How to deal with bad blog comments
Thursday, 15 November 2007 — by Wayne Smallman
For the most part, ‘blogging is about telling a story. Often, opinions become part of that story. And not everyone will agree or understand those opinions, which can be the focus of unrest in your article comments. So what do you do about bad comments?
Over the years, I’ve had my fair share of heated and bad-tempered comments from people. Some people fire off a flame-filled comment anonymously and you never hear from them again, while some actually put their name to their scalding missives, which is at least admirable in some respect.
First and foremost, I write to express an idea, to articulate concepts and distill technologies into more comprehensible forms. I do so with the use of subtle word play and good spirited, largely harmless humour.
On occasion, it’s been a case of my dry and ironic British humour not traveling all that well. But the reasons for why people choose to write inflammatory, foolish or argumentative comments can be reduced significantly by following a few rules, which I try very hard to follow myself.
I’m very deliberate in my choice of words, and with good reason, too. Be sure you’re not inadvertently insulting a vocal minority with a glib, off-hand joke or observation in your writing.
If you do say something stupid — which generates a flood of negative comments — say you’re sorry and be quick about it! Word travels fast on the web and you could well be the focus of some very unwanted and unwelcome traffic.
Know thyself and thy topic
A lot of preparatory work goes into each article I write. So I’m usually very sure that I’ve got my facts right. If you feel you really must write about something you’re not 100% sure about, include a suitable disclaimer.
You’ll be surprised by how many people out there who will fire off an impassioned comment or two if your handling of a given topic isn’t the quality they’re expecting.
Not everyone is going to agree with your views, so you better get used to that. I like to throw ideas out there for people to think about and then reply to. But on occasion, you’ll get more than you bargained for.
Some people talk about things they don’t fully understand and then put those thoughts into an argumentative comment. This happened recently for me, and I regrettably made the mistake of allowing myself to be drawn into a petty spat of words.
These people are thankfully not representative of the broader population of the web, so totally ignore any abrasive, invective and insulting remarks and try to answer their questions simply, clearly and politely.
In rare instances these people are utterly impervious to reason and common sense, no matter how many times or with how much detail you answer their questions.
For the sake of maintaining a civil conversation — and also to avoid others being drawn into what is a pointless war of words — remove their comments, block comments to the article in question for the duration and then ignore the person causing all of the disruption.
In my experience, smart people can say and do some amazingly stupid things, which they will fight through fire & water to rationalize, rather than just admit they were wrong. So almost any attempt to reply to them is simply going to do little more than fuel their ego and fan the flames.
Yes, this is censorship, but it is also my right to remove what I feel are disruptive people from the conversation. And it’s not like it’s the first time I’ve thought about internet censorship, either.
Being the referee
A former ‘blogger friend wrote about a new service which raised some very challenging questions with regards to personal privacy.
A representative of the company behind the service entered into the dialogue, which soon turned very, very nasty. In this case, the guy being nasty did have a point. The problem was, his point was totally lost under the weight of fiery insults.
I had commented earlier, but I soon distanced myself, as I didn’t want to get drawn in. However, my friend had to attempt to take matters in hand and calm the situation down.
In these circumstances, it’s difficult to intervene if you feel that someone has a legitimate point. But point or not, there’s a time for heated debate, but it’s a time not suited for wayward and caustic remarks.
Making matters worse, these people could be friends of yours, but the best policy might just to be to delete their comments and block comments to the article until the heat of the moment has passed.
It’s ugly, it’s a thankless task, but if you’re serious about maintaining your reputation and building a valued sense of trust, you just have to do what needs to be done.
Keeping ‘blogging fun!
I’ll be honest with you guys, in times past, I’ve fired off the odd rant / comment of my own. So I’m no angel, but at least I do speak from experiencing both sides of the comment conundrum.
If like me, you want to keep a steadily growing tide of constructive and thoughtful comments coming through your ‘blog, then it’s as well to choose your topics and your words wisely.
For me, ‘blogging has to be fun and serious in equal measure, or why ‘blog at all…
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