My eHow editor threw some article ideas at me last week, gauging my interest for a few topics she wanted to highlight, one of them being how to maintain your voice in social media and how to deal with what the Internet has labeled as trolls. I obliged (tips coming to a website near you), and then laughed at the simple answer to which I finally arrived earlier this year: hire someone to monitor it for you. After years of allowing people to anonymously leave snarky comments—because “you put yourself out there, you should be able to take it”—I now adhere to the same rules I have in my home: if the dog shits on the carpet, I clean it up. I took it a step further this spring and hired someone else to approve blog comments and exercise the delete and block feature on my social media accounts, suggesting the if-it-walks-like-a-duck rule for weeding out trolls. I now rarely deal with the following:
A: None-of-your-business demands
Summarized as: “You owe it to your readers to tell us why you wear a size 9 shoe! I wear a 7 and sincerely don’t understand why you wear a 9! Please! I’m so confused. Explain to your loyal readers why!”
B: Unoriginal passive aggressive snark
Summarized as: “Cute picture. Too bad you’re stealing the limelight from your kids and making it about you again. But adorable family! Love your blog! (kissy emoticon, hand clap emoticon)”
C: Flat out cut-downs
My personal favorite: “You used to be hot, but you’re not anymore.”
D: Ridiculous conclusions
Summarized as: “You never show pictures or talk about having sex with your husband, so that must mean you never have it. Nice marriage.”
But I still see enough of it (snark, not sex) to remind myself why not allowing it in my space was a good choice to make. While we can’t always control the input in our lives (like the woman who flicked me off in traffic yesterday), we can control our engagement with that input. Snarky comments not only sometimes triggered my own engagement (which, I’ll admit, periodically included “%#$@ off” over breathe-love-and-kindness-to-someone-who-obviously-just-wants-to-be-seen because, well–I’m human.), but it triggered the engagement of a whole lot of other commenters—a distraction from content, a free-for-all place for people to be seen for their negativity, hooking anyone who begs to differ and coming back for a fight because, let’s face it—we all have tons of free time and engaging strangers on the Internet in argument is a grand way to make your mark on the world.
Defining the spirit of comments is a subjective job, one I’ve given to someone else now, and unfortunately—or fortunately, depending on how you look at it—skimming off provoking, passive aggressive or ill-intended comments is pretty easy beginning with anonymity equals goodbye.
I’ve talked to a lot of other writers and bloggers and have read numerous articles about managing feedback, an Atlantic article from this summer reporting that the National Journal (barely comparable to a mom blog, I know) opted to exclude comments on most stories altogether as a way to control the flood of abuse that appeared on the site. Blogging has definitely changed over the past seven years since I started, and navigating through all of it is a continued learning process. But right now, that’s where we are.
I suppose it might seem that what’s left in the comments is all praise. I mean, I’m not going to kick you out of my house for saying you like my curtains. Inside and outside of the Internet and throughout our entire lives, we deal with feedback and learn to filter both the good and bad. The seatbelt you must buckle before you begin that ride is the “know thyself” principle: you can’t think you’re amazing because someone says “You’re amazing!” just as you can’t think you’re worthless because someone says, “You suck!”
I appreciate meaningful conversations and differing opinions about everything from religion and politics to parenting, but personal attacks, demands and general “you’re doing it wrong, you suck!” comments simply aren’t tolerated here. No shirt, no shoes, no service. Kissy emoticon. Handclap emoticon.
And coming to eHow later this week…how do you maintain your own voice in the overstimulating world of social media?