If you're blogging, posting your opinions or thoughts to social media or other forums, sooner or later people are going to disagree with you. Some will be nice, some will be nasty. You just have to accept it. In fact, you could make the argument that if you're not getting enough bad responses then your content isn't as original and sparkling as you hope it is, so negative comments could be a good sign. As the common variation on Abraham Lincoln's saying goes
You can't please all the people all the time
Nor should you try! If you want fans of your writing and your content, you're going to have to have people that disagree with you, not just neutrals. If they're neutral it means they don't really care all that much.
The US Air Force Flow Chart Solution
They say the US military have a manual for everything, it may be true with their recent infographic outlining how US Air Force personnel should engage with bloggers.
Although it was created to clarify how people in the organisation should handle negative stories, posts and opinions that they find about the USAF, it's still very helpful.
They wisely differentiate between types of unideal posts. Are they from someone who is reasonable and simply states a case of an opposing viewpoint sticking to the facts or are they highly emotional, ranting and venting?
They also urge their staff not to fly off the handle, but always take a little time and write a quality, measured response if a response is called for at all, good advice. Sometimes it's more suitable to just 'monitor'. For many normal people you could substitute 'monitor' for 'ignore'.
Reduce the Pool - Demand an Email Address
A music journalist friend reviews albums and live gigs. This is an area where there's a lot of fashion as well as passion. When there's constructive comments it leads to strong opinions and good debates, but when less constructive there's a trough of nasty, pointless and aggressive posts. So much so that the webmasters of the site made a simple change. They required an email address to leave a comment.
The number of comments dropped by just over half but the percentage of quality comments more than tripled. Whether it's the fact that they're that little bit more accountable, that little bit less anonymous or that they have to make a bit more effort, it worked.
Or if you don't mind being part of Mark Zuckerberg's open graph or want some extra Facebook coverage, there are plugins that allow people to post comments by signing in with their Facebook ID. There are similar that also allow sign in with gmail, twitter or linkedin.
Either way, if you make it slightly more accountable the vicious moron rate drops off steeply, as Penny Arcade's theory and equation states. They basically state that a normal person, with a degree of anonymity and an audience will increase their likelihood of being obnoxious. If you reduce that anonymity maybe they get a little less aggressive.
Don't Feed the Trolls
Almost from the dawn of the internet there were communities and people posting inflammatory, extraneous messages in order to disrupt on-topic discussion and evoke an emotional response. So much so that the phrase is now very common and used in the wider media. Feeding them with attention keeps them thriving, starve them and they're more likely to leave you be.
Many Don't Realise They're Publishing.
Some seem to think it's like being down the pub and saying offensive things that will be forgotten in the morning. That won't have consequences. Often they're just shooting from the hip, not thinking a jot about adding any value, just their opinion, basically a smug and sneering 'f*@k you!'.
As was made clear to me when I started out, if you're not happy to stand by what you're writing appearing on the cover of a national newspaper for all to see, then don't publish. That goes for blog posts and all social media comments; facebook, twitter, linkedin, youtube and so on. It's as simple as that.
It's also more than that. A newspaper cover will be gone the next day, most web publications are saved forever. A friend once said he'd Googled his name and a tweet from me three years before came up where I mentioned him. Thankfully it was positive.
We've freedom of speech in this part of the world which is truly awesome and undervalued. However, the balance is that you're fully responsible for what you say and write. Lots of people love the first part but less so the latter. In the UK several people have already received arrested and sentenced for abuse on twitter.
So if that blog post or comment was published on the cover of your favourite daily, would you stand by it? If so, go right ahead!
Identify Where They're Coming From
Knowing why they're posting can inform the best way to respond. What are they wanting to gain by posting? As Jonathan Fields asks
try to understand what the commenter is trying to accomplish by voicing her/his opinion. This will go a long way toward letting you figure out how best to respond, if at all
Are they just wanting a good debate? These people will have a genuine interest in discussion. If they seem reasonable you can enter into a good natured debate, stating different points of view. The extra attention might attract more people to comment than usual which is great. A bit of feisty good hearted debate can be positive.
Occasionally there's a small chance you might be wrong, somewhat or very. There may be a misunderstanding or certain facts you were ignorant of. The best course of action might be to bow deeply, thank them for improving your article/comment and correct it.
Then there's the jokers. Are they laughing at you or with you? Maybe you're taking yourself too seriously and need to be taken down off the high horse, crack a smile or loosen up a bit. Or are they just putting abuse in a clown suit?
But you can't argue reasonably with someone who doesn't value reason. So with ranters the best approach might be to just not reply at all. It's less work and less headaches. If they're utterly pointless and abusive and it's your blog you can delete their comments. If it's another site, there's usually a way to mark a comment as 'inappropriate'. Or if you're up to it you can be witty and make fun of them and how ridiculous their meagre contribution was. Be warned; that may end it or it could be throwing fuel on the fire.
They could be looking to fire up controversy for gaining traffic to their blog or website, these are called the PR Thrashers. Similarly to the ranting thrasher above, it's probably best to ignore these trolls.
Stick to the Facts, Don't Get Personal
Leave emotion out of it as much as possible. That's not to say don't be passionate, a blog or comment can be a personal thing. But if you argue with the facts as your basis then they have to deal with the facts if they want to reply to you. Don't get drawn into a shouting, loony battle, you're just lowering yourself to their level. They can still just rant and rave but the vast majority of people will see them for what they are.
Trust in your readership or community to differentiate the angry venting people from a grounded argument.
I've had times where I may not have agreed with the commenter but I appreciated they bothered to write a decent reply, added to the discussion and argued with my argument and not personally insulted me. We didn't see eye to eye, but at least there was respect.
Be Able to Back Up What You're Saying
All of this reasoned argument stuff is worth a lot more if you can link to where you're basing your thoughts or experts who think the same as you. Building from the evidence also means that most will not be arguing with you as such, but with your sources. Just make sure you don't take those authorities out of context or misquote them. That could ruin your case.
In addition to this, your content should improve by being more specific in your assertions. That should shore up some holes in your argument and give a little less room for the dissenters. But rest assured no matter how jaw dropping your blog post or argument, there's someone, somewhere out there happy to rubbish it all. I'd suggest we take on board the genuine critics, we might learn something and for the rest,
Don't let the bastards grind you down