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How to Deal with Blog Hecklers

The following post on dealing with blog hecklers was submitted by Jonathan Fields.

Blog-HecklersI was only a few weeks into my blogging adventure when I took my first very public thrashing at the feet of another much more established blogger. I’d written a round-up column, featuring insights from a wide variety of top bloggers on off-blog marketing.

A number of suggestions included developing relationships with more established bloggers. The very notion that anyone might connect with other bloggers, though, and derive some secondary marketing benefit really ticked off some hardcore traditionalists…and their really big followings.

In fact, one was so enraged, he posted a response to my article on his blog tearing not just into the content of the article and the people featured in it, but me, personally. And, while a number of his readers left comments on my blog, his comment section really caught fire.

I ended up being called names that, only three-weeks into blogging, made me seriously re-think whether I really wanted to keep going.

But, after stepping back, I decided to continue on and accept the fact that one of the elements of blogging that makes it so compelling is the opportunity for everyone to have a voice. And, sometimes that includes what I’ve come to call blog or comment-heckling.

If I was going to continue, I decided, I’d need to develop some reasonable framework for being able to categorize the different types of blog-heckling, then decide what was worth responding to and how.

Here’s what I came up with as my golden rule…

Try to get to the underlying intent of the commenter.

If you find yourself or your ideas being attacked in a comment or even a post on someone else’s blog, it’s important to try to understand what the commenter is trying to accomplish by voicing her/his opinion. This will go a long way toward letting you figure out how best to respond, if at all:

The genuine thrasher.

Some people literally spend the better part of each day looking for a fight. It makes them come alive. And, very often, with the added separation of the screen, people feel even freer to let loose online.

These folks often look to provoke a fight and seek an active response as fuel to escalate the fight. They’re less interested in a genuine conversation or debate and more interested in just venting, proving dominance and ranting.

A quick click over to their blog or search for comments they’ve left on other blogs will usually reveal this pattern on a broader level.

My advice, here, is to make a conscious choice, based on your temperament and what result you’d like to achieve. If you are someone who shies away from conflict, you may want to explore either ignoring the attack with reply or simply replying one time, responding only to any relevant point or arguments in a respectful way and leaving the conversation at that. If they feel to the need to escalate, just disengage.

If, however, you’ve got a bit more sass in your step and are someone who’s comfy with conflict, then go ahead and engage…BUT, take the higher ground, keep it civil and attack the issues, not the person. Yes, I know emotional fights and rants can drive traffic, but, in the end, the net result is not all that constructive.

The PR thrasher.

Similar to the above, but some folks will actually provoke a comment war in attempt to drive traffic or publicity to their own blog or website.

One big giveaway here would be to check out the heckler’s blog, then search on them, especially the link text they used in your comments and see if they are using this same tactic in other more highly-trafficked blogs.

If they consistently link back to a newer, less-trafficked blog when they leaves thrasher comments or have a pattern of leaving highly-provocative comments on other higher-traffic blogs, you’ve likely got a PR thrasher. My advice is to pretty much ignore them. The more engage, the more you give them what they want and more often they’ll return.

The debater.

Similar to the genuine thrasher, some people just love to debate and, if they disagree with your point of view, they want the opportunity to be heard and have a discussion on the merits.

The difference between debaters and thrashers is a genuine desire to discuss an issue with a stronger emphasis on intelligent conversation and, if possible, resolution. It’s not about the fight, it’s not about abusing or disempowering anyone…it’s about the conversation.

You can usually tell the difference between the debater and thrasher by the tone of their language, their focus more on the message, rather than the messenger, and their openness to a continuing, civil discussion. It’s not about name-calling or belittling, it’s about exploring issues with respect.

Debaters can be great contributors to the community as well as help you refine your own point of view and learn new information.

The Joker.

Some people look at your comment-section as their weekly comic relief and chime in with jokes about you or your content. And, I have to admit, sometimes, they can be really funny and a welcome addition (or distraction from) the discussion.

Other times, though, they don’t really add anything, save an opportunity to hurl a bit of smack at either a blogger or another commenter.

I look at these comments on a case-by-case basis and, though I rarely ever delete any comment, if something is so irrelevant to the discussion, off-color or offensive that I think it genuinely adds nothing or, worse, propagates hate, I’ll seriously consider going beyond ignoring it to deleting it. Genuine hate, bigotry or prejudice is not something I want to provide a forum for.

Trust in the community.

A final thought. Once your community grows large enough, very often, if you give them enough time, your supporters and fans will rally to your cause in the comments. In fact, they may even engage a blog-heckler, where you’d rather have just let a comment die a slow, unacknowledged death. At that point, you have to decide whether to step back and gently moderate or take a more active role in the direction of the conversation.

In the end, it’s important to circle back to one critical understanding…

Compelling blogging requires a willingness to have and share a voice.

When you do that, you not only draw attention, you inspire conversation. And, there will always be people willing to oppose your point of view in a effort to further their agendas. Sometimes, those agendas are constructive. Other times, not. When this happens, it helps to have a strategy to deal with how and when to respond.

Over time, my guess is we all develop a set of comment-heckler coping tools that allow us to keep sharing strong opinions. Without those tools, it’s just too easy to slip into fluff in an effort ot avoid having to deal with any conflict.

And, by all means, if you have found any other techniques effective, please share them, along with your thoughts, in the comments. Heckle away!

image by Simon Kimber

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. Buy Website says:

    Great topic to write on.

    At first I was a little shy when someone complained or tried to be a bully. It didn’t take long for me to realize that these people are worse off being who they are and having to live with themselves. Not worth my time or concern.

    Michael

  2. I got heckled when I started blogging in 2005 and onwards to 2006. Just keep up your head, blog with might… and always think that there is life other than blogging.

  3. Tom Beaton says:

    It is just a part of life. No need to worry though as you develop a readership people will stand up for you too.

  4. Gizmo says:

    If it’s a particularly nasty or useless comment, just don’t approve it. If it’s not going to add value to your blog, why allow it?

  5. There are people that enjoy in that, some are just impulsive and some don’t know what are they talking, they just know to argue.

  6. Joe says:

    I get a lot of stuff with people cussing me out. I don’t get why they do it, and I just delete their stuff.

  7. Troy says:

    I’ve always been very surprised to see what things get people upset enough to leave a negative comment. The longest comment thread on my website was a fiery debate about whether StumbleUpon needed a report duplicate button, and the second longest was with one of my regular readers who objected to the use of stock images in my posts.

    What I’ve learned to do is redirect the focus of their comment if you must respond, saying something like “I’ll keep that in mind if I’m ever….” Confronting accusations head-on distracts you from the more important things, and it never seems to work.

  8. ITrush says:

    Very informative. Stumbled.

    nhick
    http://www.itrush.com

  9. http://www.penny-arcade.com/docs/internetdickwad.jpg

    I actually took a class in college about the anonymity of the Internet and find that in my own experience, most times it boils down to the above link but I love that you’ve given labels to seek out so hecklers that are sincerely attempting debate may get a second shake.

  10. Personally I’d love to have something I write be trashed by John Chow or Scoble or the like. I could use the publicity. :)

    Blog comments can attract the same kinds of trolls that you see on forums or other public discussions. Most often it’s best to just ignore them. At first they can seem like they want to engage in a constructive debate but really the goal is to sow discord and engaging with them at all just encourages them to continue.

  11. Anthony says:

    This is good but anyone have a article that explain how to deal with vbulletine hacker?

  12. I think this is too much effort to determine what’s most often quite obvious. If you’ve spent more than about an hour at a discussion forum — and I assume most everyone has — then you’ve seen all of this behavior before. Many times.

    Same rules apply with blogs. The difference, though, is you own your blog… so you get to make the rules.

    And the rules don’t have to be elaborate.

    If you’ve got a halfway decent bullshit detector, and can resist your urges to take someone’s bait, then you should be just fine.

  13. I learned early on to stay out of sticky debates, and don’t be afraid to close the comment thread if it gets too messy. Two lessons I won’t ever forget.

  14. Fun topic.

    I am still excitedly waiting for my first negative comment, I think those people are hilarious.

    My latest post, Malicious Content, discusses the nastiness going on in the entertainment world and media right now. There is a point when malicious intent is just not funny or entertaining anymore.

    Me, I guess I am a debater/joker/complimenter. If I think what I have to say is important and no one else is saying it, I will say it. But if half the comments already address what bothers me, I usually leave it up to someone else.

    My favorite is watching commenters come in and defend the blogger against the rude lashing. That entertains me highly.

    What really annoys me is when every single comment is praise and agreeing with the blogger. BORING! People need to have some gusto. A blogger who just wants everyone to agree with them and who argues heatedly in their own defense with anyone who doesn’t agree with them is BORING.

    Let people have an opinion. Why else are we here writing if not to inspire debate and to learn?

    Good post.

  15. I make it a rule that the more someone baits me on a personal level, the harder I am on their intellectual position.

    It is a much easier response that trying to reply in kind to personal attacks.

  16. OldSailor says:

    Upcoming bloggers comment for visibility

  17. I’ve also been subjected to this – I had some terrible abuse from StumbleUpon users about one of my posts. At the time I was quite upset by it and posted a follow up post basically whining about it. In hindsight I think that was a mistake.

    I’ve also taken some flak from my ebook about WordPress. Basically the more you write, the bigger your audience becomes the more chance you have of being heckled in one way or another. It’s just life.

    These days I do my best to simply ignore it and focus on the good things in life. Works for me.

  18. Everything in this post is correct. I have always found that a good response to hecklers or anyone else that wants to rant and rave is to let them. Sooner of later (most of the time sooner) they run out of steam and go away. If you start a debate, fight, discussion with them, all you are really doing is encouriging them and giving them what they want, the spotlight.

  19. @ Everyone – The interesting thing about the example I referred to in this article is that the lashing I took did not come in the form of a comment on my blog, but rather, an extensive article on someone else’s, replying to mine.

    So, even though, I own and have ultimate control over the comments on my own blog, I couldn’t do anything about the conversation and comments over at his.

    This is what made me really feel the need to step back and get a grip on how I wanted to handle attacks not only in my own comments, but across the blogosphere in general.

  20. Mark says:

    My technique is to highlight the ignorance of the really whacked out ones by creating a post for their comment/email. A little humor can go a long way.

    By responding that way it lets people know that I read their email/comments, not to mention really show the commenter for what they are.

    I even created a special section for it on my site:
    http://www.eatingcleveland.com/category/we-hate-mark/

  21. Mr.NiceGuy says:

    Nice post. Me I moderate my blog this week because some spammers are rally victimizing blogs and you cannot trace them because they don’t have record on the aliases they use. It’s better to disengage with them. If you engage they would surely frequent the visits and its kinda annoying.

  22. One could always delete (or not approve) abusive comments. The problem with such comments is that they often lead to more of same — and then you get an all-out war. (Though, admittedly, some blogs thrive on that sort of stuff.)

  23. Rob Kingston says:

    What a CRAP article!

    :P

    —-
    I’ve come to enjoy hecklers. They reresent an opportunity to prove yourself. Like a sort of test. Come heckle me Jon.

  24. Jonathan:

    Great write up – despite my steadily growing community at my blog, I am rarely heckled, if at all but every now and then someone would criticize me. Something you said struck me and that was how your loyal subscribers will rise to the occasion and defend you without you needing to do much of anything.

    One time someone said something about one of my videos. Imagine my surprise when a few loyal subscribers banded together to “protect” me. I was surprised, if not amused by this.

    Another time a bunch of pilots wrote irate comments about a story I wrote, setting off a nerve within that community. Most of them were abusive – they were deleted, even spammed out of existence. My blog is no place for hateful, abusive comments. Some of them had genuine advice in them but they were peppered with abusive language so out the door they went. Too bad. I would have let them stay if they weren’t so abusive.

  25. Fabulous Article! Thought provoking to decide to put all of the comments neatly into categories.
    I find the most amusing comments on my blogs are those of the individual that decides to assume the part of the “All Knowing” moderator. Stepping back and listening makes me smile.

  26. coolingstar9 says:

    Very useful information for me. Have a nice week.

  27. Sticks and stones will break my bones but blogs will never hurt me!

  28. Chris says:

    I wonder if blog heckling has to do with the person writing the posts.

    I’ve have a couple of different blogs — and once wrote regular guest posts on another. I haven’t experienced blog heckling personally on my blogs — since most of my traffic is obtained via search engines, readers are naturally inclined to enjoy the subject matter.

    But, on the blog where I used to guest post, I remember the author always coming under fire from all sorts of people for his posts. Some people seem to be lightning rods for controversy and a lot of it has to do with their “blog demeanor.”

    Just as some people can go out in the real world and never run into trouble, there are some who always seem to get into scuffles. The blogosphere is no different.

  29. Olin Coles says:

    I very recently suffered your same experience, After several days of very hard work, I published the largest article of its kind (http://benchmarkreviews.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=138&Itemid=1) and somehow daydreamed of star accolades for my effort.

    What I got was close, but the dream turned to nightmare as several very-negative comments (from genuine thrashers) could be found in related forums web-wide. Normally I could take this in stride, but they often made me wish the Internet wasn’t so anonymous. Live and learn, and the next time Benchmark Reviews (http://benchmarkreviews.com) breaks new ground we’ll be ready to return fire.

  30. Colm says:

    I attracted the attention of a “heckler” a few months ago. I deleted an anonymous comment on my blog which was abusing another individual with libellous comments. The “heckler” took exception to this and for the next two to three weeks posted a number of comments on my blog and on other related blogs attacking me on a personal basis. Initially I responded to the comments but soon realised it was pointless as the individual wasn’t interested in a reasoned discussion. Other readers of my blog started to get involved in arguments with “anonymous” and this just made things worse.

    Eventually I had to engage comment moderation and filter out his/her comments. The final comment was a gloating one about how my activation of comments proved that they had won and proved my “inferior intellect”. For me that final comment provided more of an insight into mind of the individual. They were basically looking for some form of self gratification by challenging and “defeating” a high profile name.

    I learned a few things from the experience:
    - You may not be able to reason with them because often their motivation is not rational.
    - For every one abusive heckler you are likely to have many more loyal supporters who will come to your defence. While that’s nice to know it unfortunately isn’t always a good thing when you are trying to defuse a situation.
    - Responding to them only makes things worse. You wouldn’t get into an argument with an abusive drunk in a bar and the anonymity of the internet has the same effect as drink on some individuals. Just walk on by.
    - As Scott Adams says “Never get involved in a debate with an idiot. They drag you down to their level where they beat you to death with stupidity”.

  31. Wakish says:

    That’s a good analytical article. Good job!

    - Wakish -

  32. Lex G says:

    One of the things that I didn’t like about how the Blogosphere mechanism of ‘getting over’ works is : more established bloggers protecting their position by trying to control information in certain ways. For instance by stirring up reactions and by using other techniques available to them due to their momentum (large base that blindly and gladly follows).

    While I never had this problem (then again, I only blogged for some like 4 months before I got fed up) this article reminds me of one of the main things a new blogger has to keep in mind whenever they find themselves pushed into a corner.

    Stay calm (take your time), analyze what’s happening, think about good reactions, and continue working on the topic that stirred the heckle up while holding on to your own opinion and values.

    Not letting others divert you from your opinion and the way you handle other people’s comments is essential to finding your own blogging voice and retaining or building up it’s power.

    Interesting article, it’s about a subject that could happen to many new bloggers …

  33. Avenefica says:

    This is a great article with excellent guidance on how to deal with a touchy situation. Jonathan serves a reminder that we can handle obtrusive ugliness with style and grace and essentially come out smelling like a rose.

    I wish this article was available when I got my first zinger. That experience prompted me to write this: http://www.ehow.com/how_2205603_handle-negative-comments-blog.html

    Granted, it’s a bit Zen’ish & bare-bones…Jonathan goes into much better detail. Thanks for the post!

  34. Maryann says:

    Darn, dude–completely and randomly, I fell into this discussion immediately after reading a completely different blogstorm of a discussion aimed at someone with your same name at blog Freelance Switch, which started the same day as this post. It appears you’re the same guy. Ouch. In my real life, I have to deal with a lot of this stuff–but if you’re just Mr. Mild Mannered Typist, you have bad luck. Very.

    Or whatever.

  35. shelley l says:

    Wow. I wish I had read this article 3 years ago.

    My blog was getting alot of attention due to some commercial success in the music industry. Then, the heckling began. I was so turned off that I stopped blogging for quite some time. Now, unfortunately due to that, I lost abit of readership.

    Your article makes me realize that this sort of heckling behaviour is common, and that I am not alone. You and other readers here have given valuable advice on how to cope with these people.

    I like the quote from blogger Colm here:
    “- As Scott Adams says “Never get involved in a debate with an idiot. They drag you down to their level where they beat you to death with stupidity”.”

    Thank you and have a wonderful day in and out of blog world.

  36. Johnny says:

    It’s so easy to over-look this issue when you are just starting out. For one, you are not getting that much traffic and two, the traffic that you are getting is not leaving many comments.

    However, I guess it is something that all bloggers will eventually have to deal with once they have been around for a while.

    BTW, good post, good topic…

    Johnny
    http://www.collegetidbits.com

  37. Matt B says:

    I am quite fond of a plugin I wrote. A basic DisEmVoweler that does violence to the vowels in the spiteful comment. It takes the sting out of it and while you can figure out the message if you want you don’t have to.

    I once considered an alternative if people felt my removing anything from a comment was wrong. I’d have the comments words put in alphabetical order with a note attached saying it was now a better comment and more logical. I did not do this in the end but I think it might have been funny.

    Most of the serious hecklers always seem to want to threaten to sue me and then they go and harass all my friends looking for support… it’s most strange.

    One even tried to have the registrar give him my domain name! It didn’t happen but some people really do get hot under the collar over the strangest things.

  38. Amazing post. This started happening to me today…quite sad.

  39. I almost quit after I’ve came under fire from other blogger, but decided to stick around…thanks for the advice on how to deal with it, Darren.

  40. coolingstar9 says:

    So far, I have not received rough comment but i have received some spam comment that filtered by some software on my other site.
    Continue blogging, have a nice day.

  41. Great post. I think there’s a great SNL character waiting to be made–the Internet Heckler guy.

    It turns out, all negative posts across the blogosphere are made by this one, bitter guy who has nothing better to do with his time.

    Funny thing is, a lot of blog heckling is done to position themselves as being brilliant, but anybody who gets unprofessional in their comments doesn’t get my respect–and doesn’t get my readership.