Bloggers beware: something more sinister than ghosts and ghouls is haunting the web. Internet trolls abound — and sooner or later, they will come prowling about your blog.
There’s something about hiding behind a keyboard and the anonymity of an internet screen name that suspends the Golden Rule and brings out people’s inner gremlins.
“I have been called everything from a ho to a bad mother, my children have been called ugly to spoiled, my husband has been called weak and been encouraged to leave me,” writes British “mummy” blogger Emma Conway. “I am evidently stupid, unstable, and should never have been allowed to have kids. Some of the awful crimes I have committed to get such comments have been: I made a spelling mistake in one post (evil woman), I moaned a bit about my husband buying world cup stickers (I should be put in jail!), and I have confessed that my children have tantrums.”
Conway says she dreads seeing her posts picked up by outlets like the Huffington Post and CNN — normally a happy day for a blogger — because it opens her and her family up to even more criticism.
Dealing with trolls can be tricky, and the emotional toll of low-hitting criticism like the kind Conway faces can be wearing. But never fear, bloggers! We have your back. Troll-proof your blog (and your life) with top-notch advice from the web’s best content creators.
First Things First, What Exactly Is a Troll?
Before moving on to the tactical exercises, let’s make sure we all know what a troll is — and what it isn’t.
In mythology, trolls are angry little monsters brooding in caves or under bridges, waiting around to ruin someone’s day — usually by making a meal out of unsuspecting victims.
The online variety isn’t too far off from that.
Trolls lurk behind their computer screens, ready to fire off sarcastic, divisive, and cutting remarks on blogs, social media, and more.
“When they are hidden behind a screen, people often say things that they would never say to someone’s face,” — Lauren Conrad
Their jibes range from the childish (think eighth-grade “your mom” comebacks) to the petty — author and social media consultant Kristen Lamb was attacked for a “handful of typos” she let slip the week her aunt passed away — to the downright personal and hurtful: family and lifestyle blogger Kaye of Hello Archie was told she bought cheap clothes for her kids and didn’t spend enough time with her son.
A troll’s top priority is to disrupt the normal order of business and elicit some sort of emotional response. They get a sort of savage pleasure from stirring up controversy and sling around insults to see how many feelings they can hurt. They’ve been around since the early days of the internet and lurk around every corner.
But not everyone who writes a comment that disagrees, debates, or critiques on your blog is a troll.
“You’re never going to please everyone,” says Kathleen Garvin, who blogs about ways to save money at The Penny Hoarder. “But try not to group all negative comments together — maybe there was a blind spot in your coverage or error in a post. Sometimes, there might be a lesson for you.”
As a blogger, you should welcome and respond to the discussion on your posts and (if relevant) feedback on your product or service. And, as Garvin suggests, see what you can learn from readers who comment on your blog.
Not everything you post will be met with universal acclaim and total agreement; that’s the risk you take when you put yourself and your ideas out there. Don’t be afraid of a little debate in your comments section, and don’t hesitate to (respectfully) defend your position. Debate is a healthy, vibrant ingredient of a real online community — take it as a sign that your ideas are sparking interaction and engagement.
True trolling, on the other hand, is illogical, unreasonable, and mean-spirited; you can smell a troll behind comments that employ petty personal attacks, provoke tempers, and pick fights.
Sadly, trolling and its darker cousin, cyberbullying, are all too common: the number of people who say they’ve experienced it has nearly doubled in the past decade, and almost half of internet users say they’ve been victims of some form of online harassment.
There seems to be no cure to trolling, but there are strategies bloggers can use to prevent and respond to trolls — and to clean up the messes they leave behind.
How to Reduce Trolling on Your Blog
Honestly, there’s really not much you can do create a completely troll-free blog. Well, other than turning off commenting completely, but that’s the last thing you want as a blogger; you should be fostering engagement and building community, not shutting it down. While you can’t keep all the trolls away, you can mitigate and minimize the damage.
1. Establish a Commenting and Community Policy
As a first step to troll-proofing your blog, Garvin recommends developing community guidelines with your staff, if you have one. “Then, share your policy with your community.” The Penny Hoarder welcomes discussion primarily on social media, and “on that platform, our community managers mindfully respond to most comments and hide others that are offensive, threatening and abusive, as outlined in our community guidelines.”
Community guidelines should outline exactly what kinds of comments are allowed on your blog, and what will happen to any negative or uncivil comments. Check out the Huffington Post’s guidelines as an example.
A solid policy won’t completely deter trolling, but it will set the tone for engagement in your online community. Make sure you and your staff follow this policy as outlined in responding to possible trolls and other negative comments.
2. Moderate Commenting
If comments are disrespectful and attacking, you don’t have to let them onto your site in the first place. If you moderate comments before they post live, it may take the wind of a troll’s sail: why post something to stir the pot if it won’t even be seen?
Of course, you will still see the negative post — and that may be enough for the troll — but this kind of moderation can slow down the troll train.
This may be the route to take if you have a serious infestation; otherwise, it might be more effort than it is worth, and will probably discourage readers from commenting if they can’t instantaneously add their voice to the conversation.
If you have the resources to hire or recruit a comment moderator for your blog and related social accounts, legit comments might be able to post faster. Just make sure moderators follow the community guidelines, and that comment moderation is mentioned in these guidelines. Consider letting offending posters know you haven’t approved their comment, and invite them to resubmit a more civil response for consideration.
3. Delete and Block
Lauren Conrad’s motto is “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t follow me online.” She immediately deletes negative comments on her blog and social media accounts and blocks the haters. “I always make an effort to keep it positive, and I expect the same from my followers.”
Emma Conway also blocks her trolls — and then in her “more immature” moments also sends a snarky reply, such as “‘’Thanks for your AMAZING comments 😉 x.’ As I imagine that makes them really angry. And they can’t reply! I am a genius.”
How to Respond to Trolling Comments on Your Blog
Even when you’ve done everything you can to troll-proof your blog, the bad guys may still come knocking. When nasty comments pop up on your blog posts, how should you respond? Or should you respond at all? Use these strategies to craft replies to your haters — and to determine when silence says it best.
1. Ignore the Troll
You’ve probably heard the old internet adage: “Don’t feed the trolls.” The advice rings true: trolls feed off of attention; they want to see people get riled up at their comments.
In fact, research shows that the silent treatment is often the most effective. “The worst thing you can do is feed the trolls,” Garvin says. “If someone has an agenda or is just being a jerk, the best thing to do is ignore the person.”
“They’re DYING for your response,” says writer Kit Steinkellner. “You fighting back is exactly what they want. Do you really want to give your troll, who has just said such gross and unacceptable things about you and what you believe in, exactly what they want?”
Responding in anger with the emotion of the moment plays right into their hands. Sometimes it is best to ignore, consider deleting, and move on with your day. The more you respond, and the more passionately you respond, the more the troll is encouraged to keep a-trollin’.
Plus, responding angrily (and publicly) doesn’t make you or your brand look good.
But there are times you may want to respond. You can probably let the “yo mama” and irrelevant personal attacks go without any attention (or see suggestion No. 5 below), but what about rude comments relating to the content or your professional advice, products, or services?
Garvin says that on The Penny Hoarder’s social accounts, “When deciding whether or not to respond to a gray-area comment, we consider two things: Is it a valid concern? And, would it hurt the brand if we didn’t reply? If the answer’s yes, we acknowledge the issue, describe our intent without getting defensive, and keep it brief and polite.”
2. Let Your Community Take Care of It
Chances are, if your blog has a big enough audience to attract trolls, you have a loyal following that far outnumbers the haters. And when a troll comes lumbering into that community, you just have to sit back and watch your peeps take care of it.
Success story: This past summer, interior design blogger Emily Henderson posted about a few mistakes she’s made in designing a room. And, naturally, a troll made the first comment, criticising her choices and saying that a true professional wouldn’t have made the mistakes in the first place.
While Henderson did respond eventually (and updated her commenting policy), her loyal fans immediately jumped in to defend her choice to be transparent about the creative process. It pays to cultivate a community that can regulate itself and jump to your defense when it comes to unwarranted criticism.
3. Use Humor and Lightness
Trolls are in the game for an all-caps NEGATIVE response. Turn the tables and kill them with kindness — or at least humor and lightheartedness. Respond to trolls with a quick and witty quip, then move on with your day (which might also include blocking the offender — after a bit of banter).
Humor can be a great way to give your brand a voice, draw your community into the discussion, bring positive attention to you as a blogger — and, in doing so, beat trolls at their own game. Keep it quick and simple, and tread carefully so as not to appear to be egging the troll on.
4. Stick to the Facts and Make Corrections
Keep any responses, especially if you are concerned about your brand, impersonal and professional. If your troll is making an argument against your ideas based on faulty facts, set the records straight if you feel like it is necessary; for example, to avoid confusing or letting the troll mislead your readers. But don’t argue or engage the commenter, or you’ll tread into the territory of “feeding” the troll. Use facts, not emotion.
Take the higher ground and accept criticism (if it is warranted, of course — for example, if your troll is going after a simple typo or mocking you for making a simple mistake, thank them for pointing out the error, fix it in your post, and end communication with that commenter).
“Most people won’t remember if we screwed up,” Lamb says. “They will, however, remember if we screwed up and then spent three weeks arguing and trying to cover our mistake.” Mistakes can be embarrassing, but they aren’t the end of the world — don’t let trolls make you feel like they are.
Sometimes criticism of your brand demands a bit of classy defense. For example, do you remember #bendgate?
After the release of the iPhone 6 Plus, the internet flooded with memes mocking reports that the new phone bends in pockets. The storm had the potential to devastate sales and rock Apple’s reputation — but the company responded with a quick statement that acknowledged the problem, recognized customers, and defended itself: “With normal use a bend in iPhone is extremely rare and through our first six days of sale, a total of nine customers have contacted Apple with a bent iPhone 6 Plus. As with any Apple product, if you have questions please contact Apple.”
5. If All Else Fails . . . Bake a Cake
Make your troll eat their words (literally) with a cake from this cheeky baker. Or maybe just respond by repeating word-for-word what the troll said to point out just how ridiculous (and non-threatening) you find them, which may take a bit of the fun out of their trolling.
How to Pick Yourself Back Up After A Troll Attack
No matter how irrational or ridiculous troll attacks are, they can exact an emotional toll. No one likes to be on the receiving end of a criticism or mean tirade. Use these tips to make like Taylor Swift and shake it off.
1. Take Time to Decompress
As a blogger seeking to build an online presence, there’s really no way to ignore your comments, both positive and negative. “There’s a saying among writers: Don’t read the comments!” Garvin says. “But, of course, that’s not a realistic option for bloggers who want to engage with their community.”
Lindsay Ostrom, the creator of food blog Pinch of Yum, says that she saves reading her blog comments for the afternoon so they don’t define her day. “The unfortunate truth is that even with a flood of positive, friendly comments, one grinchy comment can start me on the downward spiral of the Blogger Blues,” Ostrom writes. “So I no longer allow myself to read them in the morning because I find that they will affect how I feel all throughout the day. I only read them at the end of the day when I’m ready to shut down and I am less likely to be affected by the boo-hiss-unfriendly comments.”
Garvin suggests finding a quick distraction after facing negative comments: “It’s never fun to read something bad about your work. Give yourself a few minutes to decompress — watch a funny YouTube video and look at cute pictures of puppies, and then it’s on to the next piece of content!”
2. Take Time to Process Your Emotions
Trolls can spout some hateful and disturbing insults, and sometimes even threats. The emotions that flare up when you read their vitriol can be intense.
“Do what you have to do to process and then do your best to move on,” Steinkellner says. “The trolls want you to be angry, they might even want you to be afraid. You might feel these things. And that’s okay. But try to move past those feelings when you’re ready.”
Sometimes, that means you need to have a good cry. “I am all for crying. Have a good moan to your other half. Shout a bit about it. And get it out of your system,” Conway says.
3. Don’t Take It Personally
“‘Can’t please everyone’ isn’t just an aphorism, it’s the secret of being remarkable,” says blogger Seth Godin.
The internet is crawling with jerks looking for tempers to fan and feelings to hurt. If trolls target your blog, try not to take it personally — they usually aren’t too picky about who they hurt and how. If anything, attention from trolls is a sign that your blog is growing a big enough audience to be interesting.
“For better or worse, I can be really emotionally affected by how people perceive or respond to my blog,” says Ostrom. “I wish I had that toughness factor, but what I have is more like Sensitivity with a capital S. So I set rules for myself when it comes to reading and processing my social media content and blog comments. Bottom line: be selective about what voices you let speak into your life.”
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4. Choose the Positive Path
Learn to laugh at your trolls. Seriously, they say some ridiculous things — maybe start a collection of their silliest zingers (on the other hand, it might be better for your mental health to just click delete). Plus, your positive feedback and comments likely far outnumber the negative; focus on those and be proud of the community you have cultivated around your blog.
“The danger of internet trolls is that it can make us become generic for fear of showing our true selves.” — Emily Henderson
After facing that troll attack earlier this summer, Henderson took a strong stance. “I won’t let negativity dictate the content, change my personality or my motto here of writing the blog that I want to read.”
Letting the negativity get under your skin can affect your content. But don’t let it kill your originality; instead, try to turn the negativity into motivation to make your blog even better.
“Haters are everywhere,” says blogger Ann Friedman. “Impossible to ignore. Rather than starving them, savvy people now brag about their trolls and even use the haterade to their advantage. While the term hater has been around as long as hip-hop, it’s become so commonplace for rappers to decry their haters (or thank them, if you’re Kanye) that last year Complex named it one of the biggest clichés in the genre. Haters aren’t something to be feared. They’re validation that you’re a big deal. And they’re fuel to do better. Now you’re inspired to prove that their jealousy is warranted. Nothing motivates me like haters.”
Bloggers Gonna Blog
Trolls are probably the worst part of the internet, especially for content creators like you. But they don’t have to ruin your day or silence your voice — remember, they are just trying to piggyback off of your success and audience; they haven’t built anything themselves.
We’ve shared a few tips from fellow bloggers to help mitigate troll attacks — do you have anything to add? What has helped you tackle the trolls on your website? And we’d love to hear the snarky replies you’ve made to zing your trolls. Share in the comments (obviously, no trolls allowed)!