Do you know who’s commenting on your blog?
My very first pro-blogging job was for a TV blog.
Because it was my first-ever freelance 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.
Anyone who’s ever used Typepad (Which was the blogging platform used by the company I was writing for at the time) might know that it’s very easy to look at a particular comment you’ve received and instantly view other comments left by that person, either by searching by their name, email or IP address. You can also do this on WordPress, and I’d imagine most other blog platforms will offer the same kind of functionality.
I was fairly new to blogging 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, 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 (as opposed to comments that are simply negative or critical, without being personally abusive) never have a “good” reason for doing so. I’m certainly not saying here that ALL abusive comments will turn out to be from the same person (Although, funnily enough, this is a pattern that’s repeated itself throughout my blogging career: I’m lucky not to receive many comments which I’d consider to be ill-intentioned, but many of the ones I have received have turned out to be from the same person, posting under multiple identities, to try and trick me into thinking lots of people share their opinions.), or that all critic should be ignored, but before you go quitting blogging, in the belief that everyone hates you, it could be worth asking yourself who’s REALLY leaving those comments, and whether their intention is to help you, or simply to hurt you.
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.
[This post was originally published in March 2008, and is being re-posted while I’m on holiday.]