As a fairly new professional writer, I have been lucky that my first readers have been very friendly. This is mostly due to them being predominantly made up of friends, family and fellow Mommy’s with whom I happen to share a similar worldview. But this month I have had a career milestone, an article of mine was accepted by the On Parenting team at The Washington Post!
I was of course, thrilled as this is a huge honour for me, especially as it comes in the same month that I decided to close my home daycare and freelance full time (eek!) It’s almost as though the writing Gods were saying “oh, go on then, if you must!”
But then my article was published and amongst the many, many uplifting messages and Facebook “likes”I received, I also encountered the ugly side of putting your thoughts and feelings out into the cold dark world, sometimes the reader actually replies with their own thoughts and feelings- and sometimes they are furious that an opposing point of view even exists.
I love it when someone disagrees with me, it gets a conversation going and it can be quite exciting, but some of these comments started to get a bit personal. Then they came off the comment section and were sent to me via my website. Imagine someone being so incensed by something you wrote, that they searched for you, located a contact form, filled it in and sent it. It all seems like a lot of trouble to go to, just to do the digital equivalent of rolling down your window and giving someone the finger.
Big Think has actually produced a list of the sites with the meanest comment sections and it includes many powerful international brands and conglomerates such as CNN, The Washington Post, The Economist and many more.
It seems almost no corner of the internet is immune to these bridge dwellers. You would think that sites with a particular agenda, following or controversial topic, such as a political party’s site or an anti-vaccination site would have less naysayers as why would you go on that site if you have an opposing view? But true trolls actually congregate on those forums just to cause trouble.
Negative Comments Can Hurt
Some of the negative comments didn’t bother me at all, like those that started with a personal attack and then went on to a 4-page diatribe all about the reader’s own experience, it was quite clear that they just had to get something off their chest, that didn’t really have that much to do with me or my article at all.
My article was about adoption and almost exclusively the mean messages I got were from birth mothers who were upset that I had called their decision to have their child adopted a “rejection.”
I didn’t make a judgment on this and in fact multiple times I stated that in my own personal case this was the best decision for all involved, yet still that word made some birth mothers very, very angry.
I didn’t respond to any of the comments on the post as my Editor in some general guidelines actually advised writers against doing so. It can look unprofessional and doesn’t often de-escalate arguments.
But I did respond to everyone who personally sent me a message. I felt that they had earned a reply by going to the trouble of tracking me down off the site.
I mostly explained my position, that this was my unique story and that they were free to share their own experiences but that I stood by my article.
Unfortunately, I was unable to reply to one commenter, which was such a shame as I had so much I wanted to say to her, she seemed like a real winner.
I couldn’t reply as in the box where she was asked to supply her e-mail address she had actually written:
From: Doesn’t matter
This made me laugh out loud and then it pissed me off, she wanted to sound off but she didn’t want to hear a reply at all.
What’s Wrong With The Comments Section?
Therein lies the problem with the comments section, it emboldens people to say things they wouldn’t ordinarily say out loud because of the cloak of anonymity. This may explain why more and more websites are doing away altogether with the comments section, both Romper.com and The Establishment.com do not supply one at the bottom of articles on their sites. As they have found they often lead to harassment and a generally nasty vibe.
So once you birth your artistic baby and send it out into the world, how exactly do you deal with negative feedback? The comments section is more often than not, a negative place and seems to attract a certain type of angry reader who monetarily forgets that the person who wrote the article is actually a living breathing human, with feelings!
So with that in mind if you find a troll lurking beneath a bridge or beneath your words on the page, here’s how to kill them dead.
5 Ways To Deal With A Negative Comment Section
Comment section trolls need attention like we need oxygen and are best ignored, as soon as one commenter replies to them they seem to go into overdrive. Back away from the keyboard!
Focus on The Good Comments
It only takes one mean comment to bring you down, instead try to focus on all the good comments being made.
Remember Debate is Healthy
If you feel under attack it can be hard to remember that it may just be an opposing viewpoint, look for the dialogue- that’s where change happens.
Don’t Take It Personally
The troll doesn’t know you, you are just a faceless point of contention for them, they may well have been aggressive with 5 other writers today, plus a barista, a teacher, a bank teller etc etc so try to let it go.
Never, I repeat never, let a big old meanie stop you from making your art. Whether it’s writing, music, performance or artwork, creators will always be subjected to critical comments, not everyone will “get” your interpretation, not everyone will appreciate your vision, but you go right on ahead and carry on creating. Because artists create for themselves not for the audience- although of course, we are still very grateful for the audience- but just the human ones!
The Psychology Of A Troll
So what exactly is it about the internet that makes people behave in “trollish” ways when they wouldn’t IRL? An infographic produced by bestpsychologyschoolsonline.com breaks down the different psychological traits and motives of those who behave badly in the comments section.
My Own Mean Girl Troll
I thought long and hard about whether or not I should print my anonymous critics comments in full, perhaps it gave her more power to publish it, but I decided that her message needed to be dissected, so here it is, remember this insightful evaluation is provided by someone who when asked to reveal her identity basically said “na na na nana”:
Your article about adoption was a stab in the heart to any person who decided to give the greatest gift she could give to another woman her child. Would you rather your mom had an abortion? You think your birth mom didn’t hurt every minute until she met you face to face. You think that was an easy decision for her. I am glad you were able to bond with your children and I am sorry you felt rejected but that is not what your birth mother did. She gave you life, the best possible thing she could have given you. She didn’t abort you even when she could not take care of you herself. I just read a story about a lady who let her pigs eat the body of her child. Now that is a rejected child. I really think you need to stop and think before you write such hurtful stuff again.
Analysing A Comment
Now to break the negative comment down a little:
Your article about adoption was a stab in the heart
I am sensing some unresolved issues here, or maybe a future on the stage!
to give the greatest gift she could give to another woman
This sort of argument just doesn’t stand up, I doubt there is a woman alive who decided to have her child adopted because she was just feeling especially generous towards a complete stranger. I am not for one moment suggesting that giving a child away for adoption is an easy decision, not at all, but trying to depict birth mothers as benevolent angels who just want to help childless couples is ludicrous.
Would you rather your mom had an abortion?
Wow, just wow.
You think that was an easy decision for her
No, I don’t which is why I started my article with the line- “I always knew that giving me up for adoption had been hard for my mother.”It was the first line! Did she even read the article?
I am sorry you felt rejected but that is not what your birth mother did
Um, yes it is, actually, that is essence the very nature of an adoption, you are given away and claimed by someone else.
On one side it’s a lovely accepting act but despite the circumstances you can’t change the fact that giving your child away is a rejection. It may have pained a birth mother, it may have been traumatising for her but it doesn’t change the decision she made. Just as a breakup can be complicated, mutual, acrimonious or not, it is still two people rejecting one another.
I didn’t really feel rejected in a negative sense, it’s just semantics, that’s what transpired. As I wrote in the original piece I actually think it was the right decision and I don’t judge my birth mother for making that decision, but that can’t change the fact that being adopted includes both a rejection and an acceptance. Shared Journey a site devoted to fertility issues and questions, states that an adoption creates feelings of loss and rejection on all sides. The birth mother loses a child, the child loses birth parents and the adoptive parents lose the “ideal” of a biological child:
Adoption has the ability to create intense pain and equally intense joy
But back to Anonymous, she continues:
She gave you life, the best possible thing she could have given you
Yes, it’s true I am very grateful to be alive(!) But I am thinking that surely there’s more to being a mom than that and that allowing me to live doesn’t really come with any special awards or medals.
I just read a story about a lady who let her pigs eat the body of her child
You know your argument is weak when you are imploring people to feel grateful they weren’t eaten by pigs- as standards go, that’s a pretty low bar to be set.
Now that is a rejected child
No, that’s a murdered child, I think we should all hope to do better than that grisly example.
stop and think before you write such hurtful stuff again
This sentence is interesting, I imagine from her vitriol that she herself gave a child up for adoption and has a lot of unresolved feelings about this, and in this regard, I wouldn’t ever wish or intend to hurt someone.
However I was writing about my experience, not hers and like many issues with the comments section, angry little trolls work out their problems on the cheap by shouting at strangers instead of going to a therapist.
Which is why you find irate middle-aged men sounding off about public breastfeeding on breastfeeding support groups- what are you even doing in here?? Just lurking around waiting to be outraged?
Of course, not all negative comments are left by mean trolls that live in their mother’s basement, I have even been known to write a few angry words on a comment section of an article I disagreed with, but it’s how you craft your response that matters.
How To Create Comments That Encourage Debate Not Shame
Stick To The Topic
Try not to meander off into unrelated points, that’s when you can start to get nasty.
Don’t Be Personal
Focus on what the writer actually said not how you interpreted it.
Challenge Other Commentators
As soon as you see any inflammatory or unkind messages left on an article rebuke them, stand up for the writer even if you disagree with the article.
Report Serious Infractions
If someone is being aggressive, using threatening language, being racist, sexist or homophobic- report them to the site administrator and have them banned.
Leave Positive Comments
People often don’t leave a comment at all if they like an article or agree with the points raised, but once they disagree they light up the board. Try to spread positivity by leaving at least as many supportive and uplifting comments as negative ones.
Trolls, a Sign Of Success?
Being the subject of online harassment and mean comments can wear you down but take solace in the fact that most trolls are to be pitied and the rare few can be reformed, like the particularly cruel troll that abused GQ writer Lindy West.
Remember too, that if you weren’t experiencing some level of success in your career, no-one would even be able to see your work in the first place, so the sound of career goals being met may well be the howl of an angry little troll.
Just keep the dream alive.