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Friday, April 24, 2009

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Blogging 101: Session III

My House, My Rules

This is not my favorite topic, and I think we should spent as little time with it as possible. But trolls do exist, and newbie bloggers need the heads up. A friend of mine started a blog a few years ago, and was attacked by a very nasty troll in her first month. His/her vicious comments shook her up badly, and she locked the blog down.

In her case, it was a drive-by troll, the kind of belligerence that Kate of Sweet Salty once perfectly characterized as a dog barking out the open window of a speeding car. It's just random meanness—the online equivalent of vandals tipping over flower pots. I hope it never happens to you, but if it does, I hope you won't stop planting flowers.

A troll is someone who is unhappy, bored, unhinged, or just plain mean enough to want to take it out on someone else. Trolls are looking for a diversion from their own misery. The general consensus among bloggers has been not to give them one. If you encounter a troll, treat it as if you would a wild dog. Cross the street. Don't make eye contact. Wait for them to move on. Most trolls are just really lonely people. They'll take negative attention if it's the only attention they can get.

Sometimes, trollish or threatening behavior needs to be called out. But proceed with caution. We bloggers can be a little defensive sometimes, and not every critical or clumsy comment is truly hostile. From time to time, solidarity goes overboard, and the torches and pitchforks come out. There have been comment wars that made the blogger and her supporters look worse than the offender. It hurts people who aren't really trolls. And it rewards those who are, because feeling victimized is many a troll's preferred drug.

In my experience, registered comments will filter out most trolls. Yes, I know I lose a few commenters who are shy, or have trouble with the verification codes. They can always email me. I put my name on my opinions. I require that others do so with theirs. There are old-school bloggers who are very rigid about letting every comment stand, no matter what. I think that's nonsense. The paper doesn't publish every letter to the editor verbatim, and neither do I.

I've deleted comments where offline friends and family have shared personal information (like the kids names) that I choose to keep private (sorry, mom). I delete spam comments. I've deleted religious prostyletizing that I felt bordered on hate propoganda. Not in my house, not on my blog.

And that's the acid test for me, really, in deciding how to handle hostility, the rare time it occurs. How would I handle this offline? Would I permit it in my living room? Would I dignify it with a response if it was shouted by a crazy person on the sidewalk? Would I round up all my friends and neighbors to shout back at them? If someone kicks over my flower pot, and tells me I had it coming for putting my flower pot out there on my front porch, do I accept that?

Of course not. Those people can keep moving. The rest of you, come in! Let's put some coffee on. I'm so happy you're here.

Up next week: Blogging kids.

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Blogger Bill said...

Heck, I'd be happy to have enough readers to get a troll! :)

And you mention something called "the paper." You might want to explain that to your younger readers. *laugh*

10:47 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

I haven't had a troll, but once I felt treated like one by a blogger. It was very hurtful, and I do believe the blogger did look worse than me, although I don't believe I was an "offender". I was surprised that I let it bother me. I'm 42, I'm busy, I have children, a life - this was nonsense.

Great advice!

10:55 AM  
Blogger Kyran said...

I'm sorry Chris, I've seen people take offense where none was given, and it's not pretty. I would like to see the defensiveness dialed down a notch across the board. I believe in giving people the benefit of doubt.

11:01 AM  
Blogger katherine said...

Oh, you're so smart and great. I love to read your writing! xo!

11:17 AM  
Blogger Amy B. said...

Well said, Kyran. Attention seekers disappear when no one gives them attention. Those angry, bored, self-loathing trolls are best ignored.

But hate speech, violence, excess profanity -- nope, sorry, not on my blog. My blog is the United States of Moi, and it don't need no stinkin' Constitutional rights.

That said, I found it always works best for bloggers to decide in advance what their posting guidelines will be, and to publish those guidelines for all to see. Make the guidelines clear and specific. Your guests will know your rules upfront, and your regular commenters will feel secure, knowing that if a bully enters the playground, Momma will sort him out right quick.

11:35 AM  
Blogger Ashley said...

I've had a few instances of trollishness on my blog but after I stopped allowing anonomyous commenting they poof! disappeared, just like magic.

Great advice though. I wish I would have read it about this time last year because at first I was upset and set my blog to private but then I remembered that's not why I write. I write for me, my readers, my family. Not someone with nothing better to do than troll the interwebs searching for someone to hurt.

12:55 PM  
Blogger tysdaddy said...

Spam is fairly easy to identify and purge. But occasionally, a commenter gets through be appearing genuine. I had one such experience: a lady took issue with something I wrote, pecked out a long, honest comment, so I let it through. It started a nice back and forth among my regulars. But then, she just kept coming back, each time with a more pronounced message revealing her true intentions. I contacted her personally and tried to clarify some things, but got no response beyond more of the same. So I put her back on moderation, and I haven't heard from her since.

I don't think she was a troll. She never linked to anything or encouraged anyone to check out this our that website. But she had an ax to grind, and I decided I would not give her a forum.

Great series. I'm a new reader, and love your insights . . .

1:14 PM  
Blogger Susan Campbell said...

I missed out on the whole troll thing, but I do love to read your blog when I have a free moment! Thank you for being you and sharing yourself so candidly. I always read something that I need to hear and that is priceless. I'm going to keep planting flowers...

1:47 PM  
Blogger CrowNology said...

Great post.
I am a 'Newbie Newfoundlander Blogger';)...and I love reading your blogs and your mom's blog (at least I think it's your mom's blog).
Thanks for the great advice.

2:31 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth Harper said...

I've had my own experience with a troll and her nasty comments and crazy behavior. My troll adopted an alias more than once and I was so concerned she might pretend to be me and contact my readers that I told them about her here.

Later she left a message using her real name and I went ahead and outed her. I wrote about who she was....identifying her so she couldn't pretend to be anyone else.

She stalked me and my family...finding my daughter through a newspaper article even though I'd never given any clues at that point. (She connected us through myspace)

She called my home repeatedly on my wedding day during a small family reception and sent threatening emails over and over. I contacted the police, but wouldn't you know...she has to basically be in front of me threatening me physically in order to stop her. (as in arrest)

After finding my cell phone number on a community website where I chaired the neighborhood safety committee, she proceeded to call me at all hours of the day and night, as late as 3:30 am and up to 20 to 30 times a day.

I blasted her on my website after months of putting up with her crap and changed to another website that would allow me to moderate any comments.

Ignoring her didn't work...making her feel some pain personally though posting her vicious comments and emails seems to have had some impact. I can see though my site meter that she still reads my blog, but now she no longer can comment.

I've been blogging since last June and everyone has been delightful with the exception of this one crazy woman.

Thanks for tackling this tough subject.

4:18 PM  
Blogger Kyran said...

Elizabeth, that's horrible. What's astonishing is that someone can carry on that way and not have the self-awareness to see how deranged it is.

The internet didn't invent crazy, malicious people, but they sure do breed on it.

4:52 PM  
Blogger sweetsalty kate said...

Ahh, if only it were as easy to delete the racket of barking dogs as it is to delete that of barking lunatics.

I pretty much adopt the same conduct online as I do in-person. If you're rude, you get one chance to blame your behaviour on hormones. After that you get your beer and your whoopie pie confiscated. Then, quietly and without an audience, you get shown either the back door or the compost heap.

Great series, Kyran.

8:32 PM  
Blogger Rowena said...

I once got a troll, and debated with myself whether to let the comment stand out of the interest of free speech.

Then I realized they didn't add anything to the conversation, weren't on topic, and were just inappropriate. Why entertain the meanness? So I just up and deleted. it was drive by. Nothing since.

I like "my house, my rules."

12:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think this is fantastic advice.

Trolls feed on the energy.

5:05 PM  
Blogger Joy! said...

I've been lucky so far - no trolls on my (sparsely read) blog. I'm in great sympathy with the stories I hear!

I did once have a real-life friend turn into a troll in person, and it was nasty, ugly and wretched. In between weird and abusive episodes, she'd try to pretend she was just blowing off steam and no hard feelings. Yeah-hah. Like the online trolls, she'd use whatever I gave her, good or bad, to generate more drama and nastiness. I had to adopt a zero-tolerance policy and just disengage completely. It was a good life lesson, but a hard one. Like Elizabeth, I also had to be upfront and matter-of-fact with other people about her behavior. I wasn't going to let her hide in the dark. She did still singe a few others though.

Great series! I like your last couple of paragraphs with your personal guidelines. Something to think about.

11:02 PM  
Blogger 2 Kids 3 Martinis said...

I'm so glad I re-found you and this post! I've had this problem in the past and was unsure of how to handle it and you just reinforced what I was thinking.
And I am now officially adding you to my blogroll. :)

11:04 AM  

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