As of February 2016, after 416 posts, and over six and a half years of blogging, I'm taking a break.
I've explained why here. There's plenty of past posts to read, though - hope you enjoy them !
Looking for a brilliant present for a young naturalist ? Buy my book ! Available from Amazon UK,
Amazon US and worldwide but buy from a local bookshop if you can.

Handling abuse as a child blogger


If you saw last week's post about The Weird and Wonderful shop raffling off a human skull, you'll see it generated an interesting reaction, with over 100 published comments, another seven that were deleted, plus a lot of email messages about it, mostly supportive, with some quite offensive. (In the end, The Weird and Wonderful gave away a different prize, but I don't know whether that was human or animal, since they didn't answer my Tweet)

It was quite an experience, and not always a pleasant one, but I want to take a negative and turn it into a positive so it will hopefully help someone else in the future. Unlike what a lot of parents expect, I have been extremely lucky with all my time blogging, so I'm not exactly an expert on getting abusing messages, but I thought I'd share what I do when I'm responding like things to this for other young bloggers who might end up in the same position.

Get blogging.

More children should blog. Get your opinions out there.  You have the right to blog about whatever you want and express your opinions on your world. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

In some of the comments I either got told I had no right to give my opinion on the topic,  because I couldn't possibly have thought it through well enough, or I was "forcing my views" on others. People should get a grip. Firstly, it's the internet. It's not full yet, so you can voice your opinion on anything you want (*). Secondly, unless you tie someone to a chair and pin their eyelids open, you're not forcing anyone to read anything. They can read, or not read, or agree or not agree. 

Thirdly, last week's post was something I feel very strongly about. One of the things I was REALLY keen to get in my book from the very first meeting with my publisher was about the ethics of bone collecting, what I call my "seven golden rules", on how bone collectors can stay within the law and in touch with nature.

But even if I was just starting out blogging, or didn't have my book, it wouldn't matter. If it's something I believe, I have the right to express my view. (*)

(*) If you have extreme views at the crazy extreme end of the spectrum, or if you say something about someone that turns out not to be true, or that is racist, then you might be breaking the law, depending on where you live. But I think for child bloggers that is extremely unlikely to happen.

My #1 tip for anyone starting blogging has always been: blog about something you are passionate about. If you are not truly interested in what you write about, why should anyone else be ? And if you are passionate, you will have opinions about what is right and wrong. Say so.

After I was in The Times two years ago, I blogged about my top ten tips for child bloggers here. I think it's pretty good, but I also missed out....

Be safe.

When I started blogging five years ago, I just gave my first name and the county in which I live. Try to keep your surname and address as private as possible for as long as you can. Don't give out your full name or your home address, or anything that identifies it. I use a different address as a mailing address.

That's the advice I would give, but I've not been able to do it myself. As my profile has grown (and I've published a book), it became impossible to not link to things like TV or magazine pieces which show my surname, or the name of the village where I live. And when I was asked to present Prince William and Kate with a copy of my book, for example, it was at my school, so it would be hard to blog about that without showing what school I go to.

The best way is to talk to your parents and lay down rules about your blogging, what you can say and what you can't say about yourself, where you live and what school you attend.

Get help from your parents

Ever since I started, my parents have been able to see into the email account liked to my blog, and so see comments and emails coming in. If it's not from someone they know and trust, they open it to check it's okay.

That meant when offensive comments and emails came in, I didn't have to tell my parents, they already knew, and I could talk to them about it. Sharing helps. Don't keep it to yourself.


A lot of people (especially parents) expect differently, but the amount of weird or suspicious comments or emails I have had in all the time I have been blogging is very, very small. There are some odd people out there, but there are many, many more nice, pleasant, helpful and funny ones.

Setting up comments

Having a blog with comments is a bit like having your own art gallery full of beautiful pictures you have painted, then letting people in with felt tip pens and letting then write anything anywhere. So allowing comments is a risk.

But I think you should allow it. Blog comments and interacting with readers is one of the best things about blogging. If you have comments, here are often different settings. I have mine set as anyone can place a comment, but you can change the settings so only authorised people can comment, only people who give their real name can comment, anyone can comment but it doesn't get published until you approve it, and so on. 

Looking at some of the rude and offensive comments I got, they were all from people who hadn't used their real name, or linked to their real identity. But then again some of the comments from people I respect and trust were from people who didn't use their own name either.

Weirdly, on Twitter (where most accounts show the person's real name), only one person disagreed with the post, and all the other comments were very supportive. Maybe that's because the people I chat to on Twitter tend to be professional naturalists, curators or osteologists.

Disagreeing or being offensive ?

I don't mind it when someone disagrees with me. I don't like it when people are offensive to me.

The difference is really important. Read the comment carefully. Are they attacking you personally, or your ideas ? It's important to remember the difference when replying as well. If you say that someone's ideas are "idiotic", then they are implying you are an idiot, and once someone calls you an idiot it's hard to listen to the rest of what they are about to say. But if someone begins, say, like: "I disagree with you, because in my experience...", then they are trying to engage you without causing offence with, and they may be interested in hearing your views.

Dealing with offensive comments and emails.

Offensive comments and emails hurt. Some of the ones I read made me very upset. I was told that I was unethical, hypocritical, immoral, a thief, that I was desperate for a first bit of publicity (and then when I very politely pointed out that clearly wasn't the case, as was shown by my main picture here, I was told "you do like to brag. Honestly, I'm tired of hearing how long you have had this blog and how many posts you've made". I was told that I didn't have "[my]own considered opinion on the matter" (despite it beginning "I believe") and that I was "enclosed minded" (I know, right ?).

I was called some of the worst names you can imagine, I was told that no-one cared about my opinion because it was weak and meaningless, then in literally the next email I was told expressing my opinion could literally destroy a business. I was told I was arrogant, stupid, I didn't know anything about bone collecting, and that I had no right to give my opinion because I was clearly a fool.

And these are the ones I am telling you about. The deleted ones were much worse.

So that was unpleasant.

The funniest thing were three comments/emails which arrived together. One said I was "acting my age". The second seemed to think I was at university. The third thought I had kids. I should probably put a picture of me and my age at the top right of every page here or something.

The first thing I would ALWAYS say to any blogger in my position is: if people start being like that to you for no reason, then it is not your fault. You did not deserve to be abused, people have no right to speak to you like that, and you do not have to put up with it.

Some comments were funny all by themselves, without any help from me.

And for other comments, I found it REALLY fun to read them out loud to someone in a funny accent or voice. The person who typed "setting yourself up as some sort of arbiter of morality is pretty self serving an enclosed minded" was probably very serious when they typed it, but it's HILARIOUS in a joke thick Scottish or Irish accent.

Taking a break was good as well. I spent most of Saturday cycling or preparing for this week (I've been doing some cool stuff, can't talk about it yet). It was good to spend time away from the computer. The other advantage of taking a break is that it helps other people comment and come to your defence themselves.

Should you reply to offensive comments ?

Normally, I generally try to reply to every comment or email I get, even if it's to say "thanks !" because I think it's nice to enter into a conversation with people or just be polite.

When it starts getting heated, though, I think it's best to rethink the rule, because it means that you are giving an opportunity for people to simply waste your time. There was one person who came back to leave comments at 2am, 3am, 4am, 5am and 6am on my blog. If someone is doing that, they're not really expecting a reply or wanting to enter into a conversation. They just want a reaction.

One very sensible tip I was given last week was to stop replying to angry people. It was difficult to get out of the habit of replying to everything, but it was good to sometimes say: "We aren't going to agree on this, so I'm going to end it now".

Always be polite to people when replying to comments. It can be difficult sometimes, but you won't regret it when you look back a week later.

What is annoying is when you get a comment in which is completely wrong, and you take the time to go through every point showing that it is wrong: the person doesn't then come back to say: "sorry, I got it wrong".

If you can tell a joke, that sometimes works. It stops people being so angry and serious.

There was a different thing I did when this comment was left on this blog post:

I don't deserve to be called that, so instead of deleting it and hiding it, I decided to do the exact opposite, and tweeted it:

SSE took it very seriously, and emailed me back the same day. I have a bit of a suspicion that they found out who it was, as well.


Not everyone who leaves a comment will be quite what they seem.

On last week's post, "Billy" had a good look round my website and found one joke on my about page about human skulls. He then left a comment saying I was clearly being hypocritical.

Then 35 minutes later, "Lucinda" left a comment agreeing with Billy.

Then 30 minutes later, "Dave" left a comment saying that it was perfectly fine to raffle off human skulls because museums sell exhibits sometimes.

The problem was, my blogging comment software records the IP address - which is a unique number every computer attached to the internet has. "Billy", and "Lucinda" and "Dave" were all the same IP address. So either they all lived at the same house and pretended not to know each other when commenting, or they were all the same person. Or maybe Billy had a major lifestyle operation, became "Lucinda", then changed her mind again and became "Dave".

I spotted this, and called them out on it (as well as another person with multiple identities). They stopped (or changed IP address).

The funny thing was, I just searched my email inbox for the IP address, and it came up with an extra email which I hasn't linked before...but I might blog about that another time. 

If your blogging software shows where people are visiting your blog from, have a look through there as well. It often shows who is linking to your post, and what they are saying about it there.

Should you ever delete comments ?

Yes. Before last week I think I'd never deleted a comment that wasn't spam. But if you don't want a comment there, I think you should certainly think about deleting it. Your house, your rules.

Some blogging software allows you to mark it as spam, or holds it for moderation, which stops it being displayed publicly, but it isn't deleted completely. I think that is sometimes better, as it keeps a record of it, and you can change your mind about the comment later.

Like I said, it's like an art gallery where you allow visitors to scribble on the walls. You have to have limits on what they can write.

The comments don't always have to be offensive. If someone keeps coming back, repeating the same point over and over, trying to dominate the discussion, then I think you have every right to stop them.

But what about free speech ?

Everyone has the right to free speech, but I believe you should decide what appears on your blog. When you delete an offensive comment, you are not suppressing someone's opinion. They can say whatever they want on their blog, or in their book, or whatever. 

No-one has the right to come to something you created and write whatever they want without any limits, just the same as the art gallery example. They should open their own blog where they can post whatever they want.

Should you ever delete a whole post ?


Or rather, I can think that there are only a few circumstances you should think about deleting something that you have written entirely. Last week's post was a short one - I only planned it as eight paragraphs - but it still took time to write. When you put effort into making something, I don't think anyone has the right to ask you to destroy it, especially when (for me) that means you have to write something new for that week. Especially when the only reason for it is that they want to try and deny it ever happened int the first place.

In a couple of posts I have written, something I have said has turned out to be wrong. One was when I misidentified a type of owl, and another was about my snake skull which I initially told was a boa, but when we did the fact checking for my book, we found it was a python. In both of those I edited the post, showing that I had updated it, and crossing out the parts which were incorrect, but still showing the original.

I try to think of my blog as a scientific blog, and part of science is updating things as you find out more, and acknowledging your mistakes. I did offer to correct any errors in fact in the blog post, but no-one has found one.

Should nasty comments stop you blogging ?


If last week's blog post had been my first blog post, after the reaction I had I might think whether I wanted to continue blogging, but after five years and 324 blog posts, this is about the nearest thing to a job that I have. I like blogging and I am quite good at it.

Blogging is about creating something of your own, and expressing what you think. It's difficult to blog, and takes a lot of effort, but you get a lot of pride from it. Don't let a few idiots with too much time on their hands take that away from you !

And if you see it happening...

Be supportive in whatever way you can to the person who it is happening to, whether it's by leaving a supportive comment, or by an email. One brilliant thing about this week is the number of people who emailed me or commented to support me. People are generally kind, and this week was a good example of it. It matters a lot. Be nice, always. You never know how much it means to the other person.

Enjoy this post ? Share it !


Stuart Petch said...

Top writing. Top advice! 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

Melanie said...

Excellent blog post! :)

Christine Sutcliffe said...

Some people clearly have far too much time on their hands and very little in the way of common sense! Good on you for not rising to the bait and nice on reporting the SSE guy - talk about unprofessional conduct! :o
As they say, haters gonna hate!

Ric said...

Very mature and thought provoking. Great advice Jake.

Alice Mae Lewis said...

Great post, wonderful advice for bloggers of all ages. I hope you keep blogging into your adult years. I'd love to be 95 years old and telling my great-great grandchildren how I've been following your posts since you were a child! lol

Roddy Scott said...

Anonimity and pseudonames are what a lot of people rely on in the internet but if they are abusive, disgusting or criminal in their posts, they can be traced as you pointed out. Mostly these are cowardly people who do this to 'feel good' and think they are superior to everyone. The trolls are just people who like to see their own comments and stir things up.

Great advice for all using blogs. Well Done!

Jake said...

Thanks Mr Petch !

Jake said...

Thanks !

Jake said...

SSE were actually okay about it in the end.

Jake said...

Thanks !

Jake said...

Ha ! That would be brilliant !

Jake said...

Yep, totally agree !

HenstridgeSJ said...

Wise beyond your years, Jake!

Kirsten said...

I am a LOT older than you, and i really don't think I couldn't handle that kind of reaction to something I'd written. You really are remarkably mature, and should feel v proud.

TraineeCurator Glenn said...

Great post - don't worry about the haters, you handled them with such maturity (more than most people could), not to mention wit!

Darren Naish said...

Really impressed with how you dealt with this, and how you've documented it all here - should be required reading for all bloggers.

Jake said...

Ha ! I'm really not.

Jake said...

Thanks !

Jake said...

That wasn't my *first* reaction to their comments !

Jake said...

I hope it helps someone else one day.

Jake said...

Thanks ! Also: masceration is yucky, burial works but you will lose some small bones; best is to leave it somewhere flies can get in but other animals can't, such as under a flower pot and let nature takes its course.

sedruff said...

Nah, of course you are.

sedruff said...

Well thought out and inspiring. Another post well done, Jake!
Side-note: should I not use a fake name?

Jake said...

You don't have to. It's just that trolls never seem to, but not all anonymous commentors are trolls.

Leticia said...

You are one cool headed kid! Kudos.

I ended up here from a search about how to clean bones - out of useless curiosity. Your blog is amazing. I learned a lot today about stuff I had never thought about: how to clean skulls, the ethical problem of collecting bones and how does a kid handle (bad word omitted) online.

Thanks a lot and keep up the great work.

sedruff said...

And even if you tie them to a chair and pin their eyelids open, they can still look away! ;) XD

sedruff said...

That's how I ended up here too! And I totally agree.

Jake said...

Thanks !

Free counters!