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The secret lives of trolls and haters

March 15, 2011

Rachel C, Rhoda Montgomery, Valerie Gail

From left, blogging colleagues Rachel C., Rhoda Montgomery and Valerie Gail.

I’ve managed online communities for 15 years, and I thought I had dealt with the worst of humanity.

How very wrong I was.

At a recent Alabama Bloggers lunch, the conversation turned by chance to trolls, spammers and haters. Bloggers often know what trolls are all too well, the persistently nasty commenters itching for a fight. One of my personal pet peeves has been comment spam, an automated nonstop system of adding linked comments to a blog. And as the old proverb goes, haters gonna hate.

My friends and fellow bloggers regaled us with tales of the worst trolls to ever set foot on the Internet. I was floored.

When you have to bring in an attorney, or fight a troll for 2-plus years, that easily trumps any of my online battles.

I asked three Birmingham blogger sto share war stories and insights via e-mail interview:

Between them, they have a dozen years’ experience and thousands of readers for their thousands of posts.

Thanks to all three for their participation.

Do you have a published comment policy on your site? Why or why not?

Rhoda: I haven’t actually published a comment policy, but just reserve the right to delete those that I do not wish to promote on the blog. Letting a troll loose is just asking for trouble, as they really enjoy negativity and sparring back and forth. Ignoring them seems to be the best defense.

Rachel: I’ve actually just been thinking about doing this over the past few weeks, but to write it in a humorous way.

Valerie: No, I just never have thought about having one.

How do you deal with negative comments, and what do you consider “negative”?

Valerie: I will leave negative comments because not everyone agrees with me. I hardly have ever responded to them. I will delete only if (it includes) profanity or just ugliness that doesn’t have anything to do with the post, or (if it’s) a personal attack on me or my family. Any profanity or just meanness or lies, anything that they may write to try to hurt me or someone else — to me, that is uncalled for.

Rhoda: I consider anything that is hurtful and bashing (as) negative. I don’t really mind if people disagree with me or a project that I’ve done, as long as they do it nicely. If they just want to say mean things to get their point across, I delete. It’s my blog, and I choose to keep it a positive place. Negativity has no place in comments, especially mean and hurtful ones.

Rachel: I will leave any comment from a regular reader. I will also leave negative comments from new people, if they are logical and polite.

I will not leave comments from people who are searching the Internet looking for a fight to start, because I really hate fighting.

I started out trying to reason with (a persistent troll). That didn’t work; it just made her worse. Some bloggers enjoy the back and forth commenting with an obviously crazy person, but I didn’t. So then I started to just delete her comments immediately, which seemed to be the most effective. It took all of the wind out of her sails to know that no one saw her comments. After I started doing that, her comments became fewer and farther between. [See more below.]

I felt guilty about this at first, because I had always believed in letting all comments show, because it was honest feedback. However, since then, I have changed my philosophy.

How do you deal with comment spam on your blog?

Rachel: I use Akismet (a WordPress plugin) to filter spam. It works very well.

Valerie: I usually don’t. (Blogger) has a comment spam folder now, and I have yet to have one get past that.

Rhoda: I’m on WordPress, so spam goes directly into my spam folder, and I can go in and delete. It helps a lot to have a plugin (like Akismet) to deal with spam, and 99 percent of it is captured this way.

Who’s the worst troll you’ve ever had to deal with? Did you know that person personally? What did you do?

Rhoda: I have had one (I think they were originally three different people and only one still comes by) who has harassed me for almost 2 years. She comes by to leave ugly comments, telling me all the things that she doesn’t like about me and my blog. She criticizes what I do on my blog, tries to interject in my personal life when she knows nothing about what is really going on with me and just generally makes stupid comments about things. She really likes to get involved in my personal life a lot.

The only thing I can do is block the IP address so that the comments go into spam. They don’t come back all the time, but will wait awhile and then show up again.  I just deal with it!

Valerie: It was two sisters who went to school with my daughter, so I knew them personally. I got together all of their negative comments, which included just outright lies about me, my daughter and grandchild. They were also trolling me on Twitter.

I then got in touch with a friend who is a lawyer, and (the trolls) got word that an attorney was involved. They have each had two different Twitter names, but deleted their accounts after I got an attorney involved.

Recently, however, they have both created another account and have started to follow some of the same people I follow again. So I am hoping they don’t start trolling me again.

Rachel: My troll originally came from this 2008 post when my husband and I happened upon a strange event in Atlanta, and I wrote about it from an outsider’s perspective. I meant the post all in fun, really in awe of just happening upon such an odd event, but she took it as me making fun of her and her friends. She left some nasty comments, but mostly kept her attacking of me on the event message boards, linking to my blog and talking about what an awful person I was. Luckily for me, almost every other event attendee thought my post from what they called a “mundane” was hilarious, or ignorant at the worst.

She bugged me on and off that year, but she really got nasty after my recap of the 2009 event. On that post, she left multiple comments under different names (but all from the same URL), trying to make it look like “everyone” was offended by my post (which they weren’t).

I made the mistake of trying to reason with her on that post, but it just fueled her fire and made her more maniacal in her comments. She also began reading all of my post archives and every new post, of course skewing the intent of them and leaving nasty comments every time she could twist something to be offensive.

The worst comment she left was at the beginning of 2010, where she spent at least 2 hours writing a comment longer than the post itself, citing at least 15 different blog posts over 2 years, “proving” that I was the worst human being on the planet. She said many very hateful and horrible things about me that, although I knew they weren’t true, they were still hurtful.

She has continued to leave random nasty comments since then, and, according to my stats, regularly reads my blog.

Although I left most of her original comments on the original two posts, I have since deleted all of her comments.

Bloggers: Share your horror stories with trolls, spammers and haters in the comments below.

23 Comments leave one →
  1. March 15, 2011 10:38 am

    I only had one troll and it was a friend of my former step-daughters. He got a visit from a friend of mine at Shelby County S.O. that stopped that real quick.

    In one of my first Probate Court hearings about my husbands will, the other attorney brought up blog posts I had written, even quoting from them in court. He then had to explain to the judge what a blog was. My attorney suggested I not write about it anymore, but I said the heck with that. No slimy attorney and /or ungrateful stepchildren will keep me from my freedom of speech. Can’t wait to see what the next hearing brings.

    I’m going to link to this post in one I’m writing now, if that’s ok.

    • March 15, 2011 10:42 pm

      Go for it.

      Keep in mind that freedom of speech comes with responsibility and consequences. A Twitterer made a racist joke, then cited freedom of speech. I agreed he had the right to say it, then unfollowed him. Because really, who needs that?

      • Kristen permalink
        March 21, 2011 5:24 pm

        I’m surprised you even followed him in the first place. (;

      • March 23, 2011 3:41 pm

        Now I’m all curious as to who this unfollowed Twitter person is…
        Then again, I do have a curiosity problem.

  2. ScottW permalink
    March 15, 2011 11:18 am

    I’ve had my share of trolls as well. My philosophy is as follows: If it’s constructive, corrective, or informative in a personable manner, I leave it. I’m always open to a different point of view. However, if it’s an outright attack on me personally or the site itself, it’s deleted on the spot. They can take their ‘hate-mongering’ elsewhere because, like Rhoda said, it’s my blog. If they want to spew hate and insults, they can create their own and go from there.

    • March 15, 2011 3:07 pm

      I completely agree with your philosophy. There’s just no reason to host a hateful person on one’s site.

    • March 15, 2011 10:48 pm

      It’s funny. I take a much different approach.

      I hate bullies. And when one comes to my site, I don’t back down. I figuratively punch ’em in the nose.

      Here’s a classic example.

      You wanna attack me? Fine. But I hit back. And I don’t fight fair.

      • ScottW permalink
        March 15, 2011 10:57 pm

        I suppose it’s up to one’s perspective as to how one deals with a troll. I just prefer to take their platform away from them. Especially since they’re using mine to do it from.

      • March 15, 2011 11:16 pm

        I leave ’em up like heads on a pike as a warning to future troublemakers.

      • March 16, 2011 7:23 am

        In fairness, though, you said you’ve never had an incessant troll. If by engaging your troll, you found them coming back 10-15 times a NIGHT, leaving ridiculously long and hateful comments on multiple posts with using multiple names (as I had happen), you might, at some point, tire of the game.

        Then again, maybe you’d love it all the more.

      • March 16, 2011 12:11 pm

        My guess is they don’t back because they’re curled up in a ball crying their troll tears thanks to my nasty wit.

  3. March 15, 2011 1:29 pm

    Wow, great info from these three lovely ladies!

    You guys all handled your trolls very well. I’m in awe of some of those stories. Some folks are just weirdos to begin with, but the anonymity of internet really unleashes the freaks.

    • March 15, 2011 10:52 pm

      I tweeted about this the other day.

      I don’t think anonymity makes a bit of difference. Go look at some Facebook walls, whether for people or businesses. Plenty of people are willing to make utter asses of themselves with full real name in view.

  4. March 15, 2011 2:00 pm

    Great compilation, Wade!

    I forgot one of my favorite quotes from my troll – one of her only not-so-nasty comments – but it amused me to no end. In one of her ridiculously long comments where she was citing many of my posts and proving my rottenness, she said, “And all of the ones about your kids I find dull – they don’t interest me at all.”

    Um… I’m not trying to interest you. And I’m a MOMMY blogger. Kids occasionally get mentioned…

    • March 15, 2011 2:42 pm

      I’ve never really had any one persistent troll… I get a lot of negative feedback from family because our political and religious views are vastly different. I’ve stopped engaging them on FB so they typically use my blog to let me know what a heathen I am.

      I did have one lady make a comment about the inappropriateness of one of my ads when I was talking about the world I want for my girls… It was pretty absurd

      I just have to wonder how these people have so much time on their hands…

    • March 15, 2011 10:53 pm

      Rachel, thank you for all your help! And for chatting with the commenters, who are all very smart and nice and beautiful and civilized!

  5. March 15, 2011 2:44 pm

    I have a troll, and many, many, many people on twitter got to see her nasty hate first hand December of 2009. They then got to see her attack me via live national TV. She has since continued to bash me, my choices, my travels, my life. She publishes the names and ages of my children thinking it is OK to do so. She is all around obsessed with me and mine going so far as to say I lied about my sons death to scam people out of money. This is all still going on as of this comment.

    • March 15, 2011 2:51 pm

      I actually remember when that happened…several of my friends were all up in arms about it on your behalf when it occurred. I am so, so sorry. What a horrible person.

    • March 15, 2011 10:54 pm

      OK, why didn’t I interview Shellie? Getting trolled on live national TV is exceptionally harsh. I mean, wow.

  6. March 15, 2011 3:49 pm

    All I can say is WOW! These trolls really need to get a life. If you don’t like what you read on someone’s PERSONAL blog, leave it and never come back. Seriously.

  7. March 15, 2011 7:21 pm

    I like hearing how you all handled your trolls. Luckily, I’ve never had an actual troll on the blog. I have had one person who seemed to really enjoy poking fun at my kids’ head size on youtube but I answered his comments as if I thought he was seriously asking (because some people really honestly wonder) and he went away.

  8. David permalink
    March 18, 2011 5:41 pm

    Some of these activities you are reporting seem to have gone beyond “trolling” into obsessive or stalkerish behavior.

    I’m a little saddened to hear this behavior is so common amongst women’s blogging communities.


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