Revenge of the Blogosphere: Haters & Comment ModerationRevenge of the Blogosphere: Haters & Comment Moderation

I started this blog back in 2004 as a place to mouth off about my life. It was a natural extension of the long and winding emails I was sending out to groups of friends. Back then, only the “cool kids” were on the Internet anyway, so I didn’t feel so strange about posting things in public. Geeks and freaks stilled ruled the net. It was pushing into the mainstream, but I can guarantee that nobody at my day job back in Chicago Googled me in 2005 or even 2006.

There’s some fun stuff that comes with blogging. I remember going to a Wiscon the year after I started and how people came up to me and introduced themselves – total strangers – saying they read and followed the blog. It was… weird. As a writer, the cliche is that everybody asks you, “Where do you ideas come from?” In the blogging world, the first thing other bloggers ask you is, “How do you deal with negative comments?”

Blogging is a great way to prepare yourself for when your first book comes out. If you haven’t started a blog and you want to be a writer who actually engages the world, I highly recommend it. Because, if you’re lucky, you’ll say plenty of things on your blog that make people who don’t even know you hate you. And people hating you, for a writer, is a very similiar feeling to people hating your book. So you’ll grow some thick skin real quick.

It’s funny that people who read your posts get far more personal in their attacks than people who read your fiction. If you’re lucky, they engage with your actual argument, but more often, they feel it’s necessary to personally attack you. Which is weird, since they don’t, you know, know you. But blogs are far more personal spaces than books, in part because of the fiction/nonfiction divide and in part because there’s not the status confirmed by mega-publisher standing between me and the reader. We read stories differently if they’ve been published vs. unpublished. I expect published stories to be better. It doesn’t mean they are. But I have different expectations. The web has become a great equalizer, and it means there’s no longer any ivory tower for you to hide behind when people throw stuff at your crappy arguments.

Now, there are all sorts of things I can infer about a writer from what they write. But I don’t know that I’ve outright called an author a woman-hating faggot, for instance, because of something he’d written.

But when you’re loud and offensive and explicitly tackling feminist issues on a blog, the odds of a day going by in which you’re not called a man-hating lesbian go up the more you post. Now, there’s certainly nothing wrong with being a man-hating lesbian. There are certainly women I find attractive, and certainly some men I strongly dislike. And I suspect the vast majority of people in the world find some women attractive and strongly dislike some men, and vice versa. What gets me is how this stuff is brought out to silence the speaker. To invalidate what they’re saying. You could have the best argument in the whole world, but one scream of “man-hating lesbian” and some weirdo thinks they’ve cut you down.

Um, no.

See, here’s the thing, folks. If you choose to live publicly, you have to deal with the haters. And there will always be haters. Far more haters if you have an explicitly political blog. They will send you nasty emails and threaten sexual violence and call you gay, because this is about the extent of the scary stuff they can think of.

That’s the good news. Because if it you know how to throw a good right hook and don’t find being gay offensive, the world is your oyster.

Yes, really.

I’ve gotten all sorts of hatred spewed over here in the six years I’ve been posting to this blog. Thing is, all everybody talks about is the bad stuff (look at this post, even!). What we fail to talk about (and what nobody ever asks me about) is how to deal with the *good* stuff. I’ve had fan letters and thank-you letters and some really good stories about folks who changed their lives because of a personal story I shared here. I’ve had letters and comments that literally leave me speechless (or word-less at least). In the face of strong, heartfelt emotion I always have trouble responding, and it’s no different with blog comments.

We continually focus on the bad. I know a handful of female bloggers who’ve deleted their blogs due to harassment. That’s a tragedy. I understand it, sure, but it’s a tragedy nonetheless.

When you start thinking about quitting, pull up the good conversations. The fan emails. The amazing comments. Remember the lives you’re making better.

And just know that harassment comes with the territory. Harassment means you’re doing something right. It means you made somebody uncomfortable. It means you’re freaking them out and shaking up their worldview. It doesn’t mean you need to shut up.

When people ask me how to moderate comments, I actually find it to be a trivial question. It’s not about how to moderate comments. It’s how to have the courage to keep talking when everybody wants you to shut the hell up. Hatred is exhausting. And we focus on the hatred, of course. We give negative comments three times the attention of positive ones, which always makes it seem like there are more than there really are.

The kind of blogging I do, I realize after my long hiatus, really is about courage. I was worried all the time about what people would think. I was worried about strangers at cons. Stalkers. Potential employers. Work colleagues.

But there’s also a lot of good that comes from it. A lot of people who find some value in it. Who take courage from it.

And that makes it all worth it.

You have to figure out what’s worth it for you, too. I don’t envy the bloggers who’ve been targeted with hate campaigns from the big conservative or MRA blogs. I don’t envy folks with exes who stalk them via their blogs. I don’t pretend that “just ignore the haters” works in every instance. But the majority of the time, what we need to go forward is, simply, courage.

And a willingness to hit the “delete” button.

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