This post was originally published August 17, 2015. I have updated it extensively and republished it on August 22, 2016.
Last year around this time, I won a free copy of Jay Baer’s book Hug Your Haters…
…and winning Jay’s book inspired me to publish my own take on How to Deal with Trolls, Bullies & Jerks.
Y’know, internet haters…
A year later, here I am updating this post specifically for us freelancers.
It’s one thing to get into an internet argument with your friends on Facebook over stuff like…
- Whether or not Community will ever get a movie, or
- Who is bringing what to Thanksgiving dinner.
No, nothing like that.
I’m talking about unwarranted online aggression from assholes who are explicitly challenging your integrity and skill as a professional, or your online business as a whole…
Because when you rely on your online, service-based business to pay the mortgage and feed your family, you might be tempted to respond a little like this:
Now, please let me clarify…
I am not talking about customer complaints or constructive criticism.
Those have their place and are worth respectfully addressing.
And I am certainly not writing this post for corporations like Starbucks, Walmart, or McDonald’s.
Those guys have the time, money and resources to address every customer respectfully — even the nutty ones.
But I am writing this post for bloggers, solopreneurs, and freelancers… the one-man and one-woman shows out there who simply don’t have the time and resources to handle unwarranted and abusive comments.
And unfortunately, the internet has made it easy for the most pathetic of cowards to hide behind their keyboards and spew unrelenting negativity for the rest of us to endure.
Let’s meet the cast and crew usually responsible for unwarranted online abuse:
troll: one who posts a deliberately provocative message to a newsgroup or message board with the intention of causing maximum disruption and argument
bully: a person who teases, hurts, or threatens smaller or weaker persons
jerk: a contemptibly obnoxious person
Whether you are a newer freelancer or more experienced, you or your content will — at some point — be the target of mean and aggressive comments… most often after having done nothing to provoke harassment in the first place.Whether you are a newer freelancer or more experienced, at some point you will be the target of mean and aggressive comments.Click To Tweet
You will get dumped on. It’s just a question of when, by whom, and for how long it will continue.
You know that old saying about sticks and stones?
It isn’t true.
Words can hurt.
Especially when you are devoting countless hours to building your online business.
All that hard work just have to a stranger tell you it sucks…?
It isn’t a good feeling, no matter how thick your skin might be.
It is even worse knowing that the hurtful feedback is often publicly visible for anyone to see.
I’m going to go into more detail in a moment, but let me start this post by giving you my magic cure-all solution for how to deal with trolls, bullies and jerks:
Pretty simple, right?
Whether on your blog, social media, or otherwise — step one? Delete. Step two? Block. Done!
Now, I know what some of you are thinking… healthy discourse is good! A professional individual shouldn’t simply delete comments and block users just for having a contrasting opinion.
And you are totally right.
I agree with you.
So let’s start by reviewing…
Here’s What I Don’t Mean…
In March 2015, back when I used to write on a variety of digital marketing topics, I published a blog post — now archived — entitled What Is Bounce Rate & Why Does It Matter?.
For the first time ever, Dan R. Morris of Blogging Concentrated left a comment on my blog.
Did I feel threatened by his comment? Intimidated? Belittled?
Not at all.
I respected Dan.
In a constructive and positive way, Dan offered me his point of view… our comment thread went on for several messages as we exchanged ideas. And I went on to update my blog post to feature a quote from Dan.
And do you know what else happened?
I invited Dan to publish a guest post on my blog.
After all, he clearly knew his stuff. So he agreed to be my guest.
In July 2015, Dan published his — now archived — post Why Your Design Affects Your SEO on my blog.
This is a perfect example of healthy discourse, and how blog comments can be effectively used to build and nurture relationships between professionals in different niches.
Unfortunately, that is not the topic of today’s post…
Here’s the Truth on How to Deal with Trolls, Bullies & Jerks
You have probably heard the saying,
“Don’t argue with idiots because they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience.”
This quote is often falsely attributed to either Greg King or Mark Twain… but regardless of who said it, it is true.
If you’re anything like me, you work hard at your online business. Countless hours. Sleepless nights. And you genuinely want to deliver value to your readers, followers and clients alike.
Does that sound like you?
If so, I want to stress the importance of the influences you allow in your life.
As you have likely heard before, the five individuals in your inner circle of influence can have a drastic impact on your business. In a similar fashion, Jim Rohn famously declared that your income is likely to be the average of your five closest friends.
The people you allow to communicate with you — in either a positive or negative manner — will ultimately affect how you think, feel, and act. Whether you realize it and like it or not.The people you allow to communicate with you, in either a positive or negative manner, will ultimately affect how you think, feel, and act.Click To Tweet
More importantly, when you hear a message enough times, you start to believe it. So when you get abusive comments that…
- belittle your accomplishments
- insult your intelligence
- emphasize your insignificance
- encourage you to quit
- degrade your competence
- question your capacity
…or that are otherwise belligerent and offensive, you need to delete and block that comment and user.
But whatever you do, remember this… have you ever heard someone say don’t feed the bears?
Don’t Feed the Trolls, Either!
Just about the worst thing you can do when you receive a nasty, unwarranted comment is to reply.
Whether on social media or your blog, think about what would compel someone to leave such a comment in the first place… especially if you find yourself the victim of a whole circle of trolls, bullies or jerks attacking you.
- What do you expect to gain by replying to their mean and insulting comments?
- Do you think these people can be reasoned with?
- Do you think you can convince them all to suddenly like you?
I know it’s human nature to want to defend yourself and your work.
But the truth is that some people enjoy criticizing others in order to make themselves feel good.
So even if you take the high road and attempt to be civil in your response, do you think that will be well received?
A True Story…
Nearly a dozen different Google+ users — none of whom I had ever heard of — attacked my teaser post, calling into question the expertise of both myself and the participants in my roundup post.
At first, I took the time to kindly reply to each person, thanking him or her graciously for the feedback… and promising to take their suggestions under advisement for future roundup posts I might publish.
By about the sixth or seventh comment, I gave up.
This wasn’t a healthy or respectful conversation. It had quickly deteriorated into something aggressive and rude.
So what did I do?
In the following 24 to 48 hours, I took a lot of criticism for blocking some fairly big name Google+ users — some of whom had a much larger following than I did at the time.
But frankly, it occurred to me that trying to respond to the negative comments I was receiving cost me hours of productivity, and worse? It made me feel bad about what — at the time — was arguably the most successful and value-packed blog post I had ever published.
So, was I right or wrong for my actions?
Only I can decide that. It was my post, after all.
What I know for sure is that I put an end to that negativity.
Why do I tell you this story?
Because this post is on how to deal with trolls, bullies and jerks… and I want you to stop and consider their motivations.
Think about this:
Serving my clients often results in long workdays, although far fewer hours than I used to invest a year ago… back then, it wasn’t uncommon to put in 15-18 hour days and to work through weekends without taking a day off.
Additionally, I spent a fair amount of time each week on my own blogging, list building and affiliate marketing efforts.
And my work ethic over the past couple years has paid dividends.
I make more money now while working fewer hours than I did back in 2014 when I first got started.
Do I say this to impress you?
Simply to impress upon you that my time is incredibly valuable to me. I traded off a lot of time I could have spent with my wife, my friends, and my family to build something I could be proud of.
So tell me…
In what universe would I ever find time to leave a negative or hurtful comment on a blog, a Facebook post, or a video?
Never, that is when.
That mean comment would not help to foster a positive relationship with another freelancer or to drive any additional business my way.
So why would I waste my time writing it?
So the next time you find yourself on the receiving end of an abusive comment, ask yourself…
Is it worth replying?
Can this person be reasoned with?
If you give logic and reason a moment to set in, I think you’ll agree with me — no matter how large a following this particular bully has, he or she clearly has nothing of monetary value happening online.
A successful person doesn’t waste keystrokes on the objective of tearing another person down — let alone someone undeserving…
Don’t let their numbers or following fool you.
Numbers are just numbers… and as you’ll quickly discover, they seldom correlate to numbers in the bank.
Also, Don’t Call for Backup!
One of the silly things I see newer solopreneurs do is try to fight back.
They get a nasty comment on their newest piece of content — a blog post or a YouTube video, for example — so they jump in the mix and invite two or three of their friends to come along.
I can only imagine how that conversation goes…
“Dude, this one guy is totally bashing my freelance writing service on my blog… yeah, he says I’m an idiot and nobody will hire me. Yo, text Steve and tell him to meet us over at my blog. Together all three of us will show this guy what’s what!”
If only it were that simple.
What ends up happening is you poison your own comment section.
New visitors look at it — your potential customers — and get a full view of you being unprofessional and decide:
- Not to work with you — ever!
- Never to leave a comment on your blog.
Even if you see some of your loyal blog readers jumping in and defending you without being prompted, don’t let ego take over. It can be vindicating to have someone else stand up for you, but it still leaves a negative mark on your blog.
And move on.
Don’t call for backup.
The answer to how to deal with trolls, bullies and jerks is not to try to round up your own crew of losers to fight back.
Now, how about a few helpful hints…?
If you want to safeguard your blog, ensure you set all comments to be moderated prior to publication. This is especially true if you use the standard comments function in WordPress, or any other platform that allows users to manually enter their own information.
If you choose not to hold comments for moderation, you are opening up your blog to malicious remarks, spam, and worse.If you choose not to hold comments for moderation, you are opening up your blog to malicious remarks, spam, and worse.Click To Tweet
For instance, have you ever considered how easy it is to impersonate someone else?
If you know the email address a user associates with Gravatar, you can suddenly become him or her on blogs that choose not to moderate comments.
I had this happen to me once.
Someone started using my Gravatar to spam links on other blogs.
But it gets worse than that.
What if someone impersonated you on your own blog, leaving hateful replies to other users that have commented?
I know this probably sounds like extreme paranoia, but it happens every day.
Hold every comment in moderation until you manually approve it, no matter how well you know a particular user. After all, you are moderating his or her comment — in part — for his or her own good.
I know, I know… we all need to be authentic on social media. I agree. But being authentic doesn’t mean revealing everything about yourself.
Are you a big fan of Star Wars?
Post that to your social media profiles.
But leave politics, religion, offensive jokes, nudity, and anything else questionable off social media.
Heck, if you really want to follow porn stars on Twitter or post who you are voting for on Facebook, do it from a separate, personal account.
Keep your business profiles for business.
You can allow your personality to shine through — for instance, I post my cycling photos to social media — but try to focus your content on the people you want following you.
Social media, however, is one of the quickest avenues upon which to attract negative attention from trolls, bullies and jerks… so remember the simple two-step formula:
It’s just that simple.
Alright, so… mailing list? This might seem like a weird one. Because even if someone has a negative remark to make, the worst case scenario is that their reply goes to you and only you, right?
But let’s suppose the same subscriber replies to each of your broadcast emails with something like…
“u suck!!! Just give up and quit now. nobody likes u.”
You could simply block emails from that individual. But let’s be honest… how much do you want that person on your list anyway? Is he or she a great prospect to buy from you? Doubtful.
My best advice here is not only to manually unsubscribe that person from your list, but prevent him or her from subscribing again in the future.
AWeber features a simple way to do this, as I imagine other email service providers probably do, too.
A Final Thought on How to Deal with Trolls, Bullies & Jerks
Listen, if you regularly publish controversial content on politics, religion, or tasteless adult humor, you can expect to receive a few negative comments.
It isn’t that you are necessarily deserving of abuse, but you have to be aware that a lot of people will not agree with your perspective…
No matter how harmless it may be.
But for any freelancer brave enough to share their talents with the online world, there really is no excuse for the jerks that leave mean comments on your content.
That kind of negativity is toxic, and my best advice to you is to simply remove it from your life.
We’re all learning, all growing, and all improving every day — so please, surround yourself with positive influences. Learn with an open mind, and always seek to offer value to others.That kind of negativity is toxic, and my best advice to you is to simply remove it from your life.Click To Tweet
You aren’t Walmart or Starbucks — your resources are limited.
So do yourself a favor.
If you find yourself with enough time in a day to leave one extra blog comment, don’t waste it replying to a bully… leave something positive on a blog you follow or a thank a client for his or her business by email instead.
Have you ever been the victim of unwarranted trolling or internet haters?
I encourage you to share your story in the comments below: