August 21, 2014

Drawing the Line Between Trolls and Constructive Criticism

For bloggers and social media users negative comments are an issue that arises every now and then. When talking on the subject of negativity there is a difference between a commenter expressing an opinion that differs from or challenges the opinion of the author, and a commenter that attacks the author. Most blog commenters show respect for the blogger even when they disagree. Some, however, seem like they have nothing better to do than spend their time bashing others. Certainly this is a very small minority of blog readers that get satisfaction from this practice.

In the year that I’ve been blogging I’ve only had a few of these comments directly on my blog, but derogatory comments on social media sites are much more common. Digg trolls have been notorious for quite some time, and StumbleUpon has its share also. Of course, not every negative comment comes from a “troll.”

The nature of blogging and social media lends itself to criticism. You can’t have the opportunity/ability for positive comments without also giving others the opportunity to disagree and challenge your opinions. Constructive criticism, differing views, and disagreements that can be supported are not only acceptable, but they can actually improve the information that is available to readers. The question then becomes, when does negativity turn into trolling and what should you do about it?

Key Differences Between a Negative Comment and Trolling

Anonymity

From my experience, most blog visitors that leave a harsh comment that isn’t intended to be taken as constructive criticism will be hesitant to leave their real name, email address and URL. I find it kind of funny that 95% of comments include a link to the commenters URL, but almost all of the remaining 5% come from readers who are strongly disagreeing or putting down the post (of course the percentage will vary according to the niche of your blog).

Those who are legitimately disagreeing with your post and providing constructive criticism will use their real information. For me, it raises a red flag when a commenter is negative without providing their own information. If they do leave their name, email address and URL, they are basically saying that they are willing to stand behind their comment, and that is respectable.

Abusive Language

Leaving a comment with harsh, abusive language and profanity is not a way to please most bloggers. Personally, I try to keep the content of my blog appropriate for anyone, so I will delete comments if the language is excessive, or I’ll simply edit the comment to remove offensive words. Trolls love to use language that will be found offensive by many.

Nothing Productive to Say

Constructive criticism is constructive because it helps to make something better. Negative comments can improve a post by showing various opinions and views, but if a comment is attacking without providing any reason or without backing up that opinion, it provides little value to anyone else.

Degrading to Others

One way to get a comment deleted immediately on my blog is to be disrespectful to other commentors. It’s natural and perfectly acceptable to disagree with others, but when it becomes malicious it crosses the line. In my opinion, a blogger needs to look out for his or her commenters by not allowing others to be unfair to them. Because I respect and appreciate the comments I receive from readers I don’t ever want any of them to be disrespected because of their views.

Not Someone You’ve Ever Seen Before

Most blogs tend to have comments from the same readers fairly frequently. If any of these readers leave a negative comment the chances are very good that they will be respectful in their disagreement. Most comments from trolls are first-time commenters that never have left a useful comment there before. Certainly first-time commenters are good thing in general, but this can be one determining factor when you are deciding on approving or deleting a comment.

What Attracts Comments from Trolls?

I’ve found that trolls are much more prevalent on social media sites than on blogs themselves. In many cases they’ll find you work on social media regardless of what you do, but here are a few things that I’ve found to draw trolls.

On Digg, Just About Anything

Even the most popular submission at Digg are likely to have a number of comments from trolls. You can write the best post of your life and if it becomes popular at Digg it’s almost certain to get its share of harsh comments.

Writing About StumbeUpon

Some of the most popular posts on this blog are the ones that focus on StumbleUpon (What Makes StumbleUpon Unique?, My StumbleUpon Wishlist, and 10 Ways to Be a Good StumbleUpon Friend). While those posts have also drawn a good response from readers and a substantial amount of traffic from SU, they have also gotten a number of reviews with negative comments. The negative comments, of course, are fine and just a part of social media. However, some of the comments go a bit beyond what you would expect from someone who simply doesn’t like your post, such as “Die in a volcano.” I’ve noticed the same on several posts on other blogs that cover StumbleUpon, many users simply just don’t like them.

Spamming/Excessive Sharing/Emailing

Being seen as a spammer is always a good way to attract trolls. For example, My StumbleUpon Wishlist contained a few items that several SU users thought were motivated by a desire to spam, and they are mentioned in the reviews of the page. Although I rarely use the existing share feature at SU, I do see how some of the items on the list would be seen in this light, so I’m not surprised by those reviews.

Poor Tags

One of the most common causes that I see for negative reviews and comments from trolls is a mistake being made in the submission process. If the post is submitted to the wrong category or uses tags that aren’t appropriate, these comments are much more likely. This is understandable that users want to see a specific type of content within the categories that they are following, but it’s unfortunate sometimes because in many cases it’s not the blog owner or writer that submits the post with the wrong tags, just a random reader.

Writing About Trolls

I’m guessing this topic will draw some trolls on StumbleUpon, but we’ll see.

How to Deal with Trolls and Negative Comments

Have a Comment Policy

One thing that I need to do for my own blogs is to develop a written comment policy. Some blogs already use these, and while they may not prevent comments from trolls, the policy will at least show that you have warned readers not to leave these types of comments unless they want the comment to be deleted. In my opinion and effective comment policy would encourage discussion and constructive criticism, but would discourage profanity and disrespectful comments towards the writer or other readers.

Don’t Be Afraid to Delete Comments When Justified

As the blog owner you have every right to delete a comment if you feel it needs to be done. I used to be more hesitant to delete comments out of a desire to give everyone their chance to voice their opinion, but now I also feel a need to keep the comment section free from things that may be offensive to other readers. I don’t want my readers to avoid my blog because of what they might find in the comments. If you feel someone has crossed the line, it may do more harm to allow the comment than to delete it.

Put it in Perspective

A few negative comments from thousands of visitors isn’t so bad. Most likely, the vast majority of comments are helpful and add to the discussion. If some Digg or StumbleUpon users have harsh things to say about your work, try not to let it bother you too much. Trolls can actually be a good sign with social media, it shows that people are seeing your pages. Items that aren’t popular tend to get very few trolls.

Think About Who the Trolls Are

When I had my first post on the front page of Digg and I saw a decent number of harsh comments it helped to realize that the average Digg troll is a teenager using the computer in their mother’s basement. I’m using my blog to improve a business, for a constructive purpose, so if others want to put down the content for their own entertainment, that’s not really a big deal. If the comments came from one of my peers that I respect, I would be much more affected.

Ignore Them

If the comment is on a social media site there is nothing you can do to edit or delete the comment. Your options are to respond of simply ignore them. In many cases they really wouldn’t even care if you have a legitimate response, they just want to be negative. My approach is to generally ignore negative comments on social media sites.

What Are Your Thoughts?

On the subject of negative comments and trolls, what are your feelings?

About Steven Snell

Steven is a web designer, blogger, and freelance writer.

6 comments

  1. Excellent post. Luckily I have not had any comments that I would consider offensive or disrespectful. I did list in my contact information that people should be respectful, and that I would delete objectionable content. Thanks for the post, it helps reinforce my original idea.

  2. I think the most important thing to remember is that ignoring a troll is the best way to get them to leave you alone. Like a real-life jerk, a troll is just waiting for a reaction.

  3. It¡¦s in point of fact a nice and useful piece of information. I am happy that you simply shared this helpful info with us. Please keep us informed like this. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Hello, just wanted to say, I enjoyed this article. It was helpful. Keep on posting!||

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