Really? Wow! What?!: Dealing With Negative Comments on a Blog

This morning I woke up to a stranger calling me a moron.

See, I have an iPhone app for my WordPress blog, and I get notifications when a comment comes in. It rarely happens that I get a comment in the late evening, so I haven’t bothered to change my settings out of sheer laziness. Well, this morning I did get a comment waking me up; actually two came in but they were from the same person, so I think of them as one. The first said what I had written was “bullshit” and the second called me a “moron.”

Do you like irony? The piece that he was commenting on (here) was about how Bruce Wayne has anger issues and could do more with his billions of dollars to help people if he really wanted to do than becoming Batman; so the fact that someone with the screen name of “Bruce Wayne” called me a moron and swore at me, kind of proved my point… Okay, maybe it’s not that funny a point but I think it is at least a little interesting to note, right?

Aint It Cool?

The fact is I know in the grand scheme of things (or more precisely websites) being called a “moron” is not a big deal. Have you ever visited, for example? Ain’t It Cool is a movie site for those that love movies, not just the watching them but the joy of creating them (It has reviews, spoilers, interviews, behind the scenes stuff, etc.).

The site is run by Harry Knowles and when he writes a film review he wears his heart on his sleeve, which means while you get an insightful review from someone who knows movies (the extent of the films he can reference always impresses the hell out of me), you also get his emotional reaction to a film. If he cries, he tells you; if he angrily hates a film, he tells you as well. I don’t always agree with him on his reviews, but I find him always a lot of fun to read; heck, I would like to meet him someday.

Anyway, on his site he has some of the angriest commenters I have ever seen. They attack everything in their comments under the posts, from the filmmakers who the post may be about to the writer of the article to Harry himself. And it’s no holds barred. I think I have learned new swear words thanks to visiting this site. Seriously, some language would be questionable on an adult site. Who these commenters are, I have no idea. I can’t imagine anyone who actually works in the film industry talking like this.

The thing is, Harry allows these comments. I mean, he doesn’t have to. He could stop all together the capability to comment on his site, but he doesn’t. So while these people write nasty things at him and call him a series of names, what they may not acknowledge is that the freedom they have to do that comes from the man that they are criticizing.

Personally, I don’t know how Harry does it, but he does and the negativity doesn’t stop him at all. He is still the same reviewer I have been reading for years. So when I think of my “moron” comment, I have to take it in the broader context of what is out there on the internet.

Mr. Impeach

A few months ago I had a pretty successful post about my old high school disappearing in a merger (here). I had mountains of comments from previous students of my school like me, sharing their memories, and their hopes and sadness over the school going away. It was like a big wake for the past, and it was happening on my site. One of the last comments I received on the site was from a screen name called, I kid you not, “ImpeachObama.”

Let me be honest and upfront here, I support President Obama, but as an American I find the word “impeach” offensive. I found it offensive when people used it in reference to President Bush and President Clinton, and I found it offensive here. Impeach is a last resort, an act of desperation on the part of our government. It is not something that should be thrown around willy-nilly, as it were, unless you have the juice to back it up.

Well, Mr. Impeach’s comment was all about his experience in school and I allowed it to post without a problem. Whenever someone writes on my site I like to acknowledge it and I did the same here. In a semi-innocent way, I replied “While I whole-heartedly disagree with your screen name, thanks for reading my post and commenting. Cheers.”

That is all I said. A sentence and one word.

A few weeks later I got a second post from Mr. Impeach, while it began about more high school memories it changed into something I could only call a “rant.” Five long paragraphs filled with all of the right’s talking points and attacks. It felt like talk radio on overdrive since it was all over the place.

Now, remember, this was an article on memories about going to high school.  Sigh.

So while I allowed the part of his post to remain where he talked about school, I deleted the rest; putting in its place a message in brackets from me saying I deleted the rest of the post and why I did it, which was, frankly, I didn’t want this page to go off topic into politics.

I heard from Mr. Impeach a third time asking me to take down all of his comments, which I happily did. He said he was just responding to me.

My one sentence and one word? Really? That is how you respond to one sentence?

But here is the thing that Mr. Impeach doesn’t know. I had the power to change his entire comment if I wanted to. (Add evil maniacal laughter here.)

Just imagine what I could have done… I could have turned his anti-Obama speech into a positive one. I could have made it sound like a religious conversion as he denounces all of the talking points (or as some would call them half-truths or, well, lies) he collected from Fox News and Rush Limbaugh. I could have changed every word of it and there would have been nothing he could have done about it… But I didn’t.

The funny thing is, in deleting his negative political things I was actually doing him a favor, but he doesn’t realize it (Heck, even at one point he argued that I probably thought he was racist… Remember, I wrote one sentence). Since that original article has had thousands of views from fellow people from our school and continues to be visited; well, it would have made him look pretty bad.

Goodbye, Mr. Impeach, and you’re welcome.

Poetic Silence

The fact is Mr. Impeach’s story for me illustrates a reason why I think a lot of people post in comments on articles around the internet. People want to be heard, they want their voice to mean something. Acknowledge me!

But why are they negative, mean, and personal? Shouting always gets attention over a whisper or a lecture in reality—we all learned that lesson when we were kids, right?—maybe it does the same thing on forum boards and comments?

But what does it feel like when your voice is silenced? I have had that experience as well thanks to this blog.

In the early months of blogging, I wrote a piece called “My Fear of Poets.” I talked about my time trying to understand poetry and poets, inspired by a billboard I saw supporting the Lansing Arts Council in Michigan. The billboard was nothing more but a quote from a poem, just one sentence, and I found it a little aggressive to see on the side of the road (You can read the post here).

As fate would have it, the poet who was quoted on that billboard found my blog… and she wrote about it. And to my utter amazement and horror, on her site she called me a sexist.

Me? A sexist? I have been called many names in my life but I have never been called that. Heck, I have more female friends than male friends!  Two of my novels are from the perspective of women, in which the characters find their inner strength to rise up! Sexist? Really?

Her reasoning was that since I wrote about her and since the professor I discussed in my article was also female I must be sexist. I have since reread that article a dozen times, and I still have no idea what she is talking about. Yet, after reading some of her interviews and posts though, I now believe, sadly, she had some baggage with her when she found my post; I fit into a mold for her, in other words.  Now how does this relate to not being heard?

Well, I wrote a short paragraph, apologizing that I made her feel that way, told her I was not sexist, and then humorously discussed all the male poets I am scared of as well (like, Lord Byron). I went on her site and posted this in her comments… but she never accepted my comment.

I was silenced.

So her readers don’t even know I replied, tried to argue my side of it! All they will forever see on her page is that she thinks I am a sexist. The complete unfairness of that decision on her part has influenced a lot of how I look at comments on my site.

My Rules

So here are the rules I have come up with around comments on my site. If a comment can pass these three points it gets up… no matter how much I disagree with it.

  1. Is it appropriate for the post (in other words does the argument relate to what the page is about)?
  2. Is there swearing? Is there any language that others might find offensive?
  3. Is it personal? Does it attack me or others who comment?

Those are my rules and I am sticking to them.

So while I thank Mr. Bruce Wayne for posting on my site, I am not going to put up the comments. I’m sorry he didn’t like my article, but hey, it’s a big internet out there. Maybe there are other sites he might agree with and he can write his opinion there?

On my way to work today I plan to pick up donuts. People always respond happily to donuts. That should cross off some of the bad karma of this morning, right? I mean, what can’t donuts solve?

Oh, and I am changing the setting on my phone.

If you liked reading my article, why not check out some of my books? I had two novels published in the last few years, My Problem With Doors and Megan. You can find them via my author page here. Thanks for reading!

6 thoughts on “Really? Wow! What?!: Dealing With Negative Comments on a Blog

  1. Great article, Scott. I recently had to have a discussion with my eldest son about what to allow and what to not allow as far as comments go. A dear friend and peer of his passed away unexpectedly. On my son’s Facebook page, he wrote a post about the tragedy as well as the hope we have because of our faith in Jesus. Well, as I’m sure you know, while that was probably very comforting to some people, it was also quite offensive to others, especially considering the newness of the grief. A few of his school peers (I won’t say they’re friends because that’d be a real stretch) said some pretty harsh things about my son. While I completely understood the reasons for their negative comments, I advised my son to remove them. This was not because there wasn’t validity in what they said, but because the family members of the deceased might see what amounted to a fight over the memory of their son. It was hard to see my son, who had put himself out there in the first place, be lambasted for his expression. At the same time, it was also important to not undermine the grief of those other boys by critiquing their statements. So, as an alternative, it seemed best to just remove their comments.

  2. Ruth, thank you for sharing. I think one problem is people don’t realize how they sound sometimes when they write. We all have experiences of reading (or even writing) e-mails or comments that are more harsh than the original thought. Still to write anything negative after a grief of such nature is inexcusable. Your son sounds like an amazing person.

  3. For what it’s worth, I find it a massive stretch to attribute any sexist leanings, conscious or otherwise, to your post.

    But, like you, I have to take free-form poetry with a grain (O.K., maybe a shaker) of salt. I’ve been so inundated with it that I struggle to take it seriously. I can see why there’s an appeal to it from writing side – it’s easier to do, but at the cost of being harder to do well. It can be done well, no doubt, but I’m not sure why, where it was once the exception, it now seems to have become the rule. I guess I just don’t understand all the hate for rhyme and meter these days – call me a classicist, but shaping meaning to lyrical rhythm is what I find appealing in poetry.

  4. Pingback: The Art of the Blog: Getting Personal « The Musings & Artful Blunders of Scott D. Southard

  5. Really great post. I’ve long had issues with the comments section of anything. I love the idea of feedback on anything I’ve written, or to know that I’ve started a conversation, or given someone an idea. That’s always great to hear. But there will ALWAYS be someone who has to leave a negative comment just for the sake of it.

    I used to get really drawn into these conversations, trying to defend myself, or correct any misunderstandings they’d had through reading (or not reading properly) the article. But I found it just made my blood boil and ruined the experience of writing in the public domain for me. Which is a shame as I think it’s always fun when the author of the piece is around to answer questions or further explain ideas, etc.

    So, for better or for worse, I tend not to read the comments now (except on my own blog). I write, I submit, if the editors like it then it goes up, and that’s good enough for me. I am then happy to leave the article to stand on its own merit, and leave the commentators to speak for themselves – showcasing themselves as open-minded and intelligent, or angry and abusive, as they see fit.

    As for Harry on aintitcool, I love his enthusiasm but really wish he’d think a bit longer about what he’s writing as it’s not always that easy to follow his gushing… but yeah, kudos to him for leaving a lot of that vitriol on his site. I haven’t had any abuse on my blog yet (you need readers for that!), but it’ll be interesting to see how I deal with it. I shall bookmark this post for just such a time I think. 😉

    • Thanks for writing!

      It’s an older post, which is funny since I had a new experience recently. I had one of my writing posts shared on the Passive Voice site and I had a series of negative comments from it. A few even snuck their way onto my site which I responded to in turn.

      I’ve only had to block one person from my site though since I wrote this. He wrote a comment I was sure some would find offensive (heck, he even began by calling me stupid). The funny thing is he kept trying to get on my blog for a few weeks after; I think he has finally realized I had blocked him.


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