In every public forum, you must always behave with class and patience even if you feel like verbally beating to death a trolling, commenting, bullying asshole. Even if they deserve it. Even if you are possessed by the righteous wrath of the Gods.
You must, in all places of public discourse, even if it is your own blog or website, stay your hand, brush away the unkind, blistering words, and scream your swear words into the privacy of your home office. Do not, under any circumstances, type them.
This isn’t advice. This is a rule you must follow for your own sake and for the sake of anyone who thinks you hang the moon. I’m not kidding. If you want to become a public blogging figure with a very public presence and a very public reputation, this is the one and only rule you must never, ever break.
Breaking it leads to madness, ruin, and a brand new shiny pen name because you’ll never write in this town again.
While this topic has been prompted by this week’s production of Authors Behaving Badly, it is one I had intended to discuss at some point because it is so important, whether you are an aspiring author, a published author, or just some cool person with a blog. You might as well accept up front that anything and everything you type or post on the Internet is permanent and can and will be held against you. In the case of this week’s example, a self published author unleashed holy hell on a book reviewer for commenting that while the story was good, the grammar and spelling mistakes were very intrusive. The author used plenty of four letter words, called the reviewer a liar and a snake, and then proceeded to attack his other readers. It was a train wreck, almost too insane to be believed.
It is not the first example of strong emotions overriding our better angels, and it won’t be the last.
If a moment like this has never happened to you, and you think it never could, think again. I’m not trying to scare anyone, but it is a good idea to prepare before it happens. The cold, ugly truth is- there are a lot of people who speak the worst of their mind because they feel the internet protects their opinion, no matter how cruel or personal the attack.
As a blogger, this will happen to you mostly in comments but sometimes you’ll receive personal emails attacking you as a person, your views, beliefs, and opinions. These people will say things that will stab you right in the gut where it will fester and poison and ache. It’ll keep you up at night. The more popular you get, the more people feel comfortable telling you how you don’t belong, how you should behave, what you should think, that you don’t have the right to blog or write, that you should be ashamed of yourself, or that you are ugly, stupid, lazy, and can’t spell.
Awful, right? In the case above, the author’s attack came from the fact she thought the negative review was unfair. When you put your writing out there on your blog, someone won’t like it. It is the nature of the universe, all tastes are different, and that’s ok. This is true for your blog and your creative writing. Someone will think your heroine is weak and wimpy while another loves and wants to be her. Someone will think your prose is too purple while someone else will get lost in all its lavender and grape goodness. You can’t control it and you can’t predict it. The best you can ever do is write what you write and learn to grow a thick skin.
Even if it feels personal. It isn’t.
Allow me to share something with you.
One of my first asshole commenters told me I was so obnoxious he’d like to smother me in my sleep with a pillow.
He posted this in a comment for everyone to read. The comment is not out there anymore, but I still think about it. Someone hated my blog enough to wish me dead. That blows my mind.
I’ve had others who have said they didn’t understand why people read me because I was kind of stupid and boring. I’ve been called “overly sentimental” and ”a waste of space liberal.” I’ve been told to write with smaller words and less of them. That I’m wasting my life writing and should get a real job because people don’t read anymore. I’ve been told fat ugly people shouldn’t be so public because no one cares what ugly people think.
Yeah. People can be really awesome.
When these things happen, most of us have a knee jerk reaction to jump into comments and start throwing down over it. When I was told I was too ugly to blog, I immediately wanted to defend myself. You’ll be tempted to defend your honor and yell and scream and call their credibility into question.
Personally, I’ve delt with some comments by bursting into tears.
These people will never respond to your points of reason and you’ll never adequately be able to respond to theirs. It will get ugly and eventually you won’t even be comment-screaming at each other over the original slight. And worse, you’ll split your readers into those who agree with you and are willing to take up arms into an all out flame war, those who are against you or found you only because they heard of an epic blood bath, and those who are just really, really uncomfortable with what’s happening. It will never end well and you will never win them over. No one will ever apologize.
I repeat, it will never end well. And you will NEVER feel better. Even if you invent three new foul insults that even Shakespeare would be proud of.
The only thing you can do and should do, is ignore them. This is way harder to do than it sounds, but you must. Don’t give the comment troll more fuel by getting into it with them. Delete their comments if they are truly disgusting. Ban them if they become atrocious. Every good blog program has a way and if you don’t know how email me and I’ll help you through the process.
Do. Not. Feed. The. Trolls. It will only make you feel awful.
My very best advice is to keep a neutral face online, and then talk to someone in real life about it. Cry if it helps. Swear out loud. Talk to other bloggers. Everyone has a story and everyone has been there so everyone can offer a shoulder and some inner strength to you. Having been on the receiving end of this level of suckage before, my email door is always, always, always open to any one who has been the recipient of this kind of attack. I don’t care if we’ve never spoken before and you’ve never commented on my blog. I’ll listen. Almost any blogger will. In a way, we’re a team. We protect our own.
Chances are though, your readers will jump to your defense. As long as they behave themselves too, let them say their peace. If your readers become too emotionally invested, cut comments on that post entirely. If you don’t know how, drop me an email and I’ll be happy to help with that too.
Lastly, here is something to think about. That Author Behaving Badly? She’s just a woman, a normal person, who probably never gets into screaming matches with anyone, least of all tells them to publicly F!*# Off. This was probably one of her first negative reviews and she wasn’t prepared for how it made her feel or the knee jerk reaction it inspired. She probably woke up the next day horrified, embarrassed, and sick to death by what happened. I hope this is true. It usually is. She probably never, ever thought it would go this far. She’s a human being, not a monster, who let her emotions run away with her. Few people will ever see her that way though. They will remember this moment, this behavior, and never forgive her for it.
The silver lining is this:Most people who comment are wonderful, awesome, inspiring people. The trolls are few and the best of the blogosphere are legion. And with every one of these atrocious events there is always one or two people who behave and respond with class and grace and it is those people I look to as role models. They thank a commenter for their opinion, no matter how ridiculous, and politely agree to disagree. I don’t know what depths of patience and kindness they draw from, but somehow they remain cool and collected. These people can teach us a lot about how we should behave when the inevitable happens.
Do you have any advice for battling trolls? Have you been the victim of blog bullying or people who totally suck at being decent human beings? Have you let your emotions run away with you and said things you’d like to take back? How do you get through it? What advice do you have for those people who haven’t yet had the pleasure of their first asshole commenter? Share your stories here.