Feedback and backchat - how to deal with online comments

I’m an ignorant Socialist whose brood is robbing taxpayers of their hard-earned cash. And I write lazy, boring, pointless rubbish.

These are two of the choicer comments that blogging has brought me.

The first was on a guest post on Conservative blogger Ellee Seymour’s website (elleeseymour.com) and the second, The Guardian’s arts blog (blogs.guardian.co.uk/arts).

What fun. I laughed and joined the debate, telling both respondents that, guess what? I didn’t quite agree.

For regular contributor to The Guardian’s Comment is Free (commentisfree.guardian.co.uk), Ellie Levenson, who also lectures in journalism and runs her own consultancy, such barbs are an expected, and partly accepted, irritation. 

She says: ‘If writers worried about this kind of feedback, we’d never write. We should be more worried when there is no response at all.

‘The internet allows people to give instant and often ill-considered responses which can be aggressive and offensive. I operate a ‘don’t engage’ policy, though I’m always interested in considered comments – whether they agree with me or not.”

Levenson says that, often, people may not realise how they come across.

‘Tone is notoriously difficult to get on email and I think it’s the same for online comments.”

Unlike Levenson, Shiny Media’s DollyMix (www.dollymix.tv) editor Cate Sevilla admits that she has found offensive comments stressful.

‘I used to take it personally, and feel the need to reiterate my point to the commenters, and defend myself, over and over again,’she says.

‘I’ve since learned to not worry about it so much, and that worrying about some crappy comment is a waste of energy.”

Sevilla differentiates between comments that disagree with her and those that are more personal. ‘If it’s a comment debating my logic or opinions, that’s fine. But most of the negative comments I get are either really positive, or nasty troll comments.”

‘If it’s personal, I tend to just brush it off. If you’re online, a woman, and talking about controversial stuff, it comes with the territory. I’ve been told a few hundred times to ‘go back to my own country’ and that I ‘need to get laid’, so I ignore those.’

But while acknowledging debate as a ‘huge’part of blogging, Sevilla says she controls what she publishes: ‘I know there are some bloggers who turn off commenting, which I respect. However, I just reserve the right to delete, or block the really disrespectful comments and commenters. Debate is wonderful, but there’s a big difference between debate, arguing for the sake of arguing, and general harassment.”

Overall, comments are a welcome part of Sevilla’s blogging experience. ‘Even when it’s negative feedback, or people who I’ve pissed off, it’s best to just take it on the chin and realise that what I’m writing and blogging is getting out there, and that’s what’s important to me,’she says.

For journalism student Dave Lee (www.dave-lee.org), feedback through his blog has helped him ‘tighten’ his writing.

‘I check, double check and triple check for mistakes and inaccuracies,’he says. ‘Getting told behind the scenes by an editor that you’ve made a boo-boo is one thing, but as soon as a comment points out a mistake in full view, integrity is thrown out the window.

‘It’s easy to see what works from the type of feedback you get. I find if I know there is ample opportunity for readers to add comments it makes me consider my audience a little more.”

Linda Jones is a freelance journalist

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