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What to Do when Your Blog is Attacked

Fight

‘Blogging would be great if it wasn’t for the people.’

This is the comment of one blogger that I spoke with recently after they’d had a particularly hard week of blogging. He had come under quite intense criticism from a number of other bloggers in his niche who had attacked him after he’d rather unwisely picked a fight with one of them. Some of the attack he received was fair enough (he deserved it in part) but other parts got personal and spiteful and left a sour taste in the mouth of all concerned. To say there was a ‘blog fight’ would be an understatement.

There comes a time in most blogger’s experience when blogging just sucks. When you communicate in a public forum you are automatically put under scrutiny – when you communicate online there seems to be an added pressure as there is an anonymity on the web that seems to cause some people to loose all sense of reasonableness, curtsey and inhibitions (a dangerous combination).

So what should you do when it all gets too much and blogging begins to suck because of the actions of others? Here are a few thoughts that come from my own experience of sucky blogging days over the past few years.

1. Thicken Your Skin – For starters, and even before you start a blog, you need to prepare yourself for the day that ‘one of those days’ comes along in your blogging. As I say, it will happen if you blog for long enough so you might as well start preparing yourself for it sooner than later. In fact while some people don’t like criticism and sometimes it’s not much fun to see the weaknesses in your work pointed out – it’s actually one of the strengths of blogging and a certain level of critique should be expected and will help to make you a better blogger. Having said this you might like to also prepare for how you might deal with it before it happens rather than reacting in the heat of the moment in a way that might do more damage than good.

2. Establish Boundaries – This is another thing you should do before a conflict to help preempt them. I’ve talked about setting boundaries on many occasions on this blog in terms of deciding what you will and won’t blog about - but another type of boundary to consider is the type of things that you’ll allow in the interactive areas of your blog. For instance, what level of language will you allow? Will you delete comments that engage in flaming? What tolerance will you have for trolls? What will you do if someone leaves a comment that could be defamatory towards someone else? What types of comments will and won’t you respond to? Once again, thinking about these things before a conflict is helpful once it actually happens. While I know that some people have problems with editing the comments of others on their blog, I do not. If someone leaves a comment that I think goes beyond what I’m comfortable with take approapriate action. While this has happened to me on only a handful of occassions in three years – it does occassionally happen (usually when I feel someone’s comments are defamatory, racist and/or very offensive).

3. Remember the Humanness of the Other - There have been many times where I’ve seen interactions between people online that make me wonder if those participating in the conversation fight have any lost sight of the fact that they are talking to and about another human being. Online interactions are quite unique in the anonymity that a person can have. This causes people to say and do things that they’d never say or do in person. It is easy to get drawn into this mindset (I’ve done it myself) and it’s worth reminding yourself before, during and after the conflict that as much as you might be angered or frustrated by the other person that they are a real person and deserve to be treated as such. This doesn’t mean you can’t stand up for yourself, but it helps you to remember to do it with a little more respect and dignity.

4. Step Away from the Computer – One of the best pieces of advice I can give is to not respond in the heat of the moment in anger. Online disagreements have the ability to escalate incredibly quickly to a point where they go beyond what is reasonable. This is partly because people respond out of the anger and pain that they feel in the moment rather than taking a deep breath and responding with some thought and perspective. Take a break away from the computer for a few minutes, hours or even over night and then come back to the dispute. It will still be there when you come back. If you do need to respond quickly it might be wise to write a short response that you’re feeling angry and will respond more fully in an hour or so because you don’t want to do so out of anger.

5.Listen – This might be the last thing you want to do when under attack (it’s far easier just to think you know what the other person is saying and to just respond to that) – but learning to listen to the arguments of others is vital for a number of reasons.

  • ‘They’ Could be Right – ouch, this hurts when it’s true and is hard to admit to, but sometimes you will get it wrong and someone else will be speaking truth (or at least partial truth). The quicker you identify the truth in the other person’s arguments the better – this only comes by listening as impartially as you can.
  • Debate Skills 101 – I never did very well in debating at school but I did learn one skill reasonably well. If you want to win a debate your arguments should always take into consideration and be built upon the what the other person says. If the other person is wrong – you need to be able to point out why or how. To do this you need to actually hear what they are saying.
  • Finding Common Ground – The funny thing about some online fights is that the people that are arguing fiercely can often be not too far away from each other’s positions. Listening carefully helps establish the common ground and areas of agreement which is a conflict resolution tactic that can take some of fire out of the interaction and allow a more productive and peaceful result.

6. Accept responsibility - If your attacker is right (or at least partially so) it’s important to admit this up front. It takes swallowing your pride and perhaps loosing some face – but in the long run it’s better to do this up front than at the end of a long arduous battle. I find that when you do this it can also take the heat out of the situation and that the other person might be also willing to admit their own wrongs in the situation.

7. Don’t get Personal – This taps into the ‘remember they are human’ point above but is worth reemphasizing. Getting personal achieves nothing but escalating a conflict and perhaps even creating a lifelong enemy. It takes the focus away from the actual disagreement and further away from any productive resolution. Personal attacks are easy to get into but resisting the temptation (especially when others don’t) can be a powerful thing and win you a lot of admirers.

8. Take it private – There are some discussions that are useful to have in a public forum because they are done in a way where people come away from them having learnt something. On the flip side there are some discussions all in online brawls that achieve little except to enrage a two different camps of people. I find that if someone leaves an inflammatory comment on my blog that if I email them quickly asking if I can do anything to sort out the situation that more often than not a potential ongoing rift can be sorted out in just a few emails. I remember one case in the past 6 months where a reader on one of my blogs left a series of very angry comments within a couple of hours and when I emailed to ask if I could do anything to rectify it he promptly apologized and explained the hurt in his life that had caused the comments and asked me to delete them. If I’d responded in anger to his comments it could have gotten ugly very quickly – but because I politely attempted resolution in a non threatening private way it was quickly sorted.

9. Keep Perspective – ‘It’s just a blog’. Late last year I found myself saying this to myself quite a few times. While in the heat of battle the fight can see so important and worth having – with a little distance it can look more like a couple of kids having a schoolyard fight over nothing at all.

10. Look for Opportunities – This is difficult to do when you’re hurting – but one thing to keep in mind is that every threat is an opportunity waiting to happen. One of the lessons I remember about my business studies was a tip that a lecturer on customer service. He said that every customer complaint is an opportunity for a loyal customer. If you can turn around an angry and dissatisfied client to a point where they are satisfied you could just end up with a client for life. This is true in blogging. I know that a number of the most loyal and active promoters of this blog once were it’s biggest critics. Not only are their opportunities in the one on one sense, but because so many blogging conflicts are public ones in comments and blog posts, you also have the opportunity to respond in a way that could attract new readers to your blog. Once again I think of the times when I’ve come under attack the most in the past year and I can see that they were times when I had an influx of readers and that these were times when some marginal/occassional readers became daily loyal readers.

11. Anger = Threat – This time I’ll reminisce about a lesson I learned when I studied counseling (another of my ‘lives’ that I don’t talk much about). One of my counseling lecturers one day made the observation that behind almost every instance of anger than he’d seen was some sense of threat to the person experiencing the anger. This is good to keep in mind both as you deal with angry people but also as you consider your own anger. Talk about and deal with the threat (the source of the anger) that you are both feeling and you might find resolution is not that far away.

12. Dialogue – While I don’t mind a good old debate from time to time another approach when being attacked is to respond in a dialogical way. This incorporates a number of the above points (listen, accept responsibility, don’t get personal etc). Dialogue is when both parties agree to allow the other person to share their perspective and where they make a genuine effort to understand where they are coming from. It’s not about proving one side of things right or wrong but about understanding and learning. The beauty of dialogue is that you might end up agreeing to disagree – but in the process you will hopefully learn something about the other person and their perspective.

13. Consider a Mediator - I’ve seen a couple of instances over the past month where a third party has come to a conflict as an independent person to help two parties work through their differences. A mediator doesn’t take sides but helps each party to say their piece and to find peace with the other. I find a third party can also be useful to tell me to pull my head in occasionally. On more than one occasion of late I’ve gone to other bloggers that I respect to ask if I’m in the wrong in situations – quite often they are honest enough to tell me that I am.

14. Control the Rhythm and Tone of your Blog – One of the traps that I see some bloggers fall into when they come under fire is that they allow the conflict to dominate their blog. Rather than continuing to write posts at a normal rate and on a normal topic they get sucked into what ever they are angry about and can become quite obsessed by it. While you may need to write some posts on the controversy to convey a message to your readers – you should keep in mind that most of your reader are not as fired up as you and could become quickly disillusioned with you for allowing your blog to loose focus. When I write a post that buys into conflict here at ProBlogger (and I try to avoid doing so most of the time these days) I always attempt to follow it quickly with a ‘normal’ type post so that regular readers who are not interested in the conflict have something to get on with reading. If you don’t keep some sense of normalcy to your blog you might find the negativity of it all has led to you losing some of your regular readers.

15. Move on – Sometimes after using all of the above strategies the battle rages on and both you and the other party are angrier than ever. Unfortunately in these situations you can end up being quite consumed by the negativity of the dispute (it can become quite addictive proving you’re right and proving that another person is an idiot). In such cases there comes a time when it comes necessary to disengage from the interaction in one way or the other. This might mean closing a comments section, black-banning yourself from visiting someone’s blog (I’ve done this a few times) or just agreeing to disagree with the other person. Keep in mind that if your fight is a public one that your readers can easily become disillusioned by your negativity and obsession with pointing out the faults in another person so for their sake it might be worth moving on sooner than later.

Of course the above tips are just my perspective and what I attempt to do. Of course we all have our bad days from time to time and I can get sucked into breaking all of the above ‘rules’ as much as anyone else in the heat of it all. Hopefully the above will be of at least some help next time it happens.

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Azam Zaki says:

    Its hard to swallow something you dont want to hear. When i opened my blog for for comments i think i’m quite ready to face the consequences

  2. Anthony says:

    Sweet post buddy.

    IMO #9. Keep Perspective the most important by far.

    I don’t like self help books, in fact I despise them all and anyone flogging them. however, I have read and do recommend one, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff. The entire premise of the books is to keep everything in perspective.

    One post fight, flame war, blogger backlash means nothing in the overall “big picture”. The sun still comes up, WordPress still works and readers still enjoy good content.

  3. Joe says:

    Hey Darren,

    All of the above can also be said about outside sources as well.

    I almost let a dispute with shippers, vendors and support personnel taint a post of mine the other day.
    I think by waiting until I calmed down before actually writing the post helped to change the tone into something positive out of a potentially bad situation.

    Joe

  4. Another great strategy, if you have the flexibility in your schedule, is to immediately go exercise when you get that nasty feeling that comes from being fired upon. The workout’s are great, you get healthy, and it helps restore your perspective.

    “Take It Private” works especially well with us male folk. When a scuffle is out in the open, the desire to save face in front of your peers can make you put more energy into an argument that you might otherwise abandon or settle peacefully, if it were not for the real or imagined pressure of your peers.

  5. marcel says:

    Here is another tip.

    Don’t say anything unless your well rested and got a good night’s sleep. Lack of sleep will make you say crazy things.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I would add one more thought:
    Quit Blogging.
    If you can’t handle a handful of people saying nasty stuff about you online, go back to the “real” world where most people will say that nasty stuff behind your back.

    The world is pretty small at times, but even the largest of blog arguments typically only involves a small number of people in the whole realm of things. If it seems you’ll lose your readership and your reputation will be ruined, you’re being short-sighted and ought not be blogging.

    Anyways…

    Darren, those first two sentences of your post are awkwardly constructed. The first one is especially awkward. You’ve typically written the way you talk, and I think if you read that sentence aloud, you’d realize just how awkward it is. I know that if you had a conversation with me and used that sentence, I’d stop you and tell you to start over and give it to me straight. Get to the point.

  7. Great tips! I’ve never been in a blog fight,… yet. Still, very useful for people who might find their blog under attack. Great post!

  8. katiebird says:

    I (almost always) ask the person who’s offended, or nearly offended me for clarification: “Did you mean to say…?” or “It sounds like you’re saying . . .?” Using words that are as neutral as possible — stripping any loaded language out of it.

    It is astonishing how often the person didn’t mean what I was assuming at all. Either they are taking a “Devils Advocate” position or they left out a word that changes the meaning, or they simply meant what they said, but in a softer, more warning way, rather than an accusation.

    By not hitting back with an emotional response, I not only avoided a fight, but ended up engaging in exactly the kind of dialog I want my site to have. I don’t want all “I totally agree” comments. I want to hear from people who have a different perspective. And sometimes those opinions come out much more harshly (passion can appear harsh at times) than intended.

  9. Jason Clark says:

    That is just superb, thank you.

  10. After reading this entire blog entry and the 9 comments before me, all I can think of to say is .. “Comment #6 – why would anybody bother to waste people’s time by signing “Anonymous” on a comment?” I mean, it’s one thing not to link your own site, or if you don’t have a site .. but I assume he/she has a name?

  11. Fly Girl says:

    When talk radio first came on the scene, I used to enjoy listening to it. Then, the hosts started to foster an environment where people started upping the emotional level of the discussion. OK, still good to listen to.

    Then, things started to get out of control – name calling, shouting, yelling over one another, etc. All of a sudden, I couldn’t follow the discussion. I couldn’t sort through the various arguments. It became annoying, rather than informative, and I tuned it out.

    While I like a healthy debate and vigorous discussions on the blogs that I read, I tune out when it degenerates to talk radio standards. I try to maintain the same standards in my comment section, and ask everyone to conform to a modicum of civility.

  12. Doug says:

    If I had a regular blog I’d write a post on why an anonymous comment are often no less valuable than one written by someone who’s left their (or “a”) name on the post… Get over it. There are plenty of legitimate reasons the person might not want to include their name or email. Even worse are the people who feel the need to flame someone JUST for not leaving their name. It happens all the time in the online world.

  13. Darren Rowse says:

    Thanks for the comments. With regards to the first paragraph Anon. I’ve taken it on board and made a couple of modifications having just had a good sleep (and coffee). I appreciate the feedback.

    With regards to Anonymous comments – I agree with Doug that there are sometimes reasons for anonymity in comments. I personally choose not to get into them and always try to leave my name. But on my blogs I allow people to make their own choices on this. I have to admit that when I see them I cringe a little even though I know people have a right to them – I’d much rather have the chance to know who I’m having a conversation with.

    The only other comment I would make is to remind people who comment here that their IP address is attatched to their comments so if they are a regular here who have commented before their comment is only Anonymous to people and not me.

  14. Duncan says:

    I think you missed an important point: ignore them. That’s what I tend to do now.

  15. One thing I’ve learned is that when people get emotional and leave angry comments, what they’re doing isn’t about you at all. It’s about them and their need to reinforce their beliefs or viewpoint. Blogs can act as mirrors to society and sometimes people don’t like their reflection very much. People feel threatened when they encounter something that might cause them to question their assumptions on a particular topic. In other words, when they leave emotional comments like that, they’re projecting their own problems. This can happen when you least expect it and even if you had no intention of getting serious about a hot-button societal issue.

    People who are just baiting you want you to retaliate in kind, and as you have pointed out so well in your post that is hardly ever a good idea to give them the satisfaction. I’ve used the exact “technique” you descibe in point 14 to good effect: distract ‘em with something new. It really does work.

    Thanks for a great post! Longer than usual but a lot of meat on the bone.

  16. I would add one technique to what you say:

    16. Don’t send messages out immediately. Especially if they are upset messages. Instead write them and then let them sit. Let them sit for a day. It won’t hurt. You may gain perspective such that you can communicate better in your response. You may even decide no response is necessary. If you do still want to respond then reread and rewrite or edit your message. Let it sit again for at least a few minutes. Get up, take a break. Do something else. Come back to it. Is it still worth sending? If yes then reread. Polish. Send. The more upsetness the more iterations of this you should do and the more likely you should not send the message.

  17. armaniac says:

    Although I support anonymous blogging (mum named me and she’s not into brandy!) it’s telling, and supports what you had already argued, that the first rather gratuitous and hectoring comment on what should be a fairly uncontroversial post came from an anonymous correspondent.

    Blogging doesn’t have to include putting up with flaming, in fact it is still blogging (though missing something I view as crucial) without any comments at all.

    Delete and ban all the gratuitous flamers, and it is they who will have to give up blogging, leaving something more intelligent for the rest of us to enjoy…

  18. Iain says:

    I like your point of view here and as I am the person who Jeremy (mrlefty) aludes to in his post who had the stoush with him over Chrristmas about anonyminity .
    I would just like to add that one thing that you should do when attacked is maintain your iintegrity before during and after ther conflict ,somthing that Jeremy failed to do .
    As you suggest often conflicts can get out of hand when you argue emotionally and what was to me an academic point was percieved as a very personal attack by Jeremy who was treatening me with writs even though nothing I said was in any sense defamitory , this from a barrister Ho Hum.
    Any way I am saving the url to your piece for future reference

  19. TC says:

    When the other person is a rejected online prostitute who is bent on “getting even” for the rejection of her services it is hard to “move on” when her and her co-horts get together and post negativity and lies about you using your name. Writing blogs as you saying derogitory sexually degrading things about yourself that newbies who don’t know you but want to know you look up your name and see these post.
    Very hard to just “move on” when your not doing anything but get floods of emails from perverts and other people interested in your sexual perspectives when they are not yours. It’s a daily chore to answer these emails telling them “I have a couple of stalkers” Ignoring the emails make the emailers or commenter email more. I even got emails from the Dr. Phil show asking me to be a guest because of my sexual perversion that are depicted by this hater. Yet it is not me writing those blogs.
    Whats your suggestion that?

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Der Problogger Darren Rowse hat auf seiner Seite einmal 15 Tipps zusammengefasst, um auf Kritik zu reagieren. In einem späteren Beitrag ergänzte er dann noch, dass sich vor allem ein Tipp immer wieder bewährt hat: Die Diskussion an Ort und Stelle aufnehmen. [...]

  2. [...] O J.Noronha do “O Fim da Várzea” também escreveu um post, inspirado no artigo “What to Do when Your Blog is Attacked” do Darren Rose. Vale a pena dar um pulo para ler as dicas dele. [...]

  3. [...] An apology of sorts There comes a time in most blogger’s experience when blogging just sucks. When you communicate in a public forum you are automatically put under scrutiny – when you communicate online there seems to be an added pressure as there is an anonymity on the web that seems to cause some people to loose all sense of reasonableness, courtesy and inhibitions (a dangerous combination). From Problogger.com: What to do when your blog is attacked [...]

  4. [...] Darren Rowse – What to Do when Your Blog is Attacked [...]

  5. [...] are several ways to get away: close comments on the attacked posts, keep on writing about your usual topics, rather than getting [...]