My very first pro-blogging job was for a TV blog. Because it was my first-ever blogging gig, I was particularly keen to do well and make a good impression, so when I started receiving some particularly vicious, and very personal, comments on some of my posts, I was naturally pretty upset about it.
What upset me most of all was the fact that the comments were coming from lots of different people – some anonymous, some not – who all voiced the same set of complaints about me and my work. I was devastated. Everyone hated me! I was the worst blogger in the history of blogging! I was so bad that the blog’s readers, who rarely ever felt moved to leave a comment (although it was a fairly high-profile site, it didn’t receive a lot of comments at the time, which made the negativity I seemed to generate all the more remarkable), they were more than happy to make an exception for me – and nothing that they said was complimentary.
I decided that I would quit pro-blogging. It obviously wasn’t for me, and given the highly negative reactions I was inspiring in the blog’s readers, it was clearly only a matter of time before I was fired, anyway.
Before I handed in my resignation, though, I decided to do a little bit of investigation.
Those of you who use Typepad will know that it’s very easy to look at a particular comment you’ve received and instantly view other comments left by that poster, either by searching by their name or their IP address. I’d imagine most other blog platforms offer the same kind of facility.
I was fairly new to Typepad at the time, so it took me a few weeks to cotton onto this. When I finally did, though, I was in for a shock.
Selecting one of the nastiest comments I’d received, I hit the “View all comments from this IP” button. Well, whaddya know! Almost all of the abusive comments I’d ever received had been posted from the same IP address, even although they’d all been posted under different names and using different (fake, as it turned out) email addresses. So, while I’d been thinking there were dozens of people out there who really, really hated my posts, there was actually only one.
But that wasn’t all.
I was only one of the writers who freelanced for the blog in question. As I scanned down the list of comments posted from the IP of my abusive commenter, I noticed a name I recognised: that of one of my fellow bloggers, who had posted several (non-abusive) comments on other posts, from the same IP as the abusive commenter.
Well, it didn’t take Sherlock Holmes to work out what was happening here. Either by some massive co-incidence, my colleague and the anonymous commenter shared an IP address, or my colleague and the person who posted the abusive comments were one and the same person.
I knew which option my money was on, and a quick search on the IP address seemed to prove my hunch: my colleague had posted numerous comments on other blogs, and on his own personal website, using his own name, and posting from Abusive-Comment-IP. Hmmm.
Well, I emailed him about it. I didn’t come right out and accuse him of trying to undermine me by leaving nasty comments under fake names, but I let him know that I was aware he was sharing an IP with someone who clearly had a grudge against me, and asked him if he had any idea what was going on. At first he feigned surprise and said that the nasty comments must have been made by one of his colleagues, as he normally posted on the blog from work. A few days later, though, he emailed me again and said that “the husband of one of his friends” had admitted to posting the comments anonymously: an explanation I’d have found easier to swallow if it hadn’t been so hard to understand how this “husband of a friend” came to be using my colleague’s home or work computer at 5am (many of the comments were posted very early in the morning) without his knowledge, and on several different occasions.
Of course, he could have been telling the truth. It’s possible. But I remain absolutely convinced that this colleague had formed some kind of grudge against me, for reasons I can’t imagine, and decided to try and undermine me by leaving nasty and abusive comments on my posts. This opinion was strengthened a few months later when he started regularly bad-mouthing me on the staff forum used by the various freelancers who worked for the company in question. Nice guy.
The moral of this rather lengthy story? People who leave abusive messages on your blog never have a “good” reason for doing so. Their motivations are always spiteful, and, as such, not worth taking personally. Constructive criticism is the only kind worth taking on board.
I also firmly believe that as I post under my full, real name, and make no attempt to hide my identity when I blog, people who wish to take issue with what I say should at least give me the courtesy of telling me who they are, too: it’s no coincidence that comments posted by “Anonymous” are almost always nasty ones.
Also: the “View other comments from this IP” tool is a handy one indeed. And just to prove it, when I went back to look at the handful of nasty comments on my posts that HADN’T come from the IP of my colleague, I discovered that every single one of them had been posted from…
… the same IP address as ANOTHER colleague.
I swear I’m not making this up.