A Reader Asks, “How Do You Handle the Negative Comments On Your Blog?”

As a general rule, I don't respond to comments left by this guy.

Here’s an email I got in this past weekend (from “denver,” who is one of my best commenters):

I’ve been reading your blog for a while now (love it!), and most of the time can get into the comments and discuss and debate and feel better for it. But sometimes, when people start getting nasty and mean and snarky, I just have to throw my hands up in the air and walk away. It’s not that I can’t handle divergent opinions; in fact, I usually welcome the opportunity to debate online with people of varying opinions. I find it fulfilling and challenging and (and hopefully not just for me) informative. It’s just the nastiness that gets me. I am not saying I have never said a mean word in my life or any such thing, but when I am trying to respectfully state my point and someone can’t seem to muster up an equally respectful response; when name-calling and vitriol start spewing forth; when a carefully thought-out and often enough researched post is greeted with the equivalent of “you’re wrong, stupid, so why don’t you shut up?”, then … then I want to become a hermit and never deal with human beings ever again. I realize the internet is just a giant welcome mat for meanness given the anonymity of it all, but really, it bothers me.

So I guess my question is, how on earth do you put yourself out there, and take all the nasty commentators (I’ve seen some that you’ve posted on your Facebook page that just blew me away, both from the blog and from Huffington Post!), and not let it get to you? How do you then want to blog another day? ….  Some days I vow to not ever comment or post on anything even remotely controversial, ever again, just to avoid the hostility—but inevitably I just can’t.  I can’t not care, I can’t try and pretend these things don’t exist, I can’t not engage in conversation in the hopes of building new bridges (enter cheesy music here).

I’ve often wondered what it would be like to start my own blog. I’ve had enough positive moments to seriously consider trying my hand at blogging—I just love to write!  But I can’t even take the nasties on other people’s blogs. So ….

Am I just developmentally delayed, or (as I have been often told I am) too sensitive? How do you do it?

I’m sure you get a mountain of these types of emails, so if you don’t have time to respond to all of them, I totally understand.  I just figured it was worth a shot asking, because I keep vacillating between “I want to blog!” and wanting to make like Thoreau and find a cabin in the woods somewhere. :)

Thanks!

denver

Hmmm. How do I handle nasty commenters?

Well, first of all, I don’t have to “handle” any commenters I don’t want to. I can instantly delete any comment I find too offensive, and can then block that person from ever commenting again. Anyone on my blog is here by, essentially, permission. So that control is really nice.

Negative comments seem to fall into certain types:

Extremely negative/vile/nasty. These comments always freak me out just a bit, because they’re so harsh. But I also really enjoy deleting them and their “authors,” so it works out. (I especially enjoy that I never finish reading such comments; once I can just see they’re Pyscho Bombs, they’re gone.) I forget about them as soon as they’ve been excised. From their writing style I can tell they’re written by crazies at a public library somewhere, or by someone who’s down in their mom’s basement typing furiously while they inhale airplane glue from a paper bag. It’s like watching someone barf in public. You turn away.

Really quite negative to me personally. These types of commenters don’t bother me too much, because it’s always clear how new they are to my blog. They just don’t know my work. My response to them will vary depending on the mood I’m in. Usually I’ll just delete them—but then not block the commenter, as I like to give people a second chance. But two such comments from the same person is pretty much my limit. I have short tolerance for bad manners.

Really quite negative about something specific I’ve said in the post. Again, depends on who they are, what they’ve said, and how they’ve said it. If they’re respectful and even semi-articulate, that’s usually good enough for me. People in this category usually just like to pick at one little aspect of what I’ve written: they want to clarify something for me, or enlighten me in some way. They often focus on individual words they think need further exploration or explanation. I usually just think, “Okay, Skippy, it’s a blog post, not a book.” I always kind of feel sorry for these people, because how good can your life be if you’re trying to prove how smart you are by what you write in a blog comment? These are the untrained French poodles of commenters: annoying, but harmless.

Really quite negative about something they thought I wrote, rather than something I actually did write. It’s extremely common for readers to get upset over what they assume I meant, rather than what I actually said. I got a lot of that, for instance, with my post, “What’s Wrong With Dressing Sexy?” It’s hard to get too excited about this category of comments, because … well, they don’t have anything to do with what I actually wrote. It’s like someone criticizing you for not tying your bathrobe belt into a double Windsor knot, or trying to impress you by hurling a football at a darts board. They’re like, “See! I hit the bullseye!” And you’re, like, “Good for you! But wrong game. Wrong ball. Wrong target.” Wrong knot.

Really quite negative about stuff that my post is sort of about, but not really. A good example of this very common kind of comment came in today, to the post,  Conservative and Liberal Christians: They’re Both Losers (and Winners):

“Agree with the title–at least the non-parenthetical pert [sic]. I make decisions based on facts and data… Something that theology is sorely lacking. There is nothing to suggest of an afterlife. Morality can be defined by causing pain to others. Denying people the opportunity to enjoy life is generally immoral. Forcing views on another person is equally immoral. Arguing is a waste of time. I’m done with the whole religion thing.”

See? It’s sort of what I wrote about—but not. And clearly, this guy showed up with a pretty serious chip on his shoulder. I rarely if ever respond to this sort of comment, because … why? They’ve already shown they don’t listen.

Christians angry at their perception of my version of Christianity. This is actually pretty rare. I do get called a “false prophet” just often enough to strike me as truly weird, but … whatever. I never take this stuff too seriously, because I always end up right away feeling sorry for the people who leave “Them homersezualz is goina bern in HELL!!!!!!!!!!!” type comments. How can I not, when (frankly) it’s always clear how almost tragically uneducated they are? Such “comments” always read like they were written by Testy, the Village Idiot. They’re just … too sad to be angering. I almost always end up blocking such commenters off my blog. Life’s too short.

Seriously pissed off at religion generally and/or Christianity specifically. Can you spell “Huffington Post”? That’s the great majority of what I get over there. I don’t take that stuff personally, because those commenters aren’t angry with me personally. They don’t know me; to them, all Christians are exactly the same: homophobic, narrow-minded, misogynistic, anti-science, irrational nutjobs. Such commenters aren’t angry at me. They’re angry at what they think I represent. And they like their anger, too; you can see it helps them define themselves. I leave them be. To do anything else is like poking a rabid dog with a stick. It just makes things worse.

So that’s a little of why negative comments on my blog posts don’t bother me too much. I just … don’t care, basically. I try my best to say the best things I can in the best ways I know how–given the limitations of the form, and the amount of time I think it’s reasonable to put into these things—and I’m done. To blog is to create (at best) disposable art; a post lasts a day or two, at most. If I let negative comments to what I post on my blog get to me, I’d be on one heck of a messed-up roller coaster ride.

Here’s really the main thing, too. I’m pretty good at writing a blog. There’s only one thing in this world I’ve trained myself to do well, and it’s … well, this. I’ve been making a good living writing stuff for public consumption for some fifteen years now—and it’s all been material that I’ve had to produce at least as quickly as I do these posts. So the truth is I’m pretty invulnerable to the suggestion that I somehow just don’t know what I’m doing here.

Plus, I care about the stuff I write here. I don’t play around with what I publish on this blog. I’m usually awfully certain about the material I present here–or at least sure of it enough to care to share it with the readers of mine whom I know … are actually listening to me. The ones whom I know I can trust, basically.

I’m safe here. This is my home. Here, I get to feel however I want to. And rude strangers don’t get to take that from me.

Plus, you know (and this is the main thing, really):  Shore Family Motto.

About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. Don't forget to sign up for his mucho-awesome newsletter.

  • JohnB

    You rock. … I couldn’t even bare to playfully cut you down…

    • Anonymous

      JohnB! Thanks, brohammand!

    • http://skerrib.blogspot.com skerrib

      I can. You suck John Shore!!

      (Unfortunately I’m not very convincing)

      • Ace

        Oh you’re just not doing it right!

        How about, “Yer mama dresses you funny!”

        That’ll make him cry, for sure.

        Hear that, Shore? YER MAMA DRESSES YOU FUNNY!

        • Anonymous

          Ohhhhh, so close. But no. My mother dressed like a stoned fortune teller. It wasn’t good. Hence did I learn the value of sartorial discretion. I always insisted that she did, in fact, dress me well. Now as an ADULT, well … let’s just say anyone who ever sees me walking out to the mailbox, or shopping at our local grocery store, never mistakes me for someone who has with an actual job.

      • Anonymous

        But I fear the wrath of Skerrib!

  • ms.glove

    It is very clear that you care about what you write, and I think that is why your blog is the first that I have actually held interest in for longer than two days.

    • Anonymous

      That’s great to hear. Thanks, Ms. Glove.

  • Suz

    I LOVE your attitude and I’m glad you’re sharing it!

    • Anonymous

      Thanks, Suz!

  • http://allegro63.blogspot.com/ allegro63

    I’ve had my share of negative commenter, mostly on the community blog I contribute to and always because someone doesn’t like my views on a political matter. I like John’s approach and it is one that works. Taking things people say, who don’t even know the writer personally is very counterproductive.

    Of course I wonder how he finds the time to write all he does, comment to so many people, and delete those that have no business on his comments list.

    • Anonymous

      I very rarely block anyone. Most people aren’t that crazy.

      • http://allegro63.blogspot.com/ allegro63

        well good. That’s a time saver then.

  • http://www.facebook.com/aunty.em.ericann Aunty Em Ericann

    The urge to write a REALLY nasty comment here is overwhelming, but I resisted.

    With all my love,
    Aunty Em

    • Anonymous

      You did the right thing, bitch.

      • Anonymous

        (HAR! I still got it!)

        • Anonymous

          (um… just to be very, very, ridiculously clear: that was a joke.)

          • http://www.facebook.com/aunty.em.ericann Aunty Em Ericann

            Which is exactly the way I took it, you bastard.

            With all my love,
            Aunty Em

          • Anonymous

            I heard someone say the other day, “You rat bastard!” It was me, joking to my dad. But … still. Pretty anachronistic sounding, I thought.

          • Don Rappe

            “anachronistic” Back before I was middle aged.

          • Chellee

            Oh dear…..do I have to get the big ole dictionary out and look up ANOTHER of John’s words??? Let me make sure I have the spelling right…..
            anachronistic…..ok…..gotta go…….

          • Chellee

            I kinda think rat bastard has a better ring to it. It’s a fun one to make part of your daily routine. I’m happy to report it doesn’t lose any of it’s “fun-ness” by overuse. In fact….it kinda gets more and more fun as you go. Innit wondrous????
            And…..personally…..just “listening” to you people being so….well…..un-pious makes me feel happy. (am I irreverent or what?!?!?? lol) It’s just so great to see christians (and I’m deliberately NOT capitalizing it cause I used to be a “Christian”….stuffy….dogmatic….the whole works….and now I’m endeavoring to be a christian……does that even make sense?)….acting human and “normal” (taking the cork out of our a$$es). It’s just MAGICAL! :D
            So….what I’m trying to say here, is…..”I love you..you rat bastard John Shore…..and all your bitch friends!” ;)
            I love my time with you crazies.

  • Agentkory

    I’m more of a common-tater that makes corny jokes.

    • http://questionablemotives.wordpress.com/ tildeb

      Wouldn’t that be starchy jokes that make you peel with laughter?

      • Agentkory

        LOL! Now that was funny!

        • Anonymous

          both those were

      • Ace

        That was… terrible. But I laughed anyway.

        • http://questionablemotives.wordpress.com/ tildeb

          I think it’s terrible that you laughed. My humour is to be pitied. I just can’t help but share the misery. Thanks for sharing the burden.

  • Anonymous

    I think quite often the comments are worth reading. Maybe I should do a blog post about the categories of GOOD commenters I have. Sometimes I sort of depend on them to flesh out the points I just didn’t had room to, for instance. Stuff like that is good. I’ve got some really outstanding writers here.

    • Anonymous

      I’m sure you know this, but … well, in case: A kiss-ass is someone who overly praises someone because they want something from that person.

      • Anonymous

        I don’t know you, but … you seem like a perfectly lovely person to me!

        • Anonymous

          BUT, I’m sad to report: “kiss ass” is a verb-subject arrangement: someone is smooching someone’s butt. “Kiss-ass,” on the other hand, is a noun. You DO, in other words, want to use the hyphen if you’re calling someone (even yourself!) a kiss-ass, because in that case you’re using the most magical powers the hyphen has, which is the ability to turn two words (even though one of them is a verb!) into a noun. No “preference” allowed.Like me less now, I’ll bet.

          • Anonymous

            Yikes.

          • DR

            Holy passive-aggressive, batman.

          • Anonymous

            DR! One of those whom makes blogging for me such a pleasure….

          • Anonymous

            Yeah, no worries. I mean … you know it wasn’t me who called you passive-aggressive, right? It was someone else.

  • Shadsie

    The great thing about the Internet is that it makes me bold in approaching people and airing my opinions when, in real life – face to face, I’d probably be avoiding you (unless you were walking your dog, had a bird on your shoulder, or were riding a horse down the street, then I’m paying attention to your animal and talking about animals). Or I might talk to you if we were at a convention of some sort and you were in cosplay from something I liked. Anyway, I generally communicate better in writing and when there’s “distance,” I suppose. Awkward nerd, I am. This is seriously like the closest thing I get to church. I don’t know if I truly qualify as “hikkomori” but I’m close.

    But, when I have text available…. the opinions fly.

    That said, my temper is legendary – I am sorry for losing my cool a bit last night on another thread in replying to someone. I just lost my paitience with what I perceived their attitude to be and felt the need to defend others.

    I’ve pretty much given up on having meaningful conversation on Huffpost. I’ve had a few good ones there, even with some of the angrier people, but I don’t see my “fun to talk to” people showing up often enough and the rest are frustrating. It’s like, no matter how many times you say on a thread about, say, religious liberties that you think it should be supported because you “want people to be free to be atheists, too” and you get answers of “We should stop supporting religion!” or “Let’s not interfere, they should just kill each other.” *shrug.* Any other given topic, I get the impression that I’m either “stupid” or “too smart for this, what will it take for me to get you into a brand-new atheism-car today?” Just gave up.

    Eep, look at the time. This nobody’s gotta go shovel horse-poo now.

  • http://strelitziamusings.blogspot.com/ Birdie

    As a “token straight” contributor on a gay blog and Christian to boot, you’d think I’d be getting all kinds of negative comments from LGBT readers—but the hateful ones come from straight Christians. I choose to respond to those who want to save me from my sins, but not to educate them; there’s no point going there. I hope my point-by-point responses help people who could use some ammunition when they face similar vitriolic rants personally. There are also some anti-religion comments that I know aren’t directed at me. Who can blame them for being hurt by the church?

    At the very great risk of sounding like a sycophant, I have to say how much I am enjoying your blog, a relatively new discovery for me. If I find I must pounce upon your reasoning, I hope to do it with respect. So far, you’re in the clear.

  • Anonymous

    I liked what christina britt lewis said about what changes a person. The Bible says that God is love…maybe not “love” as a lot of people might interpret that to be, but the sort of love that is expressed in 1 Corinthians 13:4. In my opinion, that love that has no limit…hopefully like the love we would have for our children or our spouse. The love that sadly runs its course or finds its conditional limit is not actually love, in my book. That is merely an affinity. Affinities come and go like our tastes in clothing, hairstyle, political stripe, or philosophical flavor of the age. They are temporal and not particularly worth a whole lot. I believe that it’s healthy to defend our varying points of view and crossing swords on the fields of fray. But if the tactic is to pat a person’s back looking for the softest place to shove in a dagger, I think we have done more damage to our own sense of nobility than we have to our opponent’s argument. Everything we do…big or smalll, if we do it without love, we’re just clanging our own bell and we probably DON’T have a life. Cheers, John…christina.

    • vj

      “The love that sadly runs its course or finds its conditional limit is not actually love, in my book.”

      Yeah! As Shakespeare (I think?) wrote: ” Love it not Love which alters when it alteration finds”

      • cat rennolds

        john donne. but still a great quote.

  • http://megaloi.blogspot.com Redlefty

    The key is to wrap up your criticism in love, right?

    Like, “John, you’re the biggest piece of dummy pants douche drainage I’ve ever seen, but for your age you have excellent hair.”

    He couldn’t help but listen and love me for my honesty after that kind of delivery!

    • Anonymous

      I think maybe he could!

  • http://ricbooth.wordpress.com/ Ric Booth

    Really quite negative about something they thought I wrote, rather than something I actually did write.

    Confession: I love reading this particular class(less) of comments, here on johnshore.com. It’s a guilty pleasure of mine.

    • Marcelo

      You rotten [classless noun]!

  • Anonymous
    • http://ricbooth.wordpress.com Ric

      Funny. Hysterical, actually.

    • Meg

      Now, I have it on good authority (they did a national IQ test on TV in Australia last night and I passed…) that I am of average intelligence, but I couldn’t make head nor tail of what that commenter said. I wonder if my results were inaccurate?

      • Don Rappe

        I’m sure they were accurate. You have to be able to damp your IQ way down to understand that particular kind of comment. He may have been trying to express himself and read Hustler magazine at the same time.

  • http://www.todayscoolnews.com smi23le

    What about people who don’t get all warm and fuzzy about warm and fuzzy subjects, like say, kids who post YouTube videos of themselves cheating while playing an obscure musical instrument loved by the blog owner?

    • Don Rappe

      Yeah, I hate them. They probably don’t respond well to cute kitten pictures either.

  • http://myfanwe.wordpress.com Meg

    Do you have any insight/posts about how to get comments on a blog whether negative or not? I receive plenty of hits on my posts, but it’s rare that anyone comments one way or another.

    I loved your breakdown of the various types of negative comments. Very accurate from what I have observed here and on other blogs I visit.

  • Eminamide

    Hi there. New reader here to John’s blog, feeling somewhat cautious about commenting but denver’s interesting question got me thinking (reminiscing?) about a period of time in my life when I tried my hand at social commentary. This was the days before blogging, as far as I know (so I’m dating myself), when we writers sent articles out to newspapers or magazines and waited and agonized before hearing whether we’d be published, then waiting a few days more for the letters to the editor to appear. As far as I know, there weren’t even any online comments at that time. I remember some letter-writers being so mean, and I just didn’t get it. I distinctly remember one writer describing a personal essay that appeared in a San Diego paper “drivel”). I’m sure it’s a trillion-times worse now for writers who dare to go public with personal views. For me, I’m pretty sure I ultimately stopped writing (publicly) because, unlike John Shore, I don’t know how to “delete” these kinds of comments. Mentally, I mean. I take it too personally. So gradually I shifted to teaching. A whole different kind of abuse, I guess! Anyway….maybe someday I’ll step into the fray again.

    • Anonymous

      Yikes! I hope that writer who described as drivel the personal essay of yours that appeared in a San Diego paper wasn’t … well, me.

      • Eminamide

        haha, no, as I recall, it was a “she”…

      • Eminamide

        PS by the way, we have a mutual friend named Jennie from the CWG!

  • Anonymous

    I just put this on my FB page, and thought maybe I’d also drop it here: The seven types of negative blog comments I delineated in my last post don’t, in total, constitute but maybe maybe 7% of the total comments I get on my blog. The other 93% are from the sort of normal, kind, thoughtful, insightful commenters that, frankly, make blogging such a joy for me.

    As I often say, and always mean, I’ve got the best commenters in the blogosphere. If there are any better, I don’t know where.

  • Ace

    Hahahah, I’m sure I’m one of those “crazy” commenters but oh well. SOMEBODY has to keep your life from being boring! :P

  • http://luwandi.wordpress.com Beth Luwandi

    Yes you are John. Damn good at this. But of course, you don’t need me to say that. Fun post

    • Anonymous

      Thanks, awesome commenter Beth Luwandi. (And, um … just to be clear: “I’m good at blogging” isn’t really at all the same thing as saying, “The blog posts I put up are awesome.” Blogging isn’t really a form in which anyone can be TOO great, because who has the time to really hone and work a post the way it must be before it can really approach anything near to great? Plus, I put up one a DAY. I’m happy if I reach, “Not entirely sucky.” But … I like it. I’m weirdly suited to it. Anyway….thanks for letting me babble at you.)

  • vj

    “To blog is to create (at best) disposable art; a post lasts a day or two, at most.”

    No, no, no! I mean, I realize you don’t write blog posts for posterity, but since I found your blog about 6 months ago, I have found it incredibly rewarding/challenging/entertaining/thought-provoking/totally worthwhile etc to read through your archives. SO MUCH wonderful stuff, and fantastic that it’s all still out there for us to read. NOT disposable at all :)

    Charlotte Mason (education pioneer) believed that ideas are the food of the mind. Your ideas are some of the most nutritious I have ever come across…

    • Anonymous

      Gosh, thanks; that’s awfully nice to hear. Especially after today, which I think was, writing-wise, the toughest day I’ve ever had. Absolutely brutal. So this was really nice, vj. Thanks again.

      • vj

        You are most welcome – sorry to hear you’re having a rough day at the keyboard! Keep it up though, we need to hear what you have to say…

  • Berkshire

    I can actually relate to what Denver wrote very well.
    I used to be a regular reader and commenter of John’s blog, but one particularly offensive and arrogant commenter just pushed me over the edge by putting words in my mouth and clearly just looking for a platform to brow beat, and then it seemed like license for others to gang up. Astonishing, really. I wrote a venting reply trying to clarify and correct distortions to my original words, and never looked back, even to see if there was a reply to that. . .
    . this is my first visit to the site in a few months, I think.

    I missed John’s writing. So today I looked around at his posts I’ve missed over the last few months.
    I’m not reading the comments anymore, though. In fact, I don’t tend to read comments on other blogs or news sites anymore, either. It’s depressing and causes me to lose faith in humanity when I see the sheer nastiness that anonymity seems to bring out.

    This was actually a profound experience for me–my estrangement from this blog. I’m a Buddhist, and as such, believe in our innate goodness; believe in goodness as our most basic nature, even when covered up by the darker aspects of our humanness.
    But it was a kick in the gut that really caused me to question that. I have doubts now. Still and always a Buddhist, but more wary of those who choose to (or unconsciously, through ignorance/lack of awarenes, or ego) keep that goodness tightly under wraps.

    I only decided to comment on this one because I was somewhat relieved to find that someone else felt similarly to what I had felt, though perhaps not as deeply, I don’t know. Somewhat validating, anyway, while at the same time kind of sad.

    Glad to see you still fighting the good fight, though, John, and still able to make me laugh.

    • Anonymous

      I hope you stick around, Berk. It’s been a tough week for me, comments-wise. I got HAMMERED over on HuffPo (like you wouldn’t believe), and this week had to ban FOUR people off my site here–three of them long-time commenters. I don’t like doing that. Anyway, I’m glad you’re back. In the future, don’t hesitate to bring to my attention anyone you find offensive; I’ll warn them, and then block them if they persist. I take real pride in the quality of comments on this blog; just today, over coffee, a friend was telling me that mine are the only comments he reads, anywhere on line, because they’re so “sane” and “reasonable.” It was great to hear. I want to keep that up. You—and anyone reading this—can help me maintain that standard by continuing to comment in the way most all of you do, and by letting me know when someone needs to go. Thanks.

      • Mary G

        I had a similar compliment once about a Yahoo Group I moderate. Something along the lines of how amazing it is that so diverse a group manages to maintain not just civility, but actual kindness, respect and gentleness with other’s mistakes.

        Like Berk, I stopped (well, mostly) reading comments on Washington Post articles after being beaten down by the vile sort of things that get placed there. I wish WaPo would have someone moderating their comments sections that does so as well as you do!

        Thanks John, for keeping the peace!

    • DR

      I am really curious about Buddhism. I’d love it if you’d post more about it!


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