4 Types of Blog Comments That Make You Look Like a Troll

Ryan Dube 07-06-2012

One of the most fascinating things about writing professionally on the Internet for nearly a decade now is the progression of “commenting” that has evolved alongside the blogosphere.


I was first introduced to the whole concept of online “conversations” during my early days on Internet forums. If you’ve ever spent any time on forums, then you know that the conversations can get very heated and very personal very fast.

One unfortunate part of forums was the forum “troll” – the person that would jump into the middle of a forum conversation for the sole purpose of creating discord and conflict. Usually, they would post some kind of “flame” – hateful or mean comments about someone – in some strange effort to strike a nerve and inflame the emotions of those taking part in the thread.

Once I migrated away from forums and into the world of blogging, I realized that even though the dynamics of the conversation are different, Internet trolls were still present. However, what I learned about these individuals is that often they don’t really even realize that what they are doing is wrong. It isn’t so much what they are saying, but how they go about saying it.

As James recently described, there are many things bloggers do to encourage blog comments 3 Ways to Encourage Comments on Your Wordpress Blog Getting comments on your blog is a great motivator to keep you going on with the long haul that is blogging. Just knowing that someone is out there, appreciating your work feels great, but not... Read More , but usually what most bloggers hope for is the sort of constructive and intelligent feedback that Joshua recently described. Unfortunately, that isn’t always what bloggers get.

How To NOT Comment Like an Internet Troll

Having grown up in a household that was often filled with lively debate, I never took well to trolls. Friends and colleagues would advise me to “never feed the trolls,” but I would inevitably get sucked into a flame war in an effort to expose the idiocy of this hateful individual.


Alas, such an effort never ended well. Both sides of the conversation turn emotional, and everyone involved loses sight of the original topic at hand. All of that simply because one comment was written in such a way that came across wrong. That is the danger of the Internet, and it is the minefield that we call the “comment area” on blogs scattered throughout the Internet.

So what are some ways that you can post your opinion or your criticisms without coming across like a hateful troll? Let me describe a few techniques from the perspective of a long-term online writer.

Making Personal Attacks

I’m not sure what it is about some people that read blogs and think that they have some sort of right to attack authors with comments like “you’re stupid“, or “that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever read!”  Whenever I would respond to such comments with some kind of counter-attack, the troll would always act shocked and offended.

It’s almost as though some people feel entitled to be cruel, like they’re at a restaurant, ordering food off the menu, and that the server (us bloggers) are supposed to just take any and all abuse without responding in kind.


internet troll

The truth is, that’s kind of how things are. In my early days of blogging here, I certainly would respond in kind, and of course get a bit of a talking-to with our editor-in-chief afterwards. It didn’t take long working as a blogger to realize that ultimately you need to have thicker skin than most people.

On the other hand, if you want to come across as a thoughtful, considerate and valuable reader with useful insight, avoiding personal insults of any kind is a mature and intelligent way to comment. Or, go ahead and call the writer stupid – and you’ll join the ranks of the many other trolls that have come before you.

Nitpicking Instead Of Focusing On The Topic At Hand

So many times I’ve received an array of comments after some articles, with both positive and critical statement providing a really cool mix of perspectives and opinions. Through the years, I’ve really come to value those perspectives, even when they differ from the original viewpoints I might have expressed in an article.


Often, it can be something as simple as a reader pointing out how the way that I’ve set up some technical project could be simplified with a few very minor changes. Those critiques are invaluable – not only to me, but to all other readers that come along and read those comments.

troll comments

But then, there’s the person that I’ve come to call the “Nit-Picker”. You’ve written over 1,000 words, describing how to do some task in great detail, and then someone comes along and points out some minor, irrelevant error that you’ve made.  It’s almost as though some people sift through tech blog articles, hoping to discover a “gotcha!” mistake. It might be pointing out some very minute technical error, or something as mundane as pointing out a grammar mistake.

Maybe pointing out insignificant errors is a way to boost one’s own ego, or some people just feel the need to knock those high-and-mighty tech bloggers down a notch or two. Whatever the motive is – it makes the person posting the comment look like a total troll.


Failing To Empathize With The Vulnerability Of The Artist

One way to look at commenting on a blog is to imagine that you’re standing at an art gallery, with the artist that created the painting standing right beside you. How likely are you to immediately blurt out, “Wow, this painting really sucks!” when you’ve got the person that poured their heart and soul into that artwork standing within earshot?

troll comments

Just blurting out a one-liner like, “Wow, this app is the worst thing I’ve ever seen!” without providing any explanation whatsoever is impersonal, immature, and everyone that comes along and reads it later will recognize it as troll-like behavior.  That isn’t to say that you were wrong – but it’s all in the delivery.

Any good artist values criticism, and the best criticism comes in a delicate and gentle manner that takes into account the fact that when an artist puts their work out there into the public, there is a degree of vulnerability they are subjecting themselves to. Understanding and empathizing with that vulnerability will keep you miles outside of the “troll” zone.

Acting Like A Know-It-All

This is a tough one, because as technical bloggers in general, we can sometimes come across as a know-it-all ourselves. So, to recommend that anyone posting a comment should avoid coming across as a know-it-all can perhaps be hypocritical. For example, in telling you the best ways to avoid coming across as a troll with comments, aren’t I acting like a know-it-all?   Sort of – but not really.

You see, if you can back up something you know with past experience or with data, then please do post what you know. That’s really what the comment area is for. The real problem comes when people post that doing this-or-that is “so simple a 5 year old could do it“, yet they provide no evidence to support the claim that they themselves really know how to do it.

internet troll

That isn’t to say that readers won’t have better ways of doing things. As I mentioned previously, I’ve learned a great deal from some of the people that have commented on my tech articles – whether it was a cool coding shortcut, or a software app that could accomplish everything I just laid out in a fraction of the time. I love those comments. Most bloggers do, because they help all of us – bloggers and readers alike – learn together how to do things better.

The problem comes when the troll points out that the method described in the article is stupid, but offers no alternative of their own. Or they say that a much simpler and easier alternative exists, without telling anyone what that alternative might be!   If you’re going to take the time to comment that a method or application isn’t good enough, then take those extra few minutes to explain a better alternative. Otherwise, you will most certainly come across to everyone as just another Internet troll.

I hope in offering these four points of advice, that I don’t come across as a troll! It’s something that’s very easy to do on the Internet, in these text-based mediums where the tone of our voice and our true intentions don’t always come across very well.

With that said, I would love to hear from other bloggers out there. What has been your experience with trolls? Do you think that many people that troll are doing so unintentionally? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Image Credit:Gargoyle Via Shutterstock, Man With Glasses Via Shutterstock, Art Gallery in Milan Via Shutterstock, A Man Being Surprised Via Shutterstock, Waitress Taking Order Via Shutterstock

Related topics: Online Commenting, Online Etiquette.

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  1. Anna Summers
    October 18, 2016 at 9:04 pm

    The thing about getting into it with an "internet troll" is that you really have no idea to whom you're speaking. You could be arguing with a child, an insecure adolescent who is trying to boost a sagging ego. The last thing he needs is an adult coming at him with insults, something you would never consider doing face to face with a child.

    If you visualize a "troll" like this, it's a little easier to not take what they say personally, at least for me. Even if they aren't physically a child, they may be emotionally handicapped to go off like that. I can't say I've never been guilty of taking offense and responding, but less so these days. Although it isn't always easy, for myself I've found it's best to give the benefit of the doubt and to be kind - at least I feel better about it.

    I read something once (I can't remember it verbatim) the gist of which was that taking offense can be just as destructive as giving offense. I don't know that I ENTIRELY agree with that, but it does have some merit, and counting to 5 and remembering that phrase sometimes helps me to curb my instinctive angry retort. That, and visualizing the "troll" as a child (physically or emotionally) who doesn't need more grief from me.

    Just my two cents,

  2. Anonymous
    June 12, 2015 at 6:42 am

    When dealing with trolls, rabid arguers, and those that bait you and wait, I _try_ to use: LTWW, or, Let The Wookie Win. "Oh, yes, now I see, you _are_ the correct one here", etc. I have no place to spend any brownie points gained in winning an argument with them and they will deflate a bit and go searching for a more lively victim. It took me 20 years to learn this as a defense against a friend's brother. During High School he argued about everything and I always argued back. At The 20 year Reunion he tried and I said, "Yep, you are right, the sky _is_ green" Not an exact quote but mirrors the situation. He left me alone after that.

  3. Rum DMT
    June 11, 2012 at 10:24 pm

    People who nitpick at grammar errors are usually trolls. To be honest, faulty hardware can make an English prof. look like a complete moron. You can't base criticisms on internet comments, most are unedited opinions rather than finished term papers, and those critiqueing them have no insight for the artist or what is happening on the flip side of the monitor.

    • Ryan Dube
      June 12, 2012 at 1:19 pm

      Good points. I think a lot of bloggers do take comments to heart when they probably shouldn't. It's hard - but probably if they saw where the comments were actually coming from, they wouldn't care so much. Good advice though, I'm sure other bloggers here will take it to heart as well.

  4. Jon Smith
    June 9, 2012 at 10:14 pm

    You forgot "First!" lol

  5. karthik chandrappa
    June 8, 2012 at 7:06 pm

    can we include Wikipedia edit wars in first category

    • Ryan Dube
      June 8, 2012 at 11:54 pm

      ^^ seconded... good one.

  6. P.F. Bruns
    June 8, 2012 at 3:29 pm

    I am working to stop myself from nitpicking people's grammar and spelling. In my case, the habit stems from developing a very strong affinity with communications and English from a very early age (I was reading before the age of 3, and by the time I reached kindergarten the next year, I was already capable of sight-reading in a full-blown narrative style). As such, grammar and spelling mistakes jump out at me (metaphorically speaking; I can't afford a 3-D monitor!). I don't have to go hunting for them.

  7. John Wilson
    June 8, 2012 at 2:45 pm

    On sites such as Techdirt which focus on mundane but important topics like the economics of the Web/Internet which, inevitably, brings in discussions of hot issues like copyright and patents.

    One group of trollers are those who made ad hominum remarks in each and every post ending in an attack on someone or another, often the author of a post or the site owner himself. Given that the topics are often emotional in themselves many, myself included, ignore the rule "don't feed the troll" which just gets more posts from said troll.

    On grammar mistakes many are handled humourously with the mistake pointed out and a suggested correction followed by FIFY! which translates into Fixed It For You. Those, at least, are responded to with humour and a thanks

    Trollers have, sadly, existed all the way back to dial up days on platforms such as Fidonet. If nothing else, they're an enduring collection of beasts. So remember the rule -- Don't Feed The Troll by responding to them.

    • Ryan Dube
      June 8, 2012 at 11:54 pm

      Agreed John, the fact that trolling is just part of the fabric of the Internet is a difficult pill to swallow when one has so much hope for intelligent and interesting exchangers - rather than those sort of useless ad hominum remarks. You're right though - they've always been here and they'll always be here. DFTT - Don't Feed The Trolls, very true.

  8. Shehan Nirmal
    June 8, 2012 at 2:47 am

    I love blogging and commenting...!!!

  9. Perspicacious
    June 7, 2012 at 7:27 pm

    "It might be pointing out some very minute technical error, or something as mundane as pointing out a grammar mistake."

    I don't point out grammatical errors when I'm on a forum where the postings are often fast and furious and don't allow for thoughtful reflection, but I will do so if I'm reading something written by a self-professed "professional writer" for two reasons.

    First, the reason behind writing anything is to communicate ideas and/or information. Grammar errors interfere with that purpose often as much as murky thought processes.

    Second, while not universally true, materials written by "professional writers" tend to be read by many more people than forum postings. If I comment about a grammar error, the error can be corrected by a conscientious author, thereby preventing the next 5, 50, 500 or five thousand readers from stumbling over the same material I just did. In my mind, the balance swings to the author spending 60 seconds correcting the error versus 5000 readers having to read the same thing two or three times.

    No "professional" writer should ever take offense at having a grammatical error pointed out (assuming that it wasn't written as "that's 'affect' not 'effect', stupid!"). Your job is communication. Proper grammar only helps you communicate. And no one gets it correct all of the time, anyway.

    Actually, in my opinion, a true "professional" would be pleased that any errors made are quickly corrected so that the "meat" of the article is clear and not obscured by an easily fixed mistake.

    • none
      June 7, 2012 at 11:31 pm

      omg what a cry baby, leave us alone article. Why is your website possibly one of the slowest on the www, in my opinion, is it all the advertising/data mining crap you have on it?

      • P.F. Bruns
        June 8, 2012 at 3:29 pm

        That's an excellent example of types 1-3 all rolled into one! Well done.

        • Ryan Dube
          June 8, 2012 at 11:50 pm

          haha...If I could Like comments on here, I'd "like" yours Bruns - that was funny. :-)

    • Cliff Mccullar
      June 7, 2012 at 11:41 pm

      I agree with this in "theory" however i do think both sides get carried away sometimes. However if you claim to be a professional at something then a "novice" shouldnt be able to point out your doing it wrong. If you are getting offended that a "grammer nazi" is after you when your writing something in a professional setting...then your just not a professional writer. Though as OP stated for something like this i dont CARE if its picture perfect, never have, never will, im not a english major or a professional writer :P.

      • Ryan Dube
        June 8, 2012 at 11:52 pm

        Cliff - good points. Although the flip sides holds true...if you are professional on a technical topics, and you complete a detailed, complete and technically thorough and accurate article, and then someone comes along and only bothers to correct a single overlooked grammatical mistake in a 2000 word makes the reader look like they sort of missed the entire point of the article.

        Of course, as a writer, I guess if a reader misses the point of an article, it's ultimately our fault - so I guess the writer has to take the fault for that either way.