I have a fairly liberal comments policy. I have turned my blog filter on so that it automatically sifts out comments with profanity. Other than that, I generally do not screen all the comments. I’m not saying it’s the best policy. It’s just the one that I use because I simply do not have time to read all of the comments (especially in the longer threads), and I do not want to turn off the comments altogether.
For this reason, I sometimes get complaints about the tone of the debate that goes on in the comments section of this blog. I agree that some people’s rhetoric in the comments is way over the top. In fact, the tone in some of these comments is positively sub-Christian. Some people think that it doesn’t matter how they speak so long as what they speak is right (at least they think it to be “right” from their own perspective). Of course, we are all tempted to do this from time to time, especially when we feel like our cause is just or when we feel like we’ve been wronged. Nevertheless, this kind of talk is patently unbiblical.
When we disagree with one another, it’s critical that we do so in a way that is not disagreeable. The book of Proverbs teaches us that “The tongue of the wise makes knowledge acceptable” (Pr. 15:2). It also says that “A gentle answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger” (Pr. 15:1). Consider also this text, “Sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness” (Pr. 16:21). The Lord Jesus Himself was no stranger to controversy (Mt 12:34; 23:31). Nevertheless, it was said of Him that “All were speaking well of Him and wondering at the gracious words which were falling from His lips” (Luke 4:22).
The goal of this post is a very practical one. Given that I am not sifting out all of the inappropriate comments that may appear, what should we do? How should we treat those who ignore the wisdom of the Proverbs and the example of Jesus? How should we respond to rude, obnoxious, and caustic commentersâ€”those whom I like to call “blog trolls.” Having dealt with and thought about this for a number of years now, I’ll offer a little bit of advice that might be helpful.
Before offering my advice, let me make a confession. I am not innocent of the behavior that the Bible rebukes. I am a blog troll at heart, though hopefully a repentant one. If anyone needs the wisdom of the Proverbs on this point, it’s me. Here’s an area in which we could all do better, and hopefully this advice might help us from becoming what we are attempting to correct (Mt 7:5; Gal 6:1). So here’s my advice on responding to blog trolls.
1. Do not respond in kind to a blog troll. Blog trolls feed on arousing the ire of their targets. If you feed a blog troll by equaling his vitriol, then he will come back for more. Instead, think of ways to speak kind words in all your communication with a blog troll.
Proverbs 26:4 – “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, Lest you also be like him.”
2. Do not demand an apology for bad behavior from a blog troll. This tactic generally encourages the blog troll to dig in and to defend the righteousness of his cause all the more. This leads to more rude and caustic commentary, and the cycle starts all over again.
Proverbs 12:15 – “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes.”
3. Do not attempt to correct or to rebuke the blog troll in the comments thread or in any other public forum. That only leads to more nasty conflict. If you feel that you have been wronged, then the private confrontation enjoined in Matthew 18:15 is probably the best way forward. Try to get the blog troll’s e-mail address, and resolve the matter there.
Proverbs 17:10 â€“ “A rebuke goes deeper into one who has understanding Than a hundred blows into a fool.”
Proverbs 27:22 – “Though you grind a fool in a mortar, grinding him like grain with a pestle, you will not remove his folly from him.”
Matthew 18:15 – “And if your brother sins, go and reprove him in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.”
4. Do not acknowledge the comments of an unrepentant blog troll. If the blog troll is unresponsive to your private efforts to get him to play nice, then you should ignore his comments thence forward. Once again, do not feed a blog troll. It only makes him bigger. If everyone will simply pay no attention to blog troll comments, then the blog troll will eventually go away.
Certainly there is more that could be said on this topic, but perhaps this post will give us enough food for thought so that our interaction in comments might be a little bit better. It’s much better to moderate our own comments than to have someone else do it for us.