Jun 22, 2010  •  In Blogging, Personal, Web

Disagreeing vs Trolling

Among the 500+ sites I subscribe to on Google Reader, there has been much talk about trolls as of late.

While I firmly believe that true trollers consist of mean-spirited persons who have nothing better to do, I have also been noticing a trend toward labeling commenters as trolls and jumping all over them simply for disagreeing with a post or giving their honest (but often unpopular) opinion on a topic.

That ticks me off.

Having blogged for almost a decade, I have certainly gotten my share of mean comments. And I would be lying if I were to say that when someone chooses to publicly berate me via a comment, I never get hurt.

However, the internet is open to all (save for those whose companies/ISPs/governments block content). If you choose to blog in an open forum, you are opening yourself up for judgment. Nobody agrees with you 100% of the time. Somebody is bound to pass judgement on what you write or share, and while most people will just choose to go on about their lives without commenting, a certain percentage will feel compelled to give their opinion on the topic at hand.

Sure, it is always better to give constructive criticism over an outright attack. But if that attack has a valid point, my humble opinion is that the blogger receiving the attack should take a deep breath and just step away for a period of time. And in my experience, I have found that malicious comments loses their effect on you as time passes (in my case, usually no more than 24 hours).

As I see it, all bloggers have the following choices when faced with mean comments:

  • Delete offending comments
  • Keep all comments on moderation and only approve those that are agreeable
  • Turn off commenting altogether
  • Make your blog private
  • Grow a thicker skin

Personally, I can never choose any of the first four options because I do not want to censor my readers. So I am working on developing that rhino skin required of bloggers who choose to lay their lives out for all to see on the web.

Additionally, while gushing, supportive comments do feel nice and make me feel validated, I also tend to think that only having those types of comments makes for a somewhat boring atmosphere.

I have written that I may be changing my stance on censorship in this blog after the baby arrives — because parenting is a subject that is almost guaranteed to draw judgment and criticism — but I am leaning towards keeping the status quo.

A great marketer once said that you aren’t doing your job if you haven’t offended at least one person each day.

And isn’t blogging essentially a form of marketing yourself?

Think about it.

I now step off my high horse and leave this post open to all comments.

19 Responses to “Disagreeing vs Trolling”

  1. gigi:

    I think this is a very timely and thought provoking post, especially with all the drama the past few days in some former bee blogs. I appreciate your stance, and I think it was especially brave to express this opinion given some of those other bee posts lately. Kudos.

  2. Haha, what a coincidence (your post and mine today). I definitely agree with you about the difference between constructive criticism/differences of opinion and actual ‘trolling’. I do, however have a hard time believing that people who come out of the woodwork for the specific purpose of typing a hateful, insulting, petty and often misspelled comment are anything but trolls, know what I mean? If we want to talk about bee blog drama (as gigi mentioned in her comment before me), what about the people who’ve commented on That Wife’s weight as of late? I suppose they *do* have a valid point in that most women do put on some weight while pregnant. But is that any reason for them to insult her about it? It just frustrates me when people are impolite (on OR off the internet). Is there some kind of ‘finishing school’ for blog-commenting? Anyway, great post, and great points you’ve made within. :)

  3. MrsW:

    Ditto. There are definitely opinions out there that aren’t so nice, maybe, but I’m getting fed up with seeing bloggers respond to people who say what you’re saying by continuing to rant about "that doesn’t make me feel good!" Well… maybe it doesn’t. But was that the point of blogging in the first place? There are trolls, definitely, but then there are people who just have a different opinion and aren’t afraid to share it. Put on your grown-up pants, already.

  4. Geek in Heels:

    @Nodakademic — I completely agree that the comments regarding Jenna’s weight were uncalled for and downright mean. That being said, Jenna has built for herself quite a devoted following and a large readership…the bigger your site gets and the more popular you become, there are bound to be haters who will pick on you for every little thing. This isn’t to say that I justify their behavior. Rather, I think that every blogger who has a big following should be braced for some hate and criticism. It frustrates me too when people are impolite and it angers me to see good bloggers (who are also good people, I might add) get hurt. But I also know that with the vast majority of commenters who deliberately choose to be malicious, there isn’t much I can do to reform their behavior.

    On a related note, I think (and I told her this via a comment on her blog) Jenna has made a good decision to take some time off. If anything, she will come back stronger than ever.

  5. Meg:

    AMEN!

    Thank you for writing this. Lately, I’ve avoided commenting on certain blogs (bee blogs, yes) because frankly, I disagree, and I don’t want to be jumped on simply for having a different perspective. In my daily, non-blog life, I disagree with a lot of things and people and that doesn’t make me evil. Nor do the people who disagree with my perspective live under bridges and eat babies!

    I completely understand that the somewhat anonymous nature of the internet allows us to be meaner and harsher than we would in real life. We also don’t really KNOW these bloggers, unless we’ve had the pleasure of meeting them off line, and so in a way, they’re not ‘really people’ the way our friends and family are, and that’s unfortunate. Maybe we’d be better people if we thought about the comments we make first, said them out loud, and determined if it was a legitimate disagreement or, am I just being a catty bitch? Would I say this to my sister or my best friend? (Odds are, I’d say worse!)

    But the world would certainly be a dull, dull place – and I would never learn anything – if everyone agreed with everything I said all the time and only said nice things to me.

    Also, to address the censoring/turning comments off – a lot of bloggers do it for the comments. I get a rush when people comment on my sites, and I get a little depressed when they don’t. Turning comments off would suck the life out of it for a lot of people, who use their blogs to engage with others they wouldn’t under any other circumstances meet or talk to. Censoring comments only makes it more difficult for readers to participate in the ‘conversation’, and if you make it hard for me to engage with you and your blog, I’ll get bored and stop reading.

    Just my two cents.

  6. I want healthy debate. I learn things that way – I want to understand their side – and I want people to feel free to disagree. I want what I write to be critqued rather then me though. I’ve been blogging now for 2.5 years in a public manner, and I’ve had probably 3 comments I have to had delete because they got personal and went too far. I think thats pretty good. Maybe too good, maybe I just don’t write enough stuff to inflame people.

  7. I agree with you 100%, but no one deserves mean comments. If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all right? i’m all for disagreeing however, i have never understood why people feel they can berate, judge and be overtly MEAN to people they don’t know. After all, as bloggers we choose what of our lives we put out there. Therefore, are our readers EVER getting the full story? Likely, no.

    But growing a thick skin is a must in the blogging world.

  8. Geek in Heels:

    @Heidi — You’re correct; no one deserves mean comments, and I could never understand the sheer hate that comes across on certain comments. And IMO, if you ARE going to be mean, you should at least leave your real email address and/or website. I guess the anonymity of the internet provides the "buffer" that helps these people feel secure in choosing to take the lesser road.

    Maybe I’m just jaded but I really do think that because I choose to share specific information for the world to see, it is up to the readers to interpret it as they see fit. Yes, I get hurt and yes, I get upset and yes, sometimes I’ll retaliate in the form of a separate blog post entirely dedicated to combating that commenter. But I have accepted it as being part of a blogger’s life.

  9. Unless they add to the discussion, I don’t like negative comments. If they’re suggesting something else that should be considered or offering an alternative point of view – great. That’s what makes blogs interesting because you can interact with people who share an interest that you might not meet otherwise.

    Like Meg says, people hide behind the anonymous nature of the internet. So it goes too far when it’s something you wouldn’t say to an acquaintance in real life or wouldn’t stand behind or put your face on. It’s tough to let mean remarks slide, but if you can laugh at it, then you win. I like the feminist mail bag on feministing. And I notice a similarity with those and Jenna’s commenters: the bashers can’t spell!

    Finally, sometimes I leave what I hope are glowing comments when I just think something is really cool. I like your point about dismissing those as well, though, because it’s always most fun to interact with people: get a suggestion, ask a question, or otherwise respond with interest to what is written.

  10. I’ve discovered in my many many years of blogging that no matter HOW passionate you are about something, someone is always going to be just as passionate about the opposite side. Maybe I’m weird, but I enjoy hearing people’s viewpoints other than my own (could be why I’m a serial blog reader) and I would hate for all of my comments to be "yay I agree" all the time.

    Mommyblogging scares the SHIT out of me, I’ll be quite honest. I’m very much a to-each-their-own gal but I have friends that are convinced that all mothers that have c-sections are akin to Satan and feel the need to tell those that have loudly and online. There’s no RIGHT or WRONG way to be a Mom (well unless you are physically putting them in danger) but boy, people – espeically trolls – feel the need to come out in droves to tell bloggers why they are so wrong. Then again, there’s a lot of Mommy bloggers out there that make the rest of us feel that by not doing __________ we are the oddballs and should be shot.

    I think that trolls also like to be fed and the more you complain and whine about them, the more they get off on it and come back.

    I like your blog :) you win for life for bringing me the mario violin you tube.

  11. Amy:

    I really hate trolls. That being said, people seem to show emotions 10 times stronger on the Internet than in real life, because they are hiding behind an IP address. If they love a post, they gush. If they hate it, they go batshit crazy. I try to not take bad comments to heart, but as a blogger for a small audience, I feel like I "know" my readers and a bad comment just makes me feel like a bad blogger.

  12. beka:

    I agree, it always makes me a little sad when bloggers either turn off comments or take their blog private… though I guess I can understand why they do it. I can’t wait to keep following along once your little baby makes its entrance into the world :)

  13. I think mean comments suck.

    That being said, I do think if you as a blogger are openly opinionated, how can you not expect the same from your readers? I think that if you write a post expressing a strong opinion, you have to expect people to disagree with you.

    Certain bloggers, like the Pioneer Woman, really only show the positive side of their life. PW put a positive spin on just about everything, even cow patties on her front porch. I think it’s for this reason that she doesn’t get very many negative comments. I know that there are some people who are turned off by this style of blogging, but if you want a positive atmosphere, keep things positive.

    I really appreciate bloggers who put everything out there. I find it honest and refreshing and INTERESTING, and that’s what keeps me coming back. In the bee blog world, I feel sad that people have been ugly to That Wife and OmgMom…but I have to say, I think there is a difference in the way they have handled their negative comments. I’m sure I can really articulate it, but I think I found it hurtful to see That Wife respond in such a snarky, sarcastic way to some of her long-time readers.

    I haven’t been blogging for very long, so perhaps I would feel differently if the negativity were directed at me. This is also one reason I often refrain from commenting. I don’t want someone to bite my head off and tell me not to come back to their blog if I have a dissenting opinion.

    Just one reader’s thoughts!

  14. I’m just not convinced that just because you’re putting yourself out there in an open forum – that gives license for people to hate on someone. I agree with Nodak Academic – is there a finishing school for blog commentors?

    I wish people would consider what they would say to someone’s face, in person before they click submit. I think we should be encouraging polite, open discourse; instead of saying "it’s bound to happen, so we should just accept it".Acceptance of rude people encourages their behavior. Encouraging rude or cruel commentors (or people in general) I think leads to this cycle, in which we all end up like the fake TAMN. Sugarcoating a fake reality and promoting a false ideal of what our lives are actually like.

    It isn’t as simple as saying "put yourself out there, and expect (and appreciate, because at least they are reading?) that people will bring a dump truck load of vitriol to your party" or "don’t put your real life out there and no one can disagree with you". Are those really the options we’re left with?

    There are disagreements, and there is being a jerk. I’d like to encourage a world with a few less jerks it it, both on the internet, and it real life.

  15. And I’m already second-guessing having posted, hoping I don’t come across as mean :P

  16. Geek in Heels:

    @Lindsey — I think you made some really good points! And you’re right; bloggers like PW only really blog about the best and happy sides of their lives and that’s why the vast majority of their comments are overwhelmingly positive and supportive. However, with an audience of that magnitude, there are still bound to be naysayers among the crowd and I do know that there are people out there who judge her for her lifestyle, success, etc.

    @Christiana — In no way am I defending these people, because they really do disgust me and make me feel sad that there are people out there who will devote so much energy into hating someone. But at the same time, I also know that there isn’t much we can do to stop them. Sure, we can police our comments, have an army of friends/supporters dispute their claims and go after them, etc but at the end of the day, they will not have changed their ways. Maybe I’ve just grown jaded over the years, but I just accept snarky comments as a result of putting myself out there. So as much as I would LOVE a world with less jerks, I’ve also learned to just let them go and keep being jerks just as long as they aren’t doing anything to really harm me or my loved ones.

  17. Jen:

    When I read a blog post that makes me angry because the I believe the blogger is self-absorbed, rude, or in poor taste, and I think about leaving a nasty comment I…. DON’T! Because that makes me even more rude. If it happens 2 or 3 times, I usually decide that reading their blog is a waste of my time and I unsubscribe.

    When I disagree, I try to do it in the nicest way possible, without personal attacks, and with careful thought about my "tone".

    I also don’t think that just because I write a blog, that people should just be able to say whatever they want to me. I believe in internet conversations, where everyone involved treats one another with decency and respect. If they don’t, they can move along, and if rallying my friends around to berate them makes me feel better, then so be it!

    When people leave me rude comments, I call them out, but I don’t have a high readership (because I haven’t been blogging!!) and I hardly ever get them. I wish I could be one of those people who isn’t bothered by it, but I don’t think I ever will be.

  18. Jen:

    Also, the way someone expresses an opposing opinion means EVERYTHING. All those people telling Jenna that she is selfish and unholy for shaving her kid’s head? That’s just nutty. If they had said they liked his hair, or something benign, it would have been a totally different situation.

  19. There’s a blogger I follow – he blogs on economics in world of warcraft, so a very impersonal subject – that has what I think is a pretty good stance on commenting. If you derail the conversation he sets in his post, he’ll delete your comment. So if he’s talking about making money by selling some item and mentions a certain add-on used to do that, and you come and criticize that add-on, he will delete it. I think it’s totally fair.

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