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.
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
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.
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:
Not everyone who leaves a comment will be quite what they seem.
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.
Should you ever delete a whole post ?
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.
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