Of Comment Trolls and Flash Mobs

comment trolls and flash mobs

At some stage in your blogging journey, you’re going to write something that, for whatever reason, brings down the equivalent of Darth Vader, Sauron, Freddy Kreuger and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse onto you all at once.

That’s okay – part of the beauty of blogging is that you’re opening up your opinion to the world, and as we all know, no-one ever agrees on everything someone else says.

Healthy debate is good – it helps grow both you as a blogger and your reader, as they get to interact with you more as well as your other readers. This helps foster your blog’s community.

But sometimes, you’re going to get idiots that have nothing better to do than try promote a hidden agenda, or simply want to be the loudest voice in the room. No matter what you say or do, they’re still going to be angry little children.

Otherwise known as comment trolls, they can be a pain in the butt. Especially when they hunt in packs, and become comment troll flash mobs.

The good news is, you have complete control over how you deal with them and how much say they actually get.

Comment Trolls on Your Blog

If the trolls are attacking you on your blog, obviously as the blog author you have complete control over what is said, how it’s said, and who it’s said to. So how do you deal with comment trolls on your blog?

  • Comment Policy. One of the ways you can preempt trolls is by having a clear comment policy on what will and will not be tolerated. While you’ll still get trolls, you’re showing your trusted readers that you have their back – again creating a better community. If you’re unsure of what would be a good comment policy for your blog, The Blog Herald has a great overview.
  • Ask Why. A lot of trolls, funnily enough, aren’t as bad as they make themselves out to be. Sometimes, your most vocal critics can be mistaken for trolls, when in fact they might have a valid point. Ask them why they feel you erred, and see if there’s common ground you can agree on.
  • Polite Warning. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, some trolls will just continue to come back at either you or your readers. This isn’t something you should let continue for a protracted length of time. Advise them politely that you respect opinion and disagreement, but not rudeness or attacks. If they continue, you’ll have to moderate, delete or ban them.
  • The Three Strike Rule. I’ve used a rule on every blog I’ve ever had, or helped a client with – the Three Strike Rule. If you’ve been advised not to be rude and ignored it; had your comment moderated and ignored it; and then had your comment deleted and reposted, you’re banned from the blog. You can either use the troll’s IP address to filter them straight to spam, or completely ban them from your blog. If you’re unsure how to do this, speak to your web host about IP Blocking

Comment Trolls on Other Blogs

As you can see from the above suggestions, you have a ton of control over comment trolls on your own blog. But what happens when someone’s attacking you on someone else’s blog, and the blog author isn’t protecting you?

standing alone

Be Polite and Ask Why. The beauty of blog comments is they encourage interaction, whether it’s a personal, professional, business or hobby blog. So ask your attacker why they feel so strongly. Look at your comment and ask about a certain point in it. You’ll either spark up a reasoned conversation or be ignored/attacked again. Which leads to the next point. 

Reach Out to the Blog Author. Any good blogger should protect their commenters and make sure everyone knows personal attacks will not be tolerated. Unfortunately not every blogger lives up to this. If you feel you’re coming under attack unfairly, ask the blogger why they’re allowing it. If they don’t protect you, find another blog to read. 

Ignorance is Bliss. You can have the most valid responses. You can agree with other points of view by trolls. You can accept your point-of-view isn’t cast in stone. But still the troll persists. Time to let them waste their own energy and just ignore them, and instead continue to converse with the folks that bring value and common sense to blog comments.

When and If You Should Engage Flash Mobs

Like I say, sometimes you’ll see the trolls hunt in packs. This can be a community from another website coming together to attack you on your post, or blog authors and their friends beating you down in the comments on their blog.

The best thing to do here is just sit it out, ride the storm, and jump in where necessary (to correct erroneous facts, or protect your other readers).

I had an example earlier this year where a Tumblr community came out in force and attacked me on this blog. They got really personal at times (although some were pretty funny too).

Instead of jumping in and fanning the flames more by replying, I simply replied to a couple to correct a statement and offer some further information. The furore died down pretty quickly – sometimes people just want to let off steam. If you watch a pan of boiling water when it’s taken off the stove, you know the steam eventually evaporates.

Flash mobs are actually a bit easier to deal with, as they generally compliment each others comments, as opposed to hitting out at anyone else but you.

Of course, if it does become too personal or they’re attacking your other readers, you can refer back to how to deal with trolls on your blog from earlier in this post.

Business blogs are a bit different, because obviously there’s a lot more legal stuff at stake as well as how your business is viewed when replying. A strong comment policy is needed with business blogs, and you’ll want to consult with your legal team about how to proceed.

I’ll be looking at business blogs and interaction in a future post.

In the meantime, how about you? Have you had to deal with comment trolls, and if so, how do you deal with them?

image: Yoshi 2000
image: neonihil

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  1. Wes Towers@GraphicDesignMelbourne March 15, 2011 at 9:29 pm

    While I do not appreciate these rude commenters, I know my day will come soon, mate. But, not just yet. 😀 I guess, I’ll know when my blog has already gained popularity when I have these comment trolls and flash mobs on my site. 😉

  2. Brankica March 15, 2011 at 10:48 pm

    Hey Danny,
    interesting post, I really enjoyed reading it (yes, call me a weirdo).

    I have had people attack me on my own blog but I always reply like they haven’t. If they would continue, I would ban them. It is my blog after all.

    I know some bloggers have “gangs” that will do everything for them, but I don’t think of them as really nice human beings.

    If you can’t “fight your battle” why would you ask others to do it. Then again, I think even less about those that will do anything for such a blogger.

    Blogging is supposed to be fun and if someone tries to take the smile off my face, I will just delete them forever.

    I am, after all, a professional law enforcement officer :)

    • Danny March 16, 2011 at 7:36 pm

      I’ve seen you handle some of these commenters, Brankica, and I think you did it perfectly. Sure, we can react to the comments, but why bother? All we’re doing is giving trolls a feeling of importance, and most of the really bad ones don’t even deserve recognition, never mind a feeling of importance. 😉

  3. Jay Dolan March 15, 2011 at 10:58 pm

    Haters are gonna hate. I get trolls and people who don’t “get” me all the time. I just send my pack of social media sociopaths after them.

  4. Ari Herzog March 15, 2011 at 11:22 pm

    Adding to the conversation (should anyone other than Danny be reading this) are two items:

    First, IP banning is not 100% effective and may have the opposite effect as using a different computer changes the IP. Also, if the user is connected to the internet through a national company, e.g. Comcast or British Telecom, then it is very likely IP addresses are recycled now and then.

    Second, it’s one thing to have a comment policy linked as Danny does in a submenu at the top of this blog; but it’s something else to have the policy clearly linked (to be read) in the vicinity of the comment submission button. Click the below article I recently wrote to see how I show the policy as an example.

    • Danny March 16, 2011 at 7:40 pm

      Are you saying my readers never bother with the comments afterward, Ari? 😉

      The IP one is a good one, but yes, it can be “worked around” for the reasons you mention above.

      For the comment policy, you could have it at the end of a post if you want to eat up real estate. I guess it depends on the community – if you have one that’s very vocal and boisterous, then having it front and centre probably helps.

      If it’s one that discusses with respect – no matter how heated the potential – then a navigation placing (main or sub) should cover.

  5. SuperSimpleGuy (Karim) March 16, 2011 at 4:43 am

    Hello Danny,

    You are sharing very interesting suggestions and ideas.

    I had ‘hate’ comments on my 5 years old blog once, but they were very very rare: just 2 persons (or just one because they were anonymous) amongst thousands of visitos and passionate readers.
    After a first ‘attack’ I explained very politely that I was not a professional book writer, just an amateur ‘learner’ who was trying to help, in an online world where no one was doing it in french. I precised that I always stated it on the blog, and explained exactly how I made searches and shared information and tips, to help amateur (or even professional) writers in writing their book.
    But rather than trying to see what I was really doing on the blog, that person got even harsher, just because I responded politely. Later, I just let the person post his or her ideas, and didn’t bother to respond anymore.
    The result? The little community of fans and people I was helping and encouraging, just had a natural standing point of defending me, and it was the first time I really realized something like that, I had never thought of it before (I never thought I would receive a harsh comment neither.)
    Since I let that commentor express his ideas, I understood too that it was partly my fault, because I didn’t provide a detailed ‘profile’ of me right away in the front page, and I think I should do it very soon. The blog has still a lot of potential to grow.

    But lately, there was a comment that was totally using a destructive and disgusting overpumped style; I didn’t bother to let that comment being posted, and one day later, I simply decided I didn’t have the time or the interest to deal with it, so I deleted it.

    But I wouldn’t delete it if I was not working on starting a new blog project right now, I would even post it, respond to it, the right way, it’s just that I didn’t have… not especially the time but, let’s say; the guts to do it, I didn’t feel like it :)

    And I have a question for you Danny, do you think the size of a comment, can be a criteria of troll comment? Because to be sincere, sometimes I post a HUGE blog comment, I don’t do it on purpose of course, it’s just that when I start writing, sometimes ideas flow naturally, and I just don’t want to keep them to myself… but share them and maybe start a discussion.
    What do you think?

    • Danny March 16, 2011 at 7:45 pm

      Hi Karim,

      And that’s another of the great things about blogging – you build a community of two-way trust and they will look after you as you look after them. Great to hear yours stood up for you too. :)

      With regards comment length, you really should speak to Ingrid Abboud (@nittygriddyblog on Twitter) whose comments are usually always longer than the post itself. :)

      I don’t see any issue with comment length – much like the post itself, it’s done when it’s done. And often, the fact a post has inspired someone to leave a long comment is a compliment to the author, so mostly I’d see it as a good thing. :)

      • SuperSimpleGuy (Karim) March 17, 2011 at 5:48 am

        Absolutely, it’s a honor and pleasure to have a friendly community support you reciproquely.

        Ingrid? I didn’t have the chance to stumble upon her posts yet, thank you for the cool reference :)

        “much like the post itself, it’s done when it’s done.”
        You are absolutely right! Many things that apply on a blog post, are just as true for a blog comment. So, for the length: a comment should be just long enough to cover certain thoughts and feelings, but sometimes it’s impulsive! As opposed to a well thought and gestated blog post that have an ongoing context.
        About responsibility; sometimes I just forget to re-read a spontaneously written comment, and even though I don’t regret at all it’s content, I often find that I could have reframed it in much better words, in a more concise form and with simplified example(s,) then adapt it for the original blogger too, not against him/her.
        This subject seems unlimited, I know some customer service agents that have a lot to say about brand trolls or product trolls, if they decided to blog about it.

        Thank you Danny for the ideas and inspiration :)

  6. john Falchetto March 16, 2011 at 8:37 am

    I love the haters Danny, really I do. The reason why? Simply because we are going to be great mates, they just don’t know it yet :)

    Sometimes I get harsh words in comments and I like the point you make about ‘fake’ Trolls, by asking why. They often read more into a post or understand a point one way. I love them because we more often than not become great mates online and it all started out with some harsh words.
    Asking what makes them so upset is the first step.

    I don’t think banning people is a solution, I prefer to keep the discussion on my turf rather than theirs. I have never had comments which were really vulgar and offensive so maybe I will change my mind when it happens.

    Cheers mate, thanks for answering yet another question in my mind.

    • Howie at Sky Pulse Media March 16, 2011 at 11:54 am

      I agree with you 100% John. I did a guest post for Shonali on this very subject on why to embrace dissent from people. My focus was customers but it goes across the board.

      If they don’t post you don’t know they have any issues. A regular commentor on Spin Sucks who I think might come here too was because he attacked Gini on her Brogan post. Now he is an avid crew member!

      This is a great topic for discussion though. Most of what Danny says is correct. I think banning should be saved for truly abusive people.

    • Danny March 16, 2011 at 7:47 pm

      Hi mate,

      Agree with both you and Howie on the banning option. I’ve only had to do that twice (once on my wife’s blog) and it’s only happened after plenty of chances for the abuser to be more respectful.

      And for sure – turn a hater into an understander (they don’t even have to like you), and that’s one of the best things ever. :)

  7. Paul Salmon March 16, 2011 at 8:45 am

    I guess I’m one of the lucky ones in that I haven’t had anyone attack me on my blog, or had any really comment trolls appear either.

    I have seen them, mainly in forums, where they would usually leave a comment like they know everything and everyone else is an idiot.

    It is best to not get worked up over what they write as they are just words written by someone you probably won’t ever meet.

    While it is fine to disagree with someone, disagreeing with them to start an argument is just plain stupid.

    • Danny March 16, 2011 at 7:49 pm

      And that’s the thing, Paul. It always reminds me of when I worked customer service years ago. We always had the power to veto an abusive caller – the same goes for a blogger. You have access to the Admin area – they don’t. That’s a lot of control when it comes to how you let people affect you. 😉

  8. Marcus Sheridan-The Sales Lion March 16, 2011 at 11:35 am

    Another great article on a topic that doesn’t get much attention Danny. But let me take a little different angle in my reply.

    You mentioned above that everyone will have to deal with trolls at some time or another. And although this statement is relatively true, there are some bloggers out there that never get trolls or negative comments simply because their opinions and writings are boring and lame.

    In fact, I’d say that if a blogger does not get hit on a consistent basis from people with opposing opinions, then that person really needs to get out of ‘the gray’ and start being more black and white. Ya know what I mean Danny?

    Great bloggers have to take a stand. Being a polarizing figure is a very good thing in the online world.

    Thanks again.


    • Danny March 16, 2011 at 7:50 pm

      Great point, Marcus, and bang on target. The blogs I enjoy the most are where there’s a good cross-mix of views on display, as opposed to all the cultish “awesome post” or “you’re so right” all the time.

      Yes, it’s nice to have compliments and give them; but if a blogger’s comments are always that, I often move elsewhere. No-one’s that good. 😉

  9. Howie at Sky Pulse Media March 16, 2011 at 11:56 am

    I like this Topic Danny! I think the way technology has evolved it means comments and mobs leave lasting imprints online. In the past someone said F-U and walked away. They might say ‘I hate that guy’ to a friend and no one outside proximity hears.

    Now people far and wide can visually see this stuff. And people can invade if they want.

    • Danny March 16, 2011 at 7:52 pm

      You know, I have far more respect for people who leave a contrarian comment publicly than those that are anonymous. Have the balls to stand up or don’t stand up at all. :)

      • Howie at Sky Pulse Media March 17, 2011 at 11:01 am

        I agree Danny! I grew up in NYC/Long Island. Where if people didn’t like you they told you. I finished School in North Carolina where everyone is the nicest people ever to your face. Then behind closed doors they hate you. I saw more closet racism than I cared to deal with so after college I left. Los Angeles is a mix. It is such a melting pot you get forced to deal with everyone all the time which helps things.

  10. Matthew Crossett March 16, 2011 at 2:11 pm

    I really hope that soon enough my blog will be high profile enough to have one or, dare I say it, a whole group of people so engrossed in my ideas that they feel strongly enough to ‘attack’ my blog. When it happens I will be sure to employ these tacits, Thanks

  11. Keith Davis March 16, 2011 at 3:30 pm

    Thanks for the warning and advice Danny.
    Never thought about it but forewarned is forearmed.

    BTW – love the title “Of Comment Trolls and Flash Mobs” just had to read this one.

  12. Michelle March 16, 2011 at 5:14 pm

    Thanks for this Danny. I’m just going to say, I’ve observed how you respond to comments on your blog – positive and negative….. and clueless ones too – and you do it with grace and class at all times. Well done. :)

    • Danny March 16, 2011 at 7:55 pm

      Hey there Michelle,

      Thank you, way kind :)

      The way I look at it is that everyone has a voice and an opinion, and deserve to be heard. And I sure as heck don’t have all the answers, so I’m not going to argue with someone who has a better one. 😉

  13. Billy Gee March 16, 2011 at 8:25 pm

    Haha..I love it..”Trolls”. The only hidden agenda these idiots have is to get a rise…Dont dignify with more than 1 or 2 responses! And I agree, ask why, and nicely. A lot of these people will quit knowing that you’re not pissed!

  14. Jk Allen March 16, 2011 at 10:47 pm

    Hi Danny – Wow, I surely haven’t received any trolls or flash mobs, yet in the blogosphere. I guess when I do it’ll be a sign [somewhat] of accomplishment …meaning people care enough to spend time “hating” what I’m up to.

    I’ve dealt with this in real life…so I understand the annoyance and displeasure that comes with it.

    This is my first time commenting here. Saw your name mentioned on NittyGriddy and also on John’s (Expat) blog in the comments.

    GREAT stuff you have working here you have working here. Glad to have found it! And I love: “the human side of media and the social side of marketing.”

    • Danny March 17, 2011 at 10:28 am

      Hey there JK,

      That’s always the best approach – if we can understand the annoyance, we can move forward. It might be that we’ve inadvertently insulted someone – culture, beliefs, family – and the criticism is warranted. Understanding is half of the solution.

      And great to have you here, mate – hopefully we’ll see more of your thoughts in the comments, always great to have more ideas.

      Cheers, sir! :)

  15. Sanjeev Sharma@Random Raves & Rants of Sanjeev March 17, 2011 at 3:05 am

    This is not only an interesting post but unfortunately a real life, or should I say a virtual life, truth as well.

    If you have an opinion, there will be people who will be in direct opposition to it as well. And that can be for two reasons – one, they genuinely feel opposite of what you do or two, they always take the opposite view point to any given idea.

    Nothing wrong with either. I welcome both (though I enjoy the latter more!). The only condition is that the discussion must be civil and be based on objective analysis. The moment the discussion departs from these two ingredients, it becomes personal, rude and pointless.

    I have had the “pleasure” of comment trolls on one of my blogs. They were at times extremely rude and worse illogical (at least in my opinion). My first instinct was to delete the comments, but I decided against that. I replied politely but firmly. Some retreated, some did not. But I continued to have their comments published on the blog and kept a good “fight” without being as rude as they were. Eventually some of my readers took up the cudgels on my behalf and that finally shut the trolls up.

    Another thing that I have noticed when someone writes a hate comment is that more often than not, they have not read the entire post – just seen some lines and “understood” the complete article and pulled the comment trigger. They are driven by emotions and asking why they are upset (as suggested by you) can calm them down.

    • Danny March 17, 2011 at 10:31 am

      Hey there Sanjeev,

      The “not read entire post” comment is so true, mate, especially when you separate posts into sub-headers and bullets. Time is everyone’s luxury, so skimming is the alternative.

      And often, once the misunderstanding is cleared up, everyone can have a laugh at the confusion because of speed-reading. :)

  16. Gini Dietrich March 17, 2011 at 5:22 pm

    As I was reading this, I’m thinking, “Yeah, but Danny…what happens when they attack you on someone else’s blog?” And then you read my mind!

    I think the best policy is to be classy, not defensive, and open your mind to the criticism. If the person (or people) keep coming at you, don’t engage.

    • Danny March 18, 2011 at 1:25 am

      Agreed. People that are loud for loud’s sake hate it when they don’t get a rise. Besides, there’s always email and closed communities to vent off with… 😉

  17. Marjorie Clayman @margieclayman March 19, 2011 at 9:49 am

    I still haven’t had all that many trolls, but I totally agree with the comment that it’s really important to make sure the trolls are actually trolls. I have found that sometimes people just naturally comment angrily :)

    Also, asking someone to clarify often acts as troll repellent. If you show you are willing to engage but on a higher level of maturity, interest decreases pretty quickly.

    Good post!

  18. Alt2Att April 22, 2011 at 9:06 am

    I’m just starting a blog. Thanks for the tips. I can see how they will be valuable.

  19. Monica Ricci July 6, 2011 at 3:42 pm

    I will always delete the spam of course. You know, those folks who show up with a name like “ViagaraForLess” and a link to some website and all they do is say something lame and generic like, “I am agree! This blog are many helpful to me!” Seriously? UGH. Just go away.

    As for rude commenters, I don’t get TOO many (thankfully) but I will typically respond politely and ask for more information, often resigning to the fact that we are free to disagree. If someone says something over-the-top rude about me or one of my other commenters, I’ll delete the post and write a comment explaining that dialogue is welcome provided it’s respectful.

    One guy criticized my blog design (pretty rudely actually) and it inspired me to be objective and I ended up agreeing with him and changing my design, which improved it greatly. So I was thankful for that one! I also think you need to develop a thick skin if you’re putting yourself out in the Twitterverse or blogosphere. You can’t please everyone all the time and it’s easy for many people to be a tough guy from behind the keyboard and say things they would *never* dream of saying to you in person. Generally, I try to take the high road whenever possible.

    • Danny July 17, 2011 at 8:03 pm

      Haha, it’s funny you mention your blog design, Monica (and popping over there after this reply to check it out).

      I wrote a post a while back about changing my design, and what people would like to see. One reply, by a lady called Lisa Kalandjian, turned into Lisa redesigning (see current design) and becoming part of Bonsai Interactive.

      Funny how things work out. :)

  20. Sonia July 6, 2011 at 6:49 pm

    I can’t say it’s happened to me yet, but I have run across some on other communities where I have seen that kind of behaviour. I think they are more concerned with getting their agenda across and that’s fine, but I noticed something:

    Cowards are quick to say things behind a computer, (I guess it’s more safe for them) but when it comes to face to face conversations, they usually back down. Why give trolls the time of day? I guess I am in your face kind of person and believe in addressing the situation personally. That usually silents a room, but I always do it with tact.

    Like you said, not everyone will like you what you say or even like you, but they will respect you if you know how to defuse the situation.

  21. Paige Worthy September 17, 2012 at 4:29 pm

    Hi Danny! Doing a little research today for a class I’m teaching tomorrow on blogging for business. Having had a (very dedicated) troll of my own for quite some time, I wanted to be sure I addressed this topic from a more well-rounded position than just my own.
    Thanks for the ideas about staying positive and engaging “trolls” when necessary…but also learning to ignore or block if it really gets out of hand.

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