Nasty Blog Comments: Human Nature on Blogs

Filed as Editorial, Features, Guides on June 2, 2008 10:36 am

High School Meets BlogsIn high school, we had the geeks, nerds, drama queens, beauty queens, jocks, jills, freaks, grungers, punkers, and band members. I’m sure there were more social classifications, but those were the most popular cliches. Every year I worried about going back to school and hating all the social isolation and groupings that formed, never wanting to be a part of any of them. I’d try to think of the start of the school year as a fresh clean slate. Maybe this year the jerks from last year would have had a mental make over and play nice. Maybe they would understand that relationships are built with honey not vinegar. Maybe the drama queens would tone down their drama, the beauty queens would find self esteem, and the jocks and jills would understand that grunts and poking fun at non-jocks just wasn’t fun any more. Maybe the geeks and the nerds would learn that it takes more than numbers and big words to carry on a conversation. And the grungers and punkers would realize what is under the paint and clothing defines your personality or character more than the costume. I knew there was no hope for the band and choir members. We understood the social in team work early on, and how to protect each other within our group.

The transition happened for some, I’m sure, but within the first few weeks of school, we knew which kids were the losers, asses, and bullies to avoid, the twits and sillies to laugh at, and the queens and kings we envied for their calm, cool, self-confidence and voted them as student body officers, even though we really hated them – or at least made fun of them from our weird little corners of our social world.

The move from static HTML to dynamic blog platform opened my website to social interaction, interaction that was both welcome and terrifying. Over time, those who hung around and contributed through blog comments became part of my social cliché, brought together by common interest. I felt like blogs were the next generation from the first usenet groups and online forums which gathered together people with a common interest to exchange information and form support groups. As with all such social groups, you have your good guys and bad guys, along with the geeks, nerds, jocks, jills…oh, and band members.

Social networking emerged on the web, expanding the social relationship climate for online users, using blogs, bookmarks, peer pressure, and a variety of networking options to create new cliches, new social groups. While Web 2.0 is moving the world online and forward with relationships crossing borders, cultures, religion, and even languages, have we really left our high school mentality behind?

Mean Spirited Commenters and Bullies Come to Roost

I’ve written a lot about mean spirited comments, comment tips and techniques, and when commenters get out of control. What surprises me is how people are so shocked when a comment bully appears on their blog. They often find my blog posts and ask me what to do about it.

Why is anyone surprised by this behavior? Remember, we humans bring our experiences and history with us to the web. Bullies will always be bullies, online and off. Jerks will be jerks. Just as I hoped at the start of the school year that they would change, few changed. Just because the location changes, the nastiness of human social behavior do not. The more people entering the virtual world of the web, the more uglies join the crowd.

Don’t let their visit influence you. One or two nasty commenters shouldn’t change your blog experience. Look at the odds. One person recently complained that their site gets 50-100 comments a day but how this one nasty commenter was ruining the experience for everyone. Really? One comment out of maybe 500 a week is a problem? Does everyone who reads your blog read every comment on every blog post on your blog? Not everyone who reads a blog post will read every comment. The people impacted are the ones reading that particular post and finding that particular comment. What are those numbers? One? Two, twenty? Fifty? And not everyone who reads your blog post will comment, so maybe the numbers are a little higher, but are they really offended by the commenter? Or is it you with the problem?

The only one truly feeling the heat is you, the blog administrator. It is your response to the mean commenter that sets the tone for everyone involved.

How do you respond? You are in charge of the comments on your blog. You choose what appears or disappears. You can edit blog comments or delete them. You can leave them, respond, or let others respond.

The best protection from nasty commenters is prevention. Here are some steps you should take to help you set the game rules for blog comments in all forms on your blog.

  1. Define Your Comment Policy: Test yourself. Set up scenarios in your mind about what you will or will not allow on your blog. Will you allow swear words? All of them or only certain “acceptable” words? What about name calling? Will you allow arguments within your blog comments? Will you allow signatures and signature links? Are nicknames and search term keywords in the comment name acceptable or not? Will you allow them to publish email addresses or private information? What about links? What about HTML in the comments? The more clearly you define your comment policy, the easier it is to act when those scenarios occur.
  2. Publish Your Comment Policy: A clear public comments policy defines what you will or will not allow on your blog so everyone knows the rules. This sets the guidelines and answers any questions. Be sure and follow it.
  3. Comply with Your Comments Policy: There will always be exceptions to the rules, but no one likes people who don’t play by the rules. If you say you won’t allow swear words, then nuke them when they appear. Use Plugins to bleep swear words or put specific keywords in comments into moderation. If you won’t allow signature links, then edit and delete the links in the comments to set an example. Whatever your policy, practice what you preach.
  4. Update Your Comment Policy: As your blog evolves, your feelings about blog comments will change. Maybe your skin will toughen and you will be more willing to allow more abusive comments. Or maybe you will toughen your stance and be more willing to hit the delete key to keep your comments clean. As your position on comments change, so should your comment policy.

Here are more articles I’ve written on the subject of blog comments to help you set your ground rules and guidelines and develop your comment policy.

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  1. By Thud posted on June 2, 2008 at 12:44 pm
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    I recently wrote a commenting policy, and I noticed that while I had it online comments dropped off somewhat, especially from new posters; when I hid it, comments picked back up again.

    I wonder of comment policies suppress participation — if it forces people, even regular commenters, to second-guess that urge to comment.

    Reply

  2. By Lorelle VanFossen posted on June 2, 2008 at 3:35 pm
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    @Thud:

    I don’t believe your comment policy had anything to do with the comment traffic, depending upon where you put it. The addition of a link to your comments policy within the comments area has no impact. Spelling out your comments policy with a lot of confrontational language within the comment form area can.

    A comment policy is a guideline, used when there is an issue. It’s not meant to be a hammer. :D

    Reply

  3. By Jeff posted on December 9, 2008 at 3:28 pm
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    I see a day soon when we no longer have blog comments. It is amazing, particularly on political blogs, how nasty people are and the tendency of none of the comments to actually relate to the article at hand but the candidate or personality. Watch for it.

    Reply

  4. By Dennis Dalton posted on April 8, 2009 at 2:26 am
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    I am considering disallowing comments on my blog simply because I don’t want to deal with negative comments, I do not wish to be treated badly so why subject myself to it. The positive comments are nice, but do they really serve any purpose other than letting you know people are reading?

    Reply

    • By Lorelle VanFossen posted on April 9, 2009 at 6:45 am
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      It’s your blog, you control it. Delete it if you don’t like it, but why go for the ultimatum? Is every comment you get negative? If you don’t want negative comments by the bucket, consider how and what you blog. If it is only a few, you don’t toss out the whole barrel. We all get too sensitive when it comes to negative comments. They swell up in our heads and hearts and annoy us more than the more causal, overlooked nice comments.

      Just relax. Take a deep breath. Use your delete key wisely, and keep the comments open and keep blogging.

      The purpose of comments is conversation. You don’t want conversation, close them. However, you are then missing out on valuable feedback and insights that can come through the comment box.

      Reply

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