.How Do I Deal with Negative Comments Online?

Got a digital dilemma of your own? If you have a question involving technology, the internet, or online etiquette, shoot it to [email protected] with the subject “Dear Anna.”

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I am thinking of starting a blog — one that mostly deals with personal issues, health, food, etc. — but I’m hesitant to do so because I already fear the impending trolls and negative commenters that people who write on the internet tend to encounter. How does one cope with the negativity? — Clever Sign-Off

[jump] Everyone has a different way of dealing with negative comments online, CSO. But may I interject for a minute and say that you’re kinda putting the e-cart before the horse here? Focus first on getting the blog set up, populating it with interesting writing, and making it look good. Once you do all that and start to get some readers (or rather, some readers that aren’t your mom, your BFF from college, and that weird guy from OkCupid who reads everything you write), then you can start to maybe consider worrying about how to deal with negative responses.
Personal blogging doesn’t usually attract the kind of vicious attacks that occur on major media sites, unless you’re planning on blogging about something super “out there” or controversial, such as women playing videogames. If, however, you do manage to attract some trolls, here are a few options for dealing with them.

1. Block/delete. If a comment is abusive or hateful, you should have no qualms about getting rid of the offending post/poster. It’s your site, after all. Just as you would never tolerate a stranger coming into your home and peeing on your ottoman, so you should also never tolerate anyone metaphorically peeing on blogoman — er, blog. On my own blog, I’ve encountered a few of these douche-walruses — but really not that many, and I’ve been blogging for many years. It’s also quite satisfying to remove the offending post with a swift click and a celebratory margarita (which is a feature that I think all websites should somehow offer. Get on it, technology!).

Of course, it is always jarring to be happily going about your day only to discover that a rando on the internet referred to you as a common garden tool or told you to “go eat a live chicken already!” (which is an actual comment I received). Forsooth, I don’t think that most people ever get used to seeing horrible things written about themselves, even when it’s from strangers. But often, after the initial WTF moment, if you can take a little distance, many hateful comments can be somewhat humorous (see “go eat a live chicken” above). Nobody is immune to being insulted or attacked, no matter how thick your skin is or how often you’ve dealt with it in the past. And thanks to negativity bias, we tend to remember these negative thoughts, actions, and emotions FAR more than we can recall positive ones, as anyone can attest who has ever laid awake at night having imaginary conversations with people who have wronged us and what we should have said instead of the stupid thing we actually said: “Why did I tell the live chicken guy I was vegetarian?”

Comedian Chelsea Peretti has a great bit where she imagines Einstein blogging as a young scientist and what kind of crap he probably would have encountered from internet trolls. Watch (Einstein comes in around the 3-minute mark):

2. Ignore.
Most of the people I know who write on the internet simply ignore hateful comments (or preemptively ignore them by refusing to read comments at all). That’s harder to do with a personal blog because, well, you will be managing the comments, but you could also set up your blog so that comments are disabled/not allowed. Most CMSs (content management systems) provide this option. Of course, with this strategy, you’re also losing all the potentially nice commentary, helpful discussions, and compliments from “Yaweh” about how they “BELIEVE THAT YOU ARE A SEX GODDESS BUT I AM WRITING TO YOU TO TELL YOU ABOUT THIS DRACONIAN REPTILIANS AND THE ILLUMINATI AND THAT WE MUST STOP THEM AND EXPOSE THEIR ALIEN AGENDAS NOW” that might come your way, so you know, it’s kind of a trade-off.

3. Engage. Some folks really enjoy fighting with trolls online. One writer, the amazing Lindy West, interviewed her troll on This American Life, and it was an incredible piece of journalism. But most of us are not thoughtfully questioning our trolls on public radio. Most of us are day-drinking alone somewhere. But if you feel compelled to engage or educate or humanize your trolls, I won’t stop you. Because I am drunk, as I mentioned.

We can’t shield ourselves from every mean or rude person in existence (in life or online), but that should never stop you from doing something you enjoy, unless the thing you most enjoy is trolling, in which case please stop that. So set up that personal/health/food blog already, and leave your fear where it belongs, at the bottom of a pit of snakes dressed as clowns dressed as Rand Paul.

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