How to Deal with Trolls, Bullies & Jerks

How to Deal with Trolls, Bullies & Jerks (Freelancers’ Edition)


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

Hug Your Haters
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:

(…press play!)

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:

  1. Delete
  2. Block

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.

He said:

Dan R. Morris
Click to Enlarge

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.

Immediately.

But whatever you do, remember this… have you ever heard someone say don’t feed the bears?

Well,

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…

Early in 2015, I found myself on the receiving end of criticism on Google+ for an expert roundup postnow archived — that I hadn’t even published yet.

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?

  1. Delete
  2. Block

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.

You Don't Like Me

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.

EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO GET STARTED

Launch your own successful work-at-home freelancing career.

Enter your email address, and I will send you my free getting started checklist:

Do I say this to impress you?

No.

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.

Nothing.

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.

Don't Call for Backup

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:

  1. Not to work with you — ever!
  2. 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.

  1. Delete
  2. Block

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…?

Blog Comments

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.

Social Media

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?

Cool.

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:

  1. Delete
  2. Block

It’s just that simple.

Mailing List

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.”

Childish, right?

And annoying.

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

Simply put…

  1. Delete
  2. Block

Remember that.

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:

62 thoughts on “How to Deal with Trolls, Bullies & Jerks (Freelancers’ Edition)

  1. Hey Brent,

    Glad to read your wonderful post,

    First of all i want to thanks for this awesome post, you have defined well terms such as troll, bully and jerk. These terms are mainly unknown to many person, you have tried to clear this terms in very simple way.

    Yes, i really agree with you, if we publish controversial content on politics, religion or adult humor in regular basis it may drag negative comments. Finally thanks for motivation.

    Thanks for sharing your worthy post.

    With best regards,

    Amar kumar

    • Hi Amar,

      Glad you enjoyed my post. Thanks for commenting!

      Of course, there’s plenty we can do to sidestep receiving negative comments. But what I’m mostly concerned with addressing here are the unwarranted and abusive comments that freelancers and bloggers receive just for minding their own business.

      Chat soon,

      Brent

  2. Hi Brent,

    Perfectly put; delete, block. It’s what I do the second someone projects their misery on me. Or, attempts to do so.

    After being online for 8 years and doing some mental science work along the way I see all haters as projecting their anger, hate, grief, frustration and unhappiness on other people. Nothing to do with the object, all to do with the hater.

    I feel more compassion for these tortured souls and take stuff less personally but still do the delete and block bit every time.

    Sorry you had that experience on G Plus. But, again, it proves how even if folks have influential tags, they are human, fallible and are sometimes super unhappy and unclear on their status.

    I recall a guy on Twitter who worked for a major media outlet, with some serious clout. He has juice on LinkedIn too. After a few mild emails he got nasty – praying he was drunk – and cursed me out, became vile and downright disgusting. I deleted and blocked after 3 kind exchanges and I hope the folks at…..oh boy better not say it LOL…..didn’t read the content because it was unbelievably unprofessional. I hope the guy kept his job because losing it over a bottle of whiskey and a few nasty, troll-like tweets to old RB would have been a shame.

    Thanks Brent, great wisdom here.

    Ryan

    • Hi Ryan,

      Glad you could relate to my message here… well, in fairness, I actually hope that my online friends are not able to relate. But I realize that all of us at some point will be on the receiving end of unjustified negativity.

      What that experience on Google+ taught me was that “influencer” is a bit of a vapid word people toss around that really doesn’t mean anything… how many influencers have you seen disappear over the years after claiming to be making passive megabucks online? Too many to count.

      What I started to realize is that people who are making it happen are too busy to get caught up in drama. And people who make time for drama will never find success.

      Then again, put a whiskey bottle in someone’s hand… and, well, it might be a completely different story. 😉

      Thanks for commenting, Ryan!

      Brent

  3. Great advice Brent. SUPER sorry about the book. Not sure what happened there. Did you win it from us, or elsewhere? Doesn’t matter really. Please email me your address and I’ll send you a book immediately, and some cool stuff for your trouble.

    ~jay

    • Hi Jay,

      Nice to hear from you!

      Please don’t think I was trying to throw you under the bus in this post — the last thing I would want to do is become a troll, bully or jerk. 😉

      I was simply illustrating that it was hearing about your book last year that got me thinking about my own experiences with online haters.

      I’ll send you an email shortly. I won it when ‘Evil Wade’ took over the Convince and Convert Google+ account last year.

      Chat soon,

      Brent

  4. Hey! First time commenter and I love this post! Delete and block – perfect. I will certainly take that advice when I next need it. Thanks Brent, you rock 🙂

  5. Hey Brent!

    When I first started freelance writing I had someone attack my credibility as a writer and I almost quit. I mean, technically I’m NOT a writer, I have a Psych background and I work with children with autism. But, I quickly realized that was just one person’s opinion and look at me now! I AM a writer 🙂

    I’ve also had people personally email me saying that they would never buy my products..ever.. Um…okay, like I care.

    You’re right; there will always be haters who feel they need to tell you that you suck and that blog writing isn’t even legit. What’s great about being online is the fact that there is so much opportunity to make an income, whether it’s from blog writing, copywriting or email marketing for example.

    For me though, I have a hard time keeping quiet. I always have to respond no mater how rude the comment is.

    • It’s refreshing every now and then for me to hear stories like this from another freelancer or solopreneur. So many tough guys hiding behind computer screens and keyboards, aren’t there? So many people who dream of doing something like we do, don’t have the figurative balls to do it, and lash out at us instead.

      I had someone — a subscriber of mine — lash out at me on social media a few months ago. She claimed there was no way I was making the money I claimed to be because she is “one of the best” at what she does and can’t make a dime. I offered to help her (at no cost) and gave her a chance to change her tune. She didn’t. Deleted and blocked. That simple.

      I understand the urge to respond to rude comments… but honestly, Elna? You’re so talented. Put your energy to use making yourself more money. And let the haters hate.

      Thanks for checking out my post and commenting!

      Brent

  6. Great stuff Brent.

    The example you used with what I would call “genuine constructive criticism/ difference of opinion” was clearly one person expressing a different point of view with done with respect. Trolls are something else altogether.

    I used to hold everyone’s comments for moderation regardless of how many they had left. I may revisit that decision.

    Thanks for talking about this. In a perfect world, adults would actually act like adults. We don’t have to agree on everything, but it’s still nice to treat one another like we’d want to be treated.

    I have no issues with the delete/block options. Happy to use them.
    Regarding FB, I’ve pondered creating a different profile just for personal friends, etc (which is how the one I use now started out). Other times I’ve considered deleting all of it in general.

    Decisions decisions.

    • Hi Dana,

      I just mentioned in my reply to Rachel that this is an older post of mine… nice that you both sort of resurrected it today!

      I still hold every comment in moderation. Not so much with Facebook comments on my older posts, because I can pretty easily ban someone — or hide their post — with a single click. And I think people have come to understand that the bigger challenge when using the Facebook comment system is spammers, not trolls. It’s amazing how much nicer people are when there are photos of their kids and connections to their employer on their public Facebook profile. 🙂

      But for now, I’m going to continue moderating all WordPress comments that come in. I was impersonated more than once on blogs that don’t hold comments in moderation… frankly, I wish all bloggers would hold their comments in moderation.

      Plus, as an added bonus, doing so forces me to reply to each comment before it goes live.

      “We don’t have to agree on everything, but it’s still nice to treat one another like we’d want to be treated.”

      ^ I’m right there with you. I have no qualms with healthy discourse and constructive communication. But to quote the Dark Knight, some men just want to watch the world burn.

      I know a lot of bloggers and marketers actively use their personal Facebook profile online. But because Facebook is now used so universally, I feel compelled to keep information about my friends and family guarded on my end. Facebook is, however, my single best source of social traffic — by a long shot — and I seem to have managed just fine up until now using only my Facebook business page.

      So for me, I can’t see any reason to begin associating my personal Facebook account with my professional work online.

      The closest I come is my Instagram (@brentjonesonline) account, which I now use to regularly post cycling updates. Has nothing to do with my online business, but I don’t think it hurts to show a bit of what I get up to in my spare time.

      Thanks for commenting, Diana!

      Best,

      Brent

  7. Hey Brent,

    You certainly share some practical advice here. Time wasters. Some of my social media accounts have been smashed with harsh words. When it does not affect my posts I keep them up. I never feel responsible for other peoples words. But I guard my posts because I want others to feel they can say whatever they like. The safety net like you point out is being the moderator.

    Disagreeing with my posts is something I encourage, we all know how to disagree without shutting down a relationship. But what I have been astounded by is the pest with a smile on their face. At first I think gee this person is taking a great interest in me, my work must be doing it’s job. But they become serial pests, not really wanting a relationship more testing the waters. Disappointing at first but its more about time. I want to invest in people and make connections.

    I do whatever I can not to delete and block, but it has happened more times than I care to think about. Oh well, we have to accept people for who they are and not what we want them to be. But it does mean cutting them out of our circles. I won’t have toxic seeping in from others. Its not worthy of me. Thanks for a great post Brent.

    Rachel.

    • Hi Rachel,

      Wow! I almost totally forgot about this post. Published it sometime last year. I’m glad it’s still relevant and interesting!

      You touched on an important point. If we allow trolls, bullies and jerks to have their way with our blog post comments, we discourage other people from joining in on the conversation. And that’s no good. Like you said, we want to invest in people and make connections — but reciprocity is extremely important.

      Sorry to hear you have had some negative experiences… time wasters, as you referred to them. But it’s sort of the nature of the beast. Even the most timid, insecure person suddenly feels like a tough guy when hiding behind a monitor and a keyboard.

      Thanks for commenting!

      Brent

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