergatory,ala Dom style… and after a month, two months, or three months, a basically good soul can rturn to DomTown.

  20. Leo White February 16, 2013 at 9:16 pm #

    Dom, I would make the choice his. Lay out the ramifications of continuing what he is doing.
    ” If you do this, then I, Dom, will take this action. It’s your choice.”

  21. Patti February 16, 2013 at 11:30 pm #

    Dom,

    He is trying to push your buttons because he knows he can get to you. He’s looking for attention and you’re giving it to hi. He also sounds dangerous. If you inform his employer, it could make matters worse for you and your family. Don’t give him power. The old saying…sticks and stones..applies to this situation. He’s not worth your trouble.

  22. Barbara Eisinger February 17, 2013 at 12:53 am #

    Dom, in regards to the man who seems to be using his company’s computer to harass you…I think you have to ask youself if his crime befits losing his job. Because he most certainly will if you make that call. Yes, he should exercise restraint and should be challenged and unfriended by you. But as obnoxious as these types are, the loss of employment is extremely serious, especially in today’s world. He probably has family who count on him and who may be just as disgusted with him as you are. He may have children who would suffer if their father loses his job. Given the type of person he is it may happen someday anyway but at least it won’t be at your hands. If he is threatening you none of what I said applies.

  23. Joe Houghton February 17, 2013 at 4:45 pm #

    Net rage is like road rage on steroids, except that those people do not move on after their perceived slights. Your audience is immensely greater than the average person, so you’re going to encounter more crackpots in your venue. If they’re using an employers resources to harass you, he’ll have to succumb to their policy. That doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll lose his job, but if he does, its on him, not you. If they do not like what you say, why do they continue to listen for that length of time? One guy actually said that he listens to “know his enemy”. How tolerant does that make him? He calls you his enemy. Just think, disagreeing with someone according to them makes you hateful. Does discovering a flaw in their own thinking processes have anything to do with it? I think we know the answer/.

  24. Carmen J Bernardo February 17, 2013 at 5:40 pm #

    I’ve posted this to my Facebook page, where I also mentioned that my father decided to delete his account there after hearing rumors that the website administrators censor conservative political posts (aside from his own feeling that there was little he had to do with social media sites like FB). I don’t care if this makes me a target for those people who feel the electronic disguise protects them when they use their access to social media, website forums, and email to harrass others for any reason. That’s no excuse.

    Perhaps the fellow who chooses to use his company’s computer to play “Internet Troll” with everyone he feels entitled to harrass should lose his job. It’s a great way to keep the debate civil, if those who seek to disrupt it and cause trouble are made to consider the consequences, especially where they abuse the privileges they’re being given by their employers. If they do it anyway and lose their job, then they probably weren’t the right employee for their job in the first place.

  25. Chris From Pine Hill, NJ February 18, 2013 at 8:24 am #

    “He that passeth by, and meddleth with strife belonging not to him, is like one that taketh a dog by the ears.” Proverbs 26:17

    Hi Dom,

    Here is my feedback that you have requested with regard to your blog post that asks the question: “Is It Time to Strike Back Against Internet and Talk Radio Trolls?”

    Generally speaking, the answer is no, with exceptions to be made in special circumstances. This is because:

    1. There is no shortage of them on the Internet.
    2. Surely you have better things to do with your life than going off on a crusade against them. You could spend 10 lifetimes crusading against trolls, and not even scratch the surface.

    However, “cracks” as they are called in your business, like the kind you have described who are harrassing you, definately ought to be dealt with swiftly, surely, and strongly. Failure to do so could put your family and you at risk, and that you can all do without.

    What should be your response to “cracks” who would harrass and threaten? Personally, I would keep a weapon (very well) secured in my home for self defense, but it is a personal matter that each person must decide for himself/herself. Additionally, get restraining orders against anyone who harrasses or threatens your family or you. Your petition for such court orders should include a request that the court ORDER the miscreant(s) to have no further contact with you by any means, including via telephone, electronically, etc. ANY CONTACT OF ANY KIND, however small, will then be a violation of the restraining order, and such should be reported IMMEDIATELY. You may even want to hire a lawyer for this purpose. If you hire a lawyer and prevail in court, you should be entitled to recover your lawyer’s fees from the offender. If your evidence is good, there is no reason why you should not prevail in court.

    Losers who have nothing better to do than harrass you to the extent that you described will only likely escalate if their malfunction is not effectively addressed. The “crack” who received a visit from the police at your request, but then after a year he crawled back out from under the rock again and reverted to his old ways is a sterling example of the kind of kook that I am writing about. The courts are the best venue to deal with these kind of creeps.

    Keeping a weapon in your home and getting legal assistance is moral, ethical, and wise. However, in my opinion, for whatever it is worth, contacting a harrasser’s employer would be unwise. This is because:

    1. Getting legal help is just protecting yourself. Contacting a harrasser’s employer just makes it personal. Once it is personal, the “crack” will feel justified to escalate seeing how you went out of your way to give him some payback. Don’t give him any ammunition.
    2. While he MAY be harrassing you from his workplace, it is possible that he is not. Maybe he works the graveyard shift, or is retired, or living off of SSI, etc. If so, there may be legal trouble for you if he can show that you got him fired or otherwise in trouble, but I am not sure about it – check with a lawyer.
    3. If you successfully report the troll to his employer, then it may not look too good in court because the judge may take the view that the two of you are in a pissing contest back and forth, and that you were the aggressor in the instance when you reported him to his employer.
    3. If you go the legal route, manage to get a restraining order, and then the order is violated, by reporting the violation, jerks like this can spend some time in JAIL, or pay fines, or get some other form of misery visited upon them. If they end up in jail for awhile, they will likely lose any job that they have due to poor attendance at work. You deserve personal protection for your family and for yourself. If you want paybacks too, then using the legal system is usually the best way, in my view.

    Yes, Dom, rude behavior on the Internet and social media have gone too far. There have always been bullies in the schoolyard. Internet and social media is just a new venue for them to engage in their shenanigans. However, due to the relative anonymity that the Internet and social media provides, bullies feel emboldened to the point that they lose their inhibitions and engage in bad behavior even more egregious than they would do in person.

    Finally, there is a cool program that I use when I want to retaliate against spammers. It is called “Abuse” and it can be had for free at http://sourceforge.net/projects/spam-abuse/?source=dlp . Among many other features, this program can extract e-mail header information, which is useful for computer forensics, because it can prove who sent the e-mail, when, from where, etc., etc. A bit of a pain to configure, but it is worth it. If you can’t or won’t configure the program, then get in touch with me and I will try to teach you how to manually extract e-mail header info from your e-mails, if you don’t know how to do it but you are interested.

    I hope that my feedback is helpful. Best wishes to you!

    Sincerely,

    Chris from Pine Hill, Screw Jersey
    Your Loyal 1210AM Talk Radio Fan.

  26. Ann February 19, 2013 at 3:26 pm #

    Why not contact the FBI and let them handle it – if they responded so quickly to Jill Kelly’s request – I’m sure yours will be handled QUICKER !!

    • George May 23, 2013 at 6:27 pm #

      Trolls can only be defeated by, what the 5channers have labelled myself, an “Anti-Troll.” Which is to say, “Use there own logic against them.”

    • George May 23, 2013 at 6:28 pm #

      Because the FBI will arrest anyone just to say they’ve completed the job. This is the same FBI that never had the events of 9/11/2001 listed as one of his crimes. What does that tell us about the FBI? Or The “Official Story,” on the matter, for that matter?

  27. George May 23, 2013 at 6:30 pm #

    Oh, you certainly need an “Anti-Troll” to handle them. Someone like myself, who knows how these types think, with the ability to turn their arguments back upon themselves. Go on, give me a test. I’ll prove it to you all that I can do this.

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