By Jamie and Ryan.
If I were to let the mean comments get to me I’d sit in an empty bathtub listening to Morrissey with a burn list of mean comments soaked with tears. The Ben & Jerry’s containers would litter my bedroom floor like creamy cardboard reminders of my self loathing…
Strangely there’s a comfort that my imaginary hate is filled with frozen bits of chocolate and cookie dough.
Jokes aside, it’s perfectly normal to take mean comments personally… especially if you’re new to blogging. There’s always the option of not reading comments but that vacuum would separate you from all of the positive communication with the online community who, for the most part, is not trying to quench an ungodly thirst with your tears.
Without further adieu here is a sample of what we’ve learned in dealing with disparaging blog comments over the years:
1. Trolls are people, too.
The Bloggess posted this great quiz called, “How to tell if you’re a troll.” The whole point was that trolls aren’t mythical creatures. Those abusive comments are actually coming from real humans who probably don’t think of the writers as real humans.
Really, think about it, when was the last time you commented on a blog post? Probably when you were either on the defensive about something (which was totally personal to you), or you were going through a really rough period in your life…or maybe you left a nice comment on a friend’s blog, or maybe you posted because you thought something was funny. Those urges to comment have nothing to do with the poster and everything to do with the commenter. All you need to do is delete, ignore, or move on. Which brings me to…
2. Separate abusive comments from constructive criticism.
If you put a picture of your cat wearing pants online you’re going to get feedback. Trust us, we are avid cat dressers, or as they call us in the industry, “Felantolognes”. There’s a huge difference between “your cat is an unlovable asshole” and “brush downward towards the stomach and his hair won’t be frizzy and unmanageable.”
You don’t have to agree with the feedback, but there are critical comments which are helpful. It is easy to get defensive about your work (staging cats and feline lighting can be hell!), but once you get used to saying “you are right and I am wrong” it really isn’t so scary.
Of course, most humans with any sort of empathy are all going to do their best to try not to make mistakes or hurt other people, but we stumble at times. As with most people, your intentions are most-likely good… but sometimes that isn’t good enough. We are all filtering things through our own validity prisms; we can only really write or respond based on our own cognitive biases. This is why truly being open to another person’s perspective not only helps you not take critical comments so personally, but also makes you an overall more well-rounded human being…and a better writer. Now, that doesn’t mean you actually have to agree with all constructive criticism you receive, but you absolutely can validate that person by simply hearing them out.
3. It’s often better to ignore.
Oh man, this has happened to me more than once. Many times when an audience grows it expands to various locations and cultures. Tone and intent is already hard enough to read online, but mix it with humor and you may have a cat-astrophe on your hands. I remember I responded to one person with a self-deprecating joke and the commenter for some reason read it as a jab at her. It was terrible…I felt really bad, but she kept coming back attacking me and any and all people defending me in the thread to the point that it was best to just stop engaging. And really, the internet makes the world a tiny place. Don’t stop being you out of fear of offending someone, but know when to apologize and cut your losses.
4.Don’t read outside criticism.
I’m not sure how often bloggers receive outside criticism without it being in conjunction with a major (non-blogging) event, but I’m sure it happens from time-to-time. The science editor for Time gave me some advice back in 2012, “Try not to read anything, but if you do, write a response back to the author and then hold on to it for 24 hours before you delete it. Never send it. To anyone. Ever.” Of course that ended up being brilliant advice and the few times I slipped up (on the dumbest articles, btw) I always regretted it. Always. The Bloggess once again had a lot of insight on this. I can’t find the article, but I remember her suggesting that having a friend read mean comments for you was a good idea. They can let you know if any outside criticism being mentioned is valid and worth processing.
Celebrities are what most of us consider true public figures, and are fair game, but they also have the funds and team to protect themselves against the onslaught of hate spewed at them. Additionally, the magnitude of the issue is so large it almost seems pointless to really care about one or two opinions. Of course, it can still be traumatic, but there is some sort of control over how to tackle it. Most bloggers don’t make much money (that I know of) and are extremely vulnerable, but have offered themselves up as public figures. It’s part of the deal – and while I do hate that there is hurt or trauma involved in any of this, it is 100% a choice for you and a situation where you either need to either suck it up or back out. If you can’t handle this well and you’re adding your kids to the mix of this blogging business, then we think you really need to rethink what you’re doing. There are some families which are unconventional and who are just going to be less private than others. If you have made this a thoughtful decision with an authentic or altruistic goal, then who cares what other people think? It think it is fantastic that people are opening up their thoughts and lives to the public, especially if they recognize that the right to criticize also needs to be defended, just like your right to share your point of view needs to be protected. If you can’t handle it then you really need to reevaluate what you’re doing presenting content in a public forum… which leads me now to…
5. Ask yourself why you’re posting this?
When I started a blog it was used as a personal journal, even with a small readership and everything that we were doing, it was like sending out a mass email to family and friends…only it was public. I first kept my kids faces and names blurred, but after my husband and I reevaluated why we were doing that, we decided that wasn’t in line with what we felt was right for our family. I still feel this way. However, as it grew I felt less and less comfortable discussing daily life, especially scenarios with my kids. Of the few things I read about the Time cover I read a few criticisms of the blog and I felt like some of it made sense. They were right, we were wrong….So, we learned from it and moved on.
The main question you need to ask yourself is what is this serving? Is it completely self-serving? Is that what you’re really going for? Or, if you’re trying to provide something to the public, whether it be entertainment by way of humor or even just passing along recently acquired knowledge, make sure you ask yourself this prior to posting. You need to know who you are…and feel comfortable if whatever you posted is challenged at some point. It is important to have posting goal. If you’re confident in why you’re posting something then you’ll be less likely to feel the need to get defensive.
6. Hire an attorney.
If someone crosses the line and accuses you of anything illegal or something which can hurt your business, you’re going to need one. It’s always a good idea to be prepared. Most of the time people who meet the criteria for a lawsuit (which is rare, but it can happen) can be handled with a simple personal response. However, this is the one time that defending yourself is completely reasonable, and actually necessary.
7. If you’re going to allow yourself to let go of personal feelings towards the mean comments, then you need to also do so with the positive.
Do you remember when Ashley Judd wrote her “Puffy Face” viral article for the Daily Beast? The second paragraph of her article always stuck with me:
I hold that it is none of my business what people think of me. I arrived at this belief after first, when I began working as an actor 18 years ago, reading everything. I evolved into selecting only the “good” pieces to read. Over time, I matured into the understanding that good and bad are equally fanciful interpretations. I do not want to give my power, my self-esteem, or my autonomy, to any person, place, or thing outside myself. I thus abstain from all media about myself. The only thing that matters is how I feel about myself, my personal integrity, and my relationship with my Creator. Of course, it’s wonderful to be held in esteem and fond regard by family, friends, and community, but a central part of my spiritual practice is letting go of otheration. And casting one’s lot with the public is dangerous and self-destructive, and I value myself too much to do that.
Of course Ashley was covering mostly body image in her article, but this paragraph touched on all aspects of being judged. While it is true you are worthy of being respected and heard, you are not God’s gift to the internet, or the world for that matter, no more than anyone else is. If you helped someone and they want to tell you- fantastic. Isn’t that at least part of the reason you started a public web log… to give and receive support and be a part of a community? I sure hope so. But don’t allow that to create an inflated interpretation of yourself or your worth.
8. If you’re overwhelmed, bring in professionals.
Or even friends. I stopped getting hate mail a long time ago. But, when I was getting a ton of it my friends took over the comments section and my emails and screened everything before they would forward it on to me. They were awesome and did it without even asking, and I definitely think it is completely reasonable to ask for help if you’re dealing with a surge of responses online.
9. Step away from the internet.
I don’t know about you, but my brain gets all mushy-buzz from too much screen time and I have a hard time reintegrating back into “real life.” If you work online, you are under no obligation to socialize on there. In fact, I would say it is much healthier to do the opposite. The internet is an isolated place. When you stay off of it for a few days you do realize how subjective online communities really are…and I say this as someone who runs an online community. The truth is that they can provide certain positive services, but if they are causing you any sort of distress, then they are essentially meaningless. You can log off without any “real life” damage. Find the best balance for you.
10. Don’t drink and internet.
After posting about an article related to race a thread showed up on one of our accounts and a very active participant was obviously drunk. She was a very public government figure who was smart enough to take her comments down but it could have been bad had we taken a screenshot and/or cared enough.
You’re not more raw or more talented when you’re drinking. You’re more likely to get a very costly BUI (Blogging Under the Influence). We are working on a computer breathalyzer but until that time comes try to recognize that your fingers aren’t getting fatter during keystrokes, you’re just drunk and angry.
11. When all else fails, inject humor or pose a question.
The Socratic method is definitely a way for you or the commenter to learn about their own points. If it isn’t worth it and you want to have fun with a trolly comment, feel free to lighten the mood with a joke. I remember I playfully answered a “troll” on my page. There was a back-and-forth where he saw that I didn’t take myself as seriously as the topic and vice versa. Well, now we’re Facebook friends. It really comes down to humanizing the other person either through laughter or validation of their thoughts (again, even if you disagree). Easier said than done, right? All we can do is keep trying….
12. Trolls are an important measure of success.
After Ryan’s first troll he celebrated with an Interview with the Vampire outfit for his favorite tabby, Lestat. He recognized that having active participants gain more views and continue conversations. Trolls have an amazing ability to get a community of fans to rally behind a blogger. The internet often works like a movie. The story moves forward much easier if there’s an antagonist.
You’re doing something you love and that’s wonderful. As bloggers we all go through these things on some level and one of the best ways to get to the NEXT level is to handle the one that you’re on with the poise and grace and beauty and balance of a… I don’t know… some kind of animal with those traits.
Good luck and hang in there, everyone!