former employee of a league I write about is harassing me

A reader writes:

I’ve been working as a writer on, let’s say, teapots for a few years, and have been working hard to make my way from blogger to reporter. In the past I’ve tried to write about the Westeros Teapot League, but they were not set up to accommodate media requests, so I gave up writing about them. Last year, I was hired by a site to write solely about the King’s Landing Teapot League. They credentialed me, were very accommodating with media requests, and teapot contests were accessible to me.

The two leagues had some issues that I reported on, with many WTL players joining the KLTL. A lot of the stories that came from the players were less than complimentary towards the WTL, and while I remained as objective as possible myself, the quotes from the players were clearly frustrated with the Westeros league and looked at the King’s Landing league as a much better option.

For a year now, I’ve been receiving angry, negative comments on my articles about KLTL on my site by one particular woman. Which, okay, it happens. But this particular commenter has left comments on more than half my pieces over the course of months, growing more and more abusive as the months have worn on. At first I tried to engage reasonably, but it only enraged her further, so I stopped even reading beyond the first few lines of her comments.

I have asked my website to block her IP address from commenting; they refused, telling me it’s a perverse compliment. This did not go down well with me as I was stalked in the past (not connected to this), which was absolutely terrifying. This has brought up a lot of those old fears but since a) this harassment is online, not in person and b) she stopped commenting for a month or so, I let sleeping dogs lie.

I have since gotten a new editor, and my commenter has turned back up.

The kicker of this is, I’m 99% sure this is the former communications director of the WTL. She uses the same phrasing as this commenter (who goes by the same first name), her IP address is very similar and she often knows things only a league employee would know. I’ve reached the point where I want to contact her former employer and tell them this is occurring and they need to put a stop to it.

If it’s her former employer, they’re unlikely to be able to do anything about it. And, if you’re wrong, you risk unfairly defaming her.

Unfortunately, angry and negative comments are part of writing online. That’s just the unpleasant reality, and yeah, it can be truly hurtful and upsetting. In fact, at times it can make your brain begin bleeding out of your eyeballs, which is both gross and unhealthy.

But it is indeed part of writing online. It’s going to happen, and you can’t reasonably insist that your employer ban someone just for negative comments. However, when someone’s comments cross over to abusive, especially repeatedly, that’s a different thing.

I wonder if, when you talked to your employer, you showed them the truly abusive stuff this person posted, or more of a mixed selection that included the merely negative? If so, they might have not realized exactly how bad the situation is, and it would be worth going back to them with a selection focused specifically on outright abuse.

Also, does your employer have a commenting policy that addresses what is and isn’t acceptable? If so, is it enforced? It they don’t have a policy or it’s not well-enforced, you could tackle it from that angle — pointing out that any well-trafficked website needs to have a method of enforcing community standards so that its commenting section doesn’t become a race to the bottom that drives away civil commentary. You could show them some examples of similar sites that have good policies, and could even point out that Twitter recently changed its policy and announced they’ll now ban users who send abusive tweets (and that they’re getting loads of good press about it).

Beyond that, though: Does your job require you to engage with commenters? If not, you might simply consider a break from reading comments, possibly a permanent one. Loads of writers don’t read the comments on their pieces, for exactly this kind of reason. (For example, while I try to look over most of the comments here, I never read the comments on my articles on Yahoo! News, because they’re at a totally different level of discourse and I’m not a masochist.) If you’ve been feeling somehow bound to follow the comments on your pieces, try giving yourself permission to skip them and see how you feel.

{ 120 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Kat

    I know your experience with stalking can make you nervous,e specially dealing with someone you think knows you. I’m really sorry that happened to you.

    That said, I’m sorry to say, horrible and abusive comments are kind of par for the course for internet writing. And editors/web managers actually often love it, because it stirs up discussion, comments, views, which translates to dollars.

    The best you can do is ignore that commenter, remain professional in other comments and replies, and just truck on.

    One caveat: If the comments become threatening, (I once had a person say he knew where I lived and would be waiting in my driveway with a bat), then it comes time to involve police who can and will help you.

    Reply
  2. katamia

    I have asked my website to block her IP address from commenting; they refused, telling me it’s a perverse compliment.

    Wait, what? That is completely weird logic. I understand that they may not want to block her IP address for various reasons and I do think that that’s their call to make (not that I necessarily agree with that decision–hard to say without more detailed information–but it is their call), but to say that abusive comments are a compliment? That’s utterly bizarre.

    I think the best thing you can do is stop engaging her, but still keep an eye on what she writes from time to time in case of further escalation (e.g., actual threats).

    Reply
    1. Jen RO

      They probably mean that pageviews are pageviews and OP’s writing is attracting readership, even some of the readers have negative opinions.

      Reply
      1. katamia

        But it’s not a compliment that someone is upping OP’s pageviews by writing abusive comments to her. It’s just not. It’s vaguely worrying to me that they’re trying to spin abusive comments (taking OP at her word that they really are abusive) as a positive. It’s their call to ban or not ban someone, and if they really want those pageviews (if that is their justification for not banning her IP address), they have the right to not ban her. But that justification is absurd. I know if I felt unsafe due to someone’s repeated abusive comments toward me on a website I wrote for and my bosses tried to tell me that I should take it as a compliment, that would be a major red flag for the organization.

        Reply
        1. Charityb

          Agreed 100%. How is this any different than saying that women should consider sexual harassment as a compliment? Maybe they do have the right to allow this behavior to continue, but their suggestion is barely a figleaf.

          Reply
    2. Elizabeth the Ginger

      Huh, I initially read it the other way around – that they thought blocking the abusive commenter would be a compliment because it would be admitting that she was getting to them. But I think your reading of it makes more sense.

      Reply
  3. Roscoe

    Yeah, I think you’d be best served just ignoring them. But that also depends on what you consider abusive. Saying things like “your writing sucks” wouldn’t be great to hear, but thats part of online writing. IF they are truly threaths though, thats something different, and you can and should involve the cops.

    There was a woman journalist in my town reporting a pretty major story about a big sports star and some accusations against him (not charges). I completely disagreed with just about everything the wrote, as did many people. She got a lot of what some may call “abusive” tweets and comments, but it was mostly just people calling out the bias she appeared to have, and often using some not nice language. That was par for the course. But apparently she had to stay home a couple of days because some jerk took it too far and started commenting on her daily routine and threatening her. She got the cops involved. I don’t know what happened to the guy, but thats just an example of when I think its part of the job vs. something that needs to be escalated.

    Reply
    1. Ad Astra

      If that female journalist is the one I’m thinking of, I’d argue many of the comments she got on social media were abusive. Women, especially those in sports journalism, deal with an unbelievable amount of condescension, misogyny, and harassment (rape threats are common; comments like “I hope you get raped” are more common) just for doing their jobs.

      Reply
      1. Roscoe

        Well, I didn’t see many of the rape comments (not saying they weren’t present though) but I would definitely say those cross a line. Condescension, eh, I mean people are condescending all the time to everyone online, so I don’t know that I’d call that abusive either.

        Reply
        1. Ad Astra

          Yeah, I agree that condescension isn’t abusive, as infuriating as it gets sometimes. It’s also possible we’re talking about different writers/situations, of course, but you’d be appalled to see what some female journalists’ mentions look like on Twitter.

          Reply
        2. Anon On This One

          It is misogynist. Condescension is the tool of someone who wants to undermine credibility and it most often used by men to undermine women. Even in non-abusive and only slightly contentious online threads I’ve been called “girl” and “darling” simply to highlight I am a woman and as such can’t possibly have a worthwhile thing to say.

          Reply
            1. fposte

              Was that in your infamous Guardian comments? Or is your career even more epic than that? Unparsable insults are the best.

              Reply
              1. Cath in Canada

                Yup, Guardian. Same thread where someone else said “Wow. Some scientist you are. I mean no disrespect, but that baffles and scares me” in response to me saying that I prefer reading fiction to non-fiction in my spare time.

                Reply
                1. I'm a Little Teapot

                  W.T.F.

                  What a sad, boring, and horribly judgmental place that person’s world must be.

                  I’m not sure why news sites are uniformly filled with terrible people, unlike, say, AAM.

      2. The Bimmer Guy

        “I hope you get raped”

        Something someone wouldn’t dare say in person to a woman, especially while in front of other people. They do it because they think the Internet allows for complete anonymity.

        Reply
    2. ThatGirl

      If you mean the person I think you mean, the comments she got went FAR beyond “calling out bias.” She felt her safety was at risk, so she stayed home. She was harassed and abused endlessly for simply reporting. People were horrible to her.

      As for bias … well, this is not really the place to discuss that, but you seem to have plenty of your own bias toward this sports star, if you couldn’t even consider the accusations might be true.

      Reply
      1. Roscoe

        I’m not trying to start a conversation about an issue thats is over and done, however I do think it went beyond stating facts and got into some of her experiences (as do most people who are paid to give opinoins as opposed to facts). I said I agreed that things crossed a line. I said IF it gets to that point where you are fearing for safety, you do need to escalate it, which she did. Are you trying to imply that I’m somehow excusing that? No I didn’t see every. single. comment. So I mentioned the things I saw. And as far as what bias I do or don’t have, I don’t know where you get the idea I didn’t consider it could be true. I very much did, just wasn’t going to assume someone is guilty based solely on an accusation.

        Reply
        1. ThatGirl

          Well, you claimed she had bias. I believe she was simply discussing the complex tangle of legal issues surrounding the allegations, and she had some personal experience with some of those issues, so yes, those were relevant. To me, you saying people were “calling out the bias she appeared to have” sounds biased itself, and she wasn’t accusing the athlete of anything personally.

          That said, it’s still possible we’re talking about two different cases.
          I’m glad that you agree some folks took it too far.

          Reply
    3. Hiding on the Internet Today

      “par for the corse” is a horrible excuse for horrible behavior. There are a number of well moderated internet communities that maintain active discussion while refusing to tolerate abuse. (Here, Alison refuses to tolerate meanness and disrespect, and manages to have a community of sparkling discussion and civil disagreement.)

      Hiding behind “everyone does it” is not a good reason for a host of a site to let it continue anymore than it is a good reason for a parent to let a child do something inane.

      Reply
      1. Roscoe

        Yes, but newspaper comment boards aren’t one of them. I’m not excusing any behavior, more saying its best to ignore it because you its part of life. Just as I’m in sales, and while its not cool for people to be rude on the phone, its part of the job.

        Reply
        1. neverjaunty

          Newspaper comments boards are like that because the people managing the comment boards permit it. There’s nothing magical or “part of life” about a manager deciding to play the adult equivalent of “Oh, is Johnny pulling your pigtails? That must mean he likes you!”

          Reply
  4. Adam V

    I wonder if those WTL (or former WTL) players would be willing to talk to the people in the WTL office and ask them to ask her to knock it off? It’s possible there’s someone there that knows her well, and if nothing else, it could open their eyes to her behavior, and if they contacted her, she might realize that it could affect her reference from them. (Of course, she’d probably deny everything, but still.)

    Reply
    1. Tamsin

      But OP basically said it’s either the woman she suspects — or pretty much someone in the WTL office itself, given the inside knowledge the person has.

      Also, it would be super-weird for one publication to ask a second publication to deal with someone submitting comments or letters on the first publication’s site. I can’t think of any example of this ever happening or any publication even wanting to go there.

      Reply
  5. MPT

    But it is indeed part of writing online. It’s going to happen, and you can’t reasonably insist that your employer ban someone just for negative comments. However, when someone’s comments cross over to abusive, especially repeatedly, that’s a different thing.

    Alison, can you give an example of the difference?

    Reply
    1. Lizauthor

      I’m not Alison, but as an author I deal with this every time I release something new.
      Abusive comments attack the person/author/reporter.
      Negative comments attack the writing/post/whatever.
      Does that make sense?

      Reply
      1. The IT Manager

        I agree. “You are &$;/” versus “you’re wrong. I disagree.”

        Even the difference between “that’s stupid” (which is not really constructive) and “you’re stupid.” And of course anything threatening like “I’m going to get you” or “I know where you live” should be blocked immediately and very likely reported to the police.

        Reply
        1. Ad Astra

          And, while I’d agree that “you’re stupid” does fit the criteria for abuse, I’m likely to let those go in favor of monitoring comments that are racist/sexist/homophobic, or comments that are especially cruel (I’m glad your dad died of cancer!” or something horrible like that).

          Reply
          1. The Cosmic Avenger

            Let’s face it…the trolls will almost always write “your stupid” instead of “you’re stupid”! :D

            Reply
      2. katamia

        I agree.

        (Also, OT, but this is a good distinction to consider when giving someone feedback, although not the only thing that should be considered.)

        Reply
        1. Elizabeth West

          Yes, I absolutely ignore feedback when it consists solely of ad hominem attacks. If someone doesn’t like something I wrote and they disagree with my points, or if they have genuine advice I can use to improve, then that’s different. Pointing out a mistake I made is okay too, as long as it’s done respectfully. I do have a comment code on my blog, but since barely anybody reads me right now, I haven’t really needed it.

          Reply
      3. hbc

        I think you can even “attack” the author without being abusive. It has to be related to their ability to do their job or a repeated pattern you see in their work.

        I’m thinking about a particular advice columnist with whom I regularly find fault. So I might say, “That advice to a victim of abuse is reprehensible and dangerous. I wish Columnist could be held liable if anything happens to the letter writer.” Or “I feel like Columnist must have just found out a beloved family member did Z; her advice has flipped from ‘You have to be a jerk to do Z’ for years to ‘There are lots of reasons why people Z.'” Not all the time, or even on a majority of the columns, and obviously no threats or aggression.

        Reply
    2. Ask a Manager Post author

      Negative comments might criticize the writer, the article, or the writer’s stances. But I consider abusive to be comments that are personally insulting or threatening.

      Reply
  6. 42

    I don’t have a lot of familiarity with the norms and customs of online writing, but would it be feasible to write under a pen name or alias in the future (ie, if you change assignments and you’re afraid that this individual may continue to stalk you)?

    Reply
      1. 42

        Yes, I did consider that. My thought was that if the OP was ever searching for new work, they could include (in a resume or cover letter) that they wrote under that pen name. That’s where the feasibility of the idea comes into play…but there’s got to be a way around the branding aspect.

        Reply
    1. Ad Astra

      It’s very hard to write professionally under a pen name. No traditional media will allow it, and the only blog I can think of that allows it is SB Nation — but they don’t pay most of their writers.

      Reply
      1. Tamsin

        Baloney. Not only do a huge number of newspaper and magazine writers continue to write under their pre-marriage names (which I know is not the same thing as a pen name), but quite a few (if not most) local TV and radio newscasters/reporters/etc. go 100 percent by stage names.

        Reply
        1. 42

          I’ve suspected that was the case re: local reporters–especially on radio. There’s a disproportionate number of them using 2 “first names” – like “This is Howard James bringing you traffic.”…so I assumed that they’re going by first and middle names.

          Reply
          1. TK

            Local radio reporters/personalities almost always go by different names on-air, don’t they? At the small-time local radio station in my hometown, one of the personalities is the owner of the station, who on-air does the two first names thing, using something something very short and memorable. But most people know his (much less radio-friendly) real name, which he uses to conduct business as the owner of the station.

            One of the local TV stations where I live has a longtime reporter/manager who goes by the last name “Ray” on air, but through six degrees of separation sort of connections to his family I found out his last name is actually “Lovelady,” which I guess he thought wasn’t appropriate for television or something.

            Reply
            1. Shannon

              Locally there’s a radio show. Let’s call it the “Uncle Bob Show.” It’s well known that “Uncle Bob” is really John Doe and when “Uncle Bob” is doing appearances, he wears an “Uncle Bob” costume, complete with makeup and wig to age him.

              Reply
              1. Elizabeth the Ginger

                My friend’s father is a restaurant critic in a major city. He does write under his real name, but whenever he makes public appearances or any sort of photo he wears a Halloween mask so restaurant owners won’t recognize him and give him preferential treatment when he’s trying out their food.

                Reply
                1. Oryx

                  OMG I totally read this wrong, in that he wears the Halloween masks TO the restaurants and I’m sitting here thinking, “wouldn’t that draw MORE attention to him?”

                  It’s been that kind of day.

          2. Sk

            I used to work at a local newspaper. We allowed writers and photographers to use first and middle names. There was one photographer who wanted to use a pen name and it was swiftly rejected. Mostly because it didn’t sound like a real name

            Reply
          3. Oryx

            I still remember the first time I was listening to a radio show and the host made some comment about how the name he uses on air is not his real name. I don’t think it had ever occurred to me before then.

            Reply
            1. Rater Z

              Many years ago, a friend of mine was a radio announcer in Oklahoma City, using his real name on the air. One night, after his air shift, he went home and found that his apartment had been ransacked. They had apparently done it knowing he was at work. They might not have been listening to him on the radio but it was an unusual last name for the area so it was very possible. It was a religious station.

              Reply
        2. Elizabeth

          Ad Astra’s example of SB Nation is one where the pen names aren’t just people keeping pre-marriage names or using a stage name that might feasibly be a real name; that network allows people to write under usernames like you see in the comments section of AAM, e.g. Ad Astra could write under the name Ad Astra. If AA were trying to build an actual professional profile, it would be incredibly difficult to do so under the Ad Astra name.

          Reply
        3. Macedon

          Written press, radio broadcast and TV broadcast operate on very different standards – likewise, local/big-name press. The pre-marriage / post-marriage name thing is more often less about supplying the writer a degree of anonymity than it is about preserving their ‘brand’.

          Outside of investigative work, it’s seldom in the journalist’s best interests to operate under a pen name.

          Reply
  7. JennG

    Longtime online editor here — I agree completely with the advice above. Depending on your outlet, presenting the worst of the comments and suggesting that you need a comment policy for the health of the site would be a great idea. There are examples of sites that are rethinking commenting and there have been some good write-ups over the last year. Here are a few links:

    http://www.niemanlab.org/2015/09/what-happened-after-7-news-sites-got-rid-of-reader-comments/
    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/toronto-star-closes-comments-on-all-online-stories/article27783484/
    http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/north/cbc-closing-comments-on-aboriginal-stories-reaction-1.3345137
    http://jezebel.com/we-have-a-rape-gif-problem-and-gawker-media-wont-do-any-1619384265

    That said, she may well take it to social media. To some degree you have to develop a thick skin and you’re right that the vast, vast majority of commenters do not ever take it offline in any way. (In my career I have had two banned individuals show up _at our office_ but they were still not violent.) You can still request some tools to help you with this in the office — for example, if checking the comments or rechecking on your posts is part of your job, perhaps you could trade duties with someone for a while; swap pieces.

    Another way would be to have your editor contact her directly (if you have a tool that provides her email address or other contact info; this should be a private means of communication but could start with a request in a comment “Hi, please contact us to address your concerns — thanks”) and could nicely ask her to stop. This should not be you who takes this on. I have done this a few times in large online consumer-facing communities and mostly it was successful either because the person just never wrote back but de-escalated anyway, or we had a dialogue and that person was satisfied they’d been heard — and also, frankly, I think reminded that they were not harassing a nameless trollface doodoohead but instead a reporter whose job it was to get a story. If you’re working for a huge, fast-moving brand this might not work but with a trade pub it might.

    Good luck!

    Reply
    1. Minion

      Trollface doodoohead!!! Omg, that’s great!
      I’m now going to use that in my commenting. To trollfaced doodooheads, of course.

      Reply
  8. Sof

    I agree about ignoring the comments. My boss and I both frequently author pieces (op-eds, etc.) for relatively popular outlets with an online presence. I’ve watched my boss get bogged down with each and every negative comment she gets, and she takes it really personally. Knowing what a waste of energy and time it is, I decided not to ever read the comments on my pieces – although I make exceptions if a lobbyist publishes a hitpiece on me in the same outlet. Those I print out and stick on my office wall: at least someone else read my opinion!

    I’ll caveat, though: the comments I get are merely negative and derogatory, not what I would term “abusive”.

    Reply
  9. Laura C.

    What other writers have done to reduce the amount of ad hominem attacks is to require Facebook to comment on their pages. It’s amazing how the cover of anonymity makes people write things they would never say if they had to identify themselves. I realize it’s a big leap technologically but it can be considered a last resort kind of tactic.

    Otherwise, you can get a commenting engine that requires more personally identifying information and that logs the attacker.

    Here’s hoping this works out for you.

    Reply
    1. Adam V

      Yeah, forcing users to register and putting this person’s comments into moderation, or shadowbanning them altogether, could clean up the comment sections at the very least.

      Bonus points if you get the “it’s not a problem, it’s a compliment” person to do the moderation! See if they feel the same way once they’re wading through all the abusive comments this individual is leaving.

      Reply
      1. Ad Astra

        This is what surprised me most when I was an online editor. We used the Facebook comments plugin, so most of them displayed the user’s real name, real face, and often their employer — but it didn’t seem to stop them from saying some truly offensive and boneheaded things.

        Reply
      2. Tau

        And you will lose good, constructive comments that aren’t comfortable not being pseudonymous, for whatever reason. I know I wouldn’t be here if every comment I left had to have my real name attached.

        I’m generally pretty unconvinced by the “force them to register with their real names” logic. I’ve seen some real cesspool comments from registered Facebook users, while Alison doesn’t even require e-mail addresses and yet this comment section is one of the best I’ve ever seen.

        Reply
    2. Elsajeni

      All these solutions would require the website’s owners or maintainers to make changes, though — if they’re not on board, I think Alison’s advice of just avoiding the comments is the best you can do.

      Reply
      1. Anna

        They may not be on board with flat out banning a commenter, but if the OP could present it as a business case (look at all the information we’ll have available on our readers!) she might get some traction.

        Reply
    3. manybellsdown

      This is kind of off-topic, but there’s something I haven’t been able to figure out on Facebook. When you comment on a site like that, often there’s a tag after your name. Like: Jane Smith (and then in lighter gray text) Teapot University, Ontario. How does one change that? Because I have my Facebook profile well-locked-down to people viewing Facebook, but my current volunteer position still appears if I comment elsewhere and I reaaaaallly do not want it to.

      Reply
      1. katamia

        I’m not sure whether you just don’t want that volunteer position to appear or whether you don’t want any gray text at all. If it’s the former, try reentering the information in a different order and adding whatever position you want to appear last to see if that makes a difference. If you don’t want anything to appear at all, then you might just have to remove that position.

        You could also try contacting Facebook support and see if they have any suggestions. I’m not sure if they’d really be helpful (their support’s record appears to be pretty inconsistent regarding helpfulness), but it’s worth a shot.

        Reply
        1. manybellsdown

          I just don’t want that position to appear as it’s very specific. I haven’t gotten anywhere with support, as you can imagine. But some people show their school, or their hometown. My schools, hometown, and current job are all non-public, but the job is the only thing that will appear.

          Reply
      2. Elizabeth West

        The only way I know is to not have it on your Facebook page. I took off my city because I didn’t want anyone to know where I lived.
        I really need to stop commenting at all using Facebook. Because woe is me if I say anything about feminism.

        Reply
      3. BuildMeUp

        I don’t use FB to comment on other sites, so I’m not sure if this will work, but under Facebook settings, if you go to the Apps tab, there’s an “Apps others use” section that lets you uncheck boxes for your personal info. Maybe that would work?

        Reply
    4. Liz

      Of course, that means people who *don’t* use Facebook are totally unable to comment. I might be in a minority, but it still irks me when I run into blocks like this.

      Reply
      1. Case of the Mondays

        You can create a Facebook just for that and not use it for its normal purposes. I hate Facebook but I am involved with a volunteer organization that only communicates that way. I also have to look at Facebook profiles for work and you have to have one to see even the public profiles now. Mine is just my name and nothing else on there.

        Reply
        1. Charityb

          That’s a good idea, but couldn’t the harasser do the same thing if the publication makes Facebook required for commenting?

          Reply
    5. Elizabeth

      They did a study in Korea (I think) demonstrating that forcing people to comment with their real names made no meaningful difference in the kind of comments (positive or negative) that they left, so this isn’t the solution people think it is. I’m actually put off by sites requiring Facebook commenting because I’m not willing to provide that much personal information (I have a unique last name) simply to leave a generic, inoffensive comment on something.

      Reply
  10. Ad Astra

    I’m disappointed that OP’s editor wasn’t willing to block a harassing commenter. When I was an online editor at a newspaper, part of my job — actually, the worst part of my job — was moderating comments. I let a lot of things go in the name of free speech, especially if the comments loosely resembled some kind of good-faith discussion of political discourse. But anyone who attacked other commenters or harassed (not just criticized) our staff was blocked without mercy.

    It’s entirely reasonable for publications to require some decorum in their comments, and there’s no reason to tolerate comments like this.

    Reply
    1. Ad Astra

      Hmm, and you know what? I wrote this comment with the assumption that the posts are truly abusive, harassing comments and not simply negative or criminal comments. If they truly cross the line, it’s worth pushing back. If they’re just hurtful criticisms, you may be better off just avoiding the comments section — and I don’t mean that flippantly. It really sucks that writing online leaves us open to unkind comments, and many writers really struggle with that trade-off.

      Reply
      1. Allison

        I like this advice. And if the OP has been reading the comments to see if there’s anything they could be doing better, it could be worth having someone comb those comments for useful feedback.

        Reply
    2. 42

      Reminds me of when I used to moderate a very busy website. If someone got really out of hand with the trolling or abuse, sometimes we’d “send them to Coventry” with a moderator tool we had at our disposal. Instead of just banning them (and have often have them sign on with another username), this tool made them invisible to everyone else on the site but themselves. End result being they’d happily go on continue with their histrionic blathering, but nobody would see it, and they never, ever even knew.

      Reply
      1. Ad Astra

        Last I checked, that’s how Facebook’s comment plugin works, and a ton of news websites manage their comments through that plugin. Their friends can see their posts but nobody else can. Usually, I liked that, but occasionally I wished Facebook gave us the power to truly shutdown a comment(er) who was saying potentially libelous things or sharing someone else’s private information.

        Reply
      2. I'm a Little Teapot

        Hahahaha, that’s hilarious. I remember John Scalzi tweeting once about how he prefers to mute rather than block on Twitter because people usually don’t know they’re muted and it’s fun to imagine them “yelling at a wall.”

        Reply
  11. Myrin

    Alison, is something wrong with the blue-side-of-new-comments function? It has worked flawlessly ever since you implemented it but since this morning the blue sides don’t appear anymore. I’m using the latest version of Firefox, if that’s any help.

    Reply
      1. Vanishing Girl

        I’ve had the same problem this morning. I cleared my cache, cookies and all website data and it still isn’t working. I’m on Safari for iOS.

        Reply
          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            Ah, that’s because posting the comment refreshed the page, which gave it “new” comments to show you. (When you cleared your cookies, it thought you were at the page for the first time.)

            Reply
  12. hbc

    Let’s assume you get nowhere on the moderation or changes to comment rules and what not. Based on what you know about her and your certainty that it’s her, how do you think it might go over to reply with something like, “Jane, it sounds like we disagree about the topic, but the name-calling isn’t necessary”?

    I fully understand if that’s something you don’t want to do, but showing that you’re on to her might take a lot of the wind out of her sails. Otherwise, just stay away from the comments, and ask someone to monitor her in case she escalates.

    Reply
      1. Turanga Leela

        I don’t know if that’s true. Alison seems to have good luck shutting people down in the comments—I know she also blocks people, but people seem surprised to have the author show up and say, “That’s not how we talk to each other here.” It’s a reminder that people on the internet are real, and you can’t just be awful to people everywhere you go. And Lindy West had an interesting story about contacting someone who said awful things to her on Twitter. I’ll see if I can find it.

        Reply
          1. 42

            I heard that episode when it was aired, and I think I had a fleeting thought of it as I read this letter.

            My gut is telling me that this is a different scenario, in that the OP believes she knows who her troll is, rather than a random serial troll-er who just happened to pick Lindy West. OP’s troll is specifically targeting her from having known her in the past. My spidey sense still says “don’t engage; it won’t end well.”

            Reply
      2. hbc

        Yeah, it would really, really depend on the person. Random troll, never. Someone I know talks big from the shadows but is a coward? Maybe. The more I think about it, I should have put 20 asterisks on it, and then it’s probably not good advice if it needs that many conditions.

        Reply
  13. John

    This year I was the subject of online attack due to my work with a nonprofit. The attackers — there was a core group but one was particularly problematic — were feeding off of lies and trying to ruin our group’s reputation.

    I originally tried responding with the facts, which enabled readers of this filth to educate themselves. Beyond that, it just fed the beast and kept them going.

    Only when I refused to give them the time of day — not commenting and refusing the certified letters they were sending — did it cool down.

    A few weeks ago the main attacker posted something and garnered all of one Facebook like and one comment. Even his army of followers had deserted him.

    I imagine your readers, OP, will discern that this person has an ax to grind.

    Reply
  14. the gold digger

    I think my favorite mean comment ever on my blog was,

    I have been reading your blog, and you sound like a drama queen with no respect for elders. You are a bit deranged, and on too many drugs. I’d say you are narcissistic.

    If I didn’t know my in-laws were dead, I would suspect they had found my blog.

    Reply
      1. AnonInSC

        That’s what I thought! Yes, Gold Digger, I’m a frequent lurker to your blog :) Sorry to the tangent, Alison!

        Reply
  15. Artemesia

    It is too bad you don’t have more control over your comments. It might be worth pushing the organization to create a policy for dealing with trolls and abusers. My husband writes for a couple of political blogs and of course disagreement is part of the game. But when he gets a troll he can shut them down and not allow their posts. Websites do not have to entertain the musings of anyone who cares to respond and a repeatedly negative poster with an agenda can certainly ethically be shut down. But this has to be something the site leadership agrees with and so there is your point of leverage.

    Otherwise passive aggressive responses on your part might be the best you can do or just ignore them.

    Reply
  16. Green

    Research has shown that reporters engaging (politely) with commenters actually helps to make the comments more civil as a whole and improve the quality of dialogue, FWIW.

    But, yeah, unless the comments violate the comment policy or veer into physically threatening, abusive comments are part of writing on the internet. If they can’t post it on your site, they will post it on a message board, etc.

    Reply

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