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Blog: Event management

Dealing with trolls at your virtual event

28 April 2023 minute read

Ian Dickie
Managing Director

When our customers organise a virtual event, regardless of which business they’re in, they all tell us they’re looking for the same thing: more engagement and interaction.

And, of course, we engineered our platform to encourage just that.

But sometimes, you get the wrong kind of engagement and interaction. And it’s important to be ready and prepared to handle problem attendees before they derail your virtual event.

The problem

Online participants act differently from participants who are in the room.

When we are at a conference listening to a speaker or in a meeting, there is an unwritten code, an etiquette, followed by everyone attending – and it’s been that way since conferences began.

We all know how to behave. We are very polite. We aren’t talking during the session. We certainly aren’t interrupting the speaker. And we save our questions for the formal Q&A at the end.

What we sometimes see in virtual and hybrid events is a change in this behaviour. Remote attendees are sometimes less than polite, and they don’t necessarily follow the code of behaviour they would adhere to in a physical setting.

Computer Scientist Jaron Lannier put it well when he said, ‘Human beings either function as individuals or as members of a pack. There’s a switch inside us, deep in our spirit, that you can turn one way or the other. It’s almost always the case that our worst behaviour comes out when we’re switched to the mob setting. The problem with a lot of software designs is that they switch us to that setting.’

As virtual attendees get more comfortable over the span of a conference, often they can get quite vocal with their opinions. It is not uncommon for people to make their feelings or views known, way beyond what they’d express in the room.

Depending on your topic and your community, this can spiral from ‘strongly-held opinion’ to ‘abuse and harassment’ faster than you can say … ‘does anyone know how to unplug the router?’

And sometimes you get an all-out troll. Someone who has registered for the event with the specific purpose of causing disruption and damage.

We’ve seen stooges from rival companies turn up to ask inappropriate questions, interrupt and generally throw mud.

We’ve seen disgruntled former employees of the host company making lengthy and seriously off-topic statements in the chat.

And, of course, everyone’s favourite: the salesperson who just monopolises every channel to push their company’s products, and DMs every attendee to offer them a ‘great deal’.

Any of these has the potential to derail your lovingly crafted virtual event and leave a bad taste in the mouths of your attendees.

Fortunately, the better platforms come with a suite of tools to help you manage aberrant behaviour. So here’s what you can do to be prepared.

Plan ahead

Create a plan of action in advance that will address the worst situations, should they arise.

Designate a person on your team whose role is to monitor the chat and handle any complaints / concerns from attendees via the virtual helpdesk.

Make sure you establish a chain of command. Who has the authority to kick an attendee out? You don’t want to be scrabbling around during an event, trying to get hold of a senior manager with the authority to shut down a problem attendee. Decide on a policy and delegate authority where you can.

State the ground rules in advance

It’s worth calling peoples’ attention to your rules in advance of the event, and setting out what actions will be taken if breaches occur.

Make it clear to your attendees whether or not you’re allowing them to promote their products or services.

If you don’t want any swearing in the chat, say so.

Some organisers have a policy on attendees not recording and taking screenshots. Again, make your expectations clear in advance (although know that this particular one is practically impossible to enforce).

If your platform allows push notifications, you can send out a brief reminder to your attendees before you get underway, targeting any priority behaviours or issues you’re concerned about.

Utilise the security features of the platform

Unfortunately, however well you brief attendees, a small minority will cause trouble and will need to be managed or removed.

AttendZen has the following tools to handle problem attendees. If you use another platform, check what they have in place (they may use different terms from ours).


It’s a good idea to make sure your virtual platform allows an attendee to simply mute another attendee if they find them in any way annoying.

As with social media feeds, muting has the effect of removing the annoying attendee from that one, individual attendee’s chat panel. With AttendZen, an attendee who has muted another will also not see any direct messages or video call requests from the muted party.

The muted party will not know that they have been muted. Their posts and messages will simply not be visible to the party who has muted them.

Muting is not something that you, as the event organiser, need to be involved in. It’s important that the platform’s UI is clear and that an attendee can easily discover and activate the mute function on their own with a single click.

Shadow banning

If, as the organiser, you’re worried about the language or behaviour of an attendee, you can choose to shadow ban that individual.

A shadow-ban acts like a blanket-mute. It means that all your attendees will no longer be able to see chat posts, questions – or receive direct messages or video – calls from the shadow-banned attendee.

The shadow-banned attendee themselves will not necessarily be aware that their posts and messages are blocked to all other attendees. They will not receive any notification that they have been shadow banned, and they will continue to have access to the event content.

However, no other attendees will see any comments or messages they issue.

Shadow-banning can a good precaution if you’re worried about an attendee’s behaviour, allowing time to warn them or speak to them before removing them from the event.

Ejecting an attendee

In the most serious cases you may need to eject an attendee altogether from your virtual event.

Astonishingly, some platforms don’t provide for this – which is to say that, the expelled attendee can sometimes rejoin your event by clicking the link in their confirmation email and checking back in again! We regularly come across customers who have experienced this with some, hastily built platforms.

What should happen is that, ejecting an attendee will have the effect of immediately locking them out from every part of the virtual event. The ejected attendee will receive a message informing them that they have been removed from the event. They will be prevented from logging back into any part of the virtual platform via any credentials they were previously provided with, and any attempt on their part to update their registration info will be blocked.

Prevention is better than cure

Determined trouble-makers will always have to be dealt with, but happily they are a small minority.

What we see more frequently is normal attendees asking basic administrative and technical questions in the chat because they don’t understand what’s supposed to be happening.

Maybe there’s been a last minute agenda change. Maybe an attendee’s internet connection or device settings are off. Virtual attendees almost always assume technology issues are not their own. And 99% of the time, they are. So one of the best things you can do is to have a virtual Help Desk (just as you would have the registration desk at a physical event), staffed by someone who has full knowledge of the event programme and how the platform works – where you can head these problems off at the pass.

Your platform should have this feature in place, all you need do is agree who on your team will manage it on the day.

That way, you keep everyone happy and you keep negative vibes from a few frustrated, vocal participants out of the chat.