Herding trolls.

thYesterday was a Suzy Homemaker* day for me: I made deviled eggs, a batch of soft oat rolls and some oatmeal cookies, then invited my niece and her kids over for a round of Café Awesome. After that we went out to glean feral raspberries.

During the day I also put up the first of those Swagbucks “Five for Five” promotional posts and wrote and scheduled the other four. I arranged for a couple of interviews, did some research for next week’s articles, rounded up and washed jam jars, and made a huge batch of raspberry-rhubarb jam.

(Note to self: Nine cups of rhubarb means lots of chopping. Find an easier recipe.)

However, I also made the mistake of visiting the comments section of “How to make a quick $50,” that day’s MSN Money post. Suffice it to say that the process sucked far too much time out of my day.

DF sympathized when he got home: “Herding trolls again?


Another writer friend has chided me about this: “Don’t read the comments! Half the world is on Prozac but it’s the wrong half.”

Yet eternal comment vigilance is the price of Internet freedom. Or at least the price of my peace of mind: Rather than wait for readers to report racial slurs or profanity, and then wait for a moderator to delete those comments, I vaporize ’em myself.

On MSN Money, readers get axed and/or banned only if they’re specifically profane, threatening, etc. Otherwise you can be as rude and obnoxious as you want – and some people do want.

This tendency is explained in four succinct, brilliant steps by John Gabriel in his “Greater Internet Dickwad Theory.” I laugh every time I look at this, but I also get irritated.


Not nearly as clever as they think

I should probably feel sorry for trolls: This is how they choose to spend their free time? Being anonymous jerks? They must lead very, very small lives.

Maybe they listen to too much drive-time radio and think that obnoxious attitude = clever and devastating wit. Maybe they have no power in their own lives and spend their spare time cutting down other people they don’t even know as an attempt at supremacy.

This may be the best they ever get to feel. Saying assholic things and getting away with them makes them feel invincible. Devastatingly witty, even.

Somebody told me that “anonymity breeds animosity.” I agree. People probably wouldn’t get right in my face and call me “a farm animal who has had her head in the feed bag for too long,” or say, “This author hates herself for being so fat and ugly.” But they leave comments like that on my MSN Money articles.

Sure, I get nice comments and constructive criticism as well. It’s just that you remember the haters more vividly.


Civil discourse is possible – just not likely

The comments section is there so that readers can share their own points of view. Too often they’re talking points rather than real points, or lazy-ass, knee-jerk retorts like:

  • “They paid you to write this junk?” (I only wish I could respond, “You bet! And they pay quite well!”)
  • “This would never work in real life because…” (In other words: It didn’t work for me/sounds too far out of my comfort zone. Never mind that I quoted people for whom it did work – and in real life, too.)
  • “Democrats! They’re ruining the country! They want to tax the rich and enable the poor!” (I know which radio and TV stations you’ve been patronizing.)
  • “Republicans! It’s all the fault of the Republicans! They only care about money!” (Yeah, but I bet you wish you had as many media choices as they did.)

Really, is that the best you can do? Have you ever had an original thought, and supported that thought with facts and/or personal experiences?

I’m just naïve enough to believe that people can disagree without being disagreeable. So yes, I’ll keep herding trolls. And yes, I know I need to grow a thicker skin. I should not let these trogs bother me.

But I still think that comments like “Die, cunt, die” are a little over the top.

*For those of you too young to remember Suzy Homemaker, check out this commercial from my childhood. I still wake up screaming.


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  1. Rita Phillips

    I have always enjoyed and received your posts. Thank you!!

  2. That die thing sounds bannable to me.

    But yeah, moderation is necessary for a good discussion environment, and truly anonymous comments are terrible. Double especially bad if you’re female: http://whatever.scalzi.com/2011/08/31/the-sort-of-crap-i-dont-get/

    • Donna Freedman

      My editor at MSN Money told me to flag any threatening comments to his attention. If another one like that slips over the transom I certainly will.
      And I went back and re-read the Scalzi piece before writing this one. It made an impact on me then and it strengthened my resolve to write this one. I’ve also read some scary, scary posts about women in the online gaming world/comics convention world. The stuff these women are confronted with every day is horrifying — death threats, rape threats, blatant fondling in public, being followed back to their rooms… Brrrrr.

  3. It’s too easy to be hyper-critical while hiding behind a computer screen. It’s a combination of bullying & cowardice. Don’t let them get you down!

  4. Barbara

    So often when I read an interesting article and then go to the comments, I wish I hadn’t. It seems that any story about any topic has repulsive, malicious and even threatening comments. It makes me so angry. (Excuse me while I deep breathe.) I also see these horrible comments on Facebook posts from organizations I follow. What really drives me crazy are the racial slurs (and slur is a kind word for it). It makes me wonder what is happening to our society.

    • Donna Freedman

      Here’s what I think is happening: Hateful people finally have found a way to be hateful in public without fear of consequences. They also love having other people give their comment a thumb’s-up or a “like” because it makes them feel validated.
      Can you imagine how small their lives must be? I can’t. Or, rather, I can and it makes me shudder.

  5. “Don’t take any guff from these swine.” HST

  6. I am absolutely shocked at everyone of those nasty comments. I cannot imagine what you said to draw this fire. I am not saying you caused them to say these things. I have only had one anonymous who was mean to me, and I actually knew who she was. I just started comment moderation for about three months and she got tired of waiting me out, I suppose, and went elsewhere to annoy someone else. Now, I just don’t allow anonymous comments. I would gladly chop a dump truck of rhubarb to get my hands on some.

  7. or, that would be “every one.”

  8. We had a troll show up on our community facebook page this AM. Fortunately we have moderators-doubt there will be any more posts!
    I am always amazed at the comments on many of the various MSN articles. Just makes the authors of said comments look kinda stupid…and rather uneducated. Probably just jealous someone is getting paid to write and they are not. Of course, who would pay for the drivel that they use up bandwidth upon….Carry on-I enjoy your work.

  9. Ro in San Diego

    I always enjoy your articles, Donna and consider myself a fan. I remember I responded to one of your posts (as I frequently do) and was basically called a liar by one of your trolls. I remember trying to explain politely (and not sparing details) but the troll continued to insult me so I stopped trying to explain myself.

    I remember that the individual didn’t believe the amount of money I was able to save and hinted that my fabulous vacations were probably a lie.

    Oh – yeah. I’m off on another one of those European vacations in a few days thanks to my $200 per month grocery bills.

    I can’t imagine why people would waste their time being mean to someone but I agree that there is safety in being anonymous on the internet. These are probably the same people working for the TSA who are mean to travelers.

    • Donna Freedman

      I remember that post, too. Face it: Some people are just jerks.
      Hope you and your DH enjoy the vacation. It’s all the sweeter knowing you’ll be able to pay in cash thanks to saving where you can so you can spend where you want.

  10. I read the comments on that post and got angry on your behalf. And then I got sad that people like that exist. You’re generous to pity them.

    I like that MSN gives us the option to “thumbs down” a comment. It makes me feel a little better to virtually boo the jerks.

    • I was mad, too! In addition to the negative trolls who will bash anyone who is sensible (that’s you), I really detest those who my mother used to call “holier-than-thou”. I add, “potty-mouths”. Don’t let them get you down too long. Remember, we all are on your side…even if we don’t post as often as they do!!!

      • Donna Freedman

        I guess that would make the naysayers “trollier-than-thou”?
        Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  11. “Herding Trolls” = hilarious! Sad that it’s necessary, though. Agree wholeheartedly that these are small, powerless, disturbed people who have no other way to garner attention. They are the same people who poke zoo animals and harass service providers. I admire your balanced take on “the price of internet freedom”, Donna. Keep on keepin’ on!

    Oh, and yes, I too would chop a truckful of rhubarb if I could get my paws on some.

    • Donna Freedman

      I never had rhubarb before moving to Alaska. Now it’s my favorite add-in for homemade yogurt. Well, it’s my favorite once it’s been stewed with sugar.
      Something new for me: pickled rhubarb. Someone mentioned the possibility to DF and his eyes lit up. Found a recipe online that’s supremely simple: balsamic vinegar, sugar, cloves and kosher salt. I cut the balsamic vinegar 50-50 with plain old white vinegar and it’s really good: tangy, sour-sweet and generally addictive either by itself or served with crackers and cheese or cold meat.
      One of the things I hope to do soon (this weekend?) is to cut enough rhubarb to fill several pint jars, mix up the brine and water-bath it so we’ll have rhubarb pickle during the winter, too. I’ll be too busy even to think about trolls.

      • Why don’t you just cut the rhubarb in stalks, split maybe, to fit in a wide-mouthed pint jar, standing up like canned pickled carrots or okra. There would not be so much chopping.

        If you place the stalk rounded side up, it is easier to cut than rounded side down.

        My jaws hurt when I heard “pickled.” Anything pickled is dangerous to me because my throat starts to swell shut.

        • Donna Freedman

          The nine cups’ worth of chopping was for rhubarb-raspberry jam. However, I did chop rhubarb for the pickling solution and will probably do it again (only not quarter-inch pieces) because a little piece goes a long way. It’s quite tasty, but very strongly flavored.
          Sorry about the allergy. Is it to vinegar?

          • I am allergic to wheat, so I figured the white vinegar which is distilled wheat, is the culprit. But, apple cider vinegar or anything fermented causes the same reactions. I am also allergic to mold.

      • OMG now I REALLY, REALLY want some rhubarb! That sounds divine!!!!

        • Donna Freedman

          Update: I read that the water bath would turn the pickles to mush. Not sure why that hadn’t already occurred to me, but sure am glad that I read it.
          New plan: We’ll do a quart of rhubarb refrigerator pickles. If that doesn’t hold us until next spring, we’ll know to do a quart and a pint.
          (And yeah, they’re good.)

          • Ooops, since I don’t make pickles, I never thought of that. I wonder how thin slices of rhubarb pickles would taste after dehydrating? It might be a nice snack for those who like pickle or vinegar or whatever kind of chips sold in the sore. Some people put their food in commercial pickle juice once the pickles are eaten.

  12. Two of my favourite quotes regarding trolls:

    “If no one ever criticizes what you do, you aren’t doing anything worth noticing.”


    “Don’t try to win over the haters. You are not the jackass whisperer.”

    I wish someone had told me these things when I was a teacher. I hate seeing trolls on my work online, but at the same time I remember how hard it was to face trolls in person.

  13. Don’t let others discourage you Donna. I love reading your posts! Not all of them apply to me, but your writing style makes each piece interesting. I read thru some of the comments of the article you mentioned, and I get REALLY tired of people blaming the president on their problems. Generally those people do nothing to make changes. Have they written their congress man or woman? No….it’s just easier to sit back and blame. Have they thought of ways to make changes in their own life? No, that would take too much effort. I have a relative that complains constantly about the government but doesn’t even make an effort to vote. If you don’t even take advantage of the privilege to vote, I have no interest in hearing your opinion.

    • YES, and it doesn’t matter which party is in office, the nut jobs figure out a way to make the attack on Pearl Harbor be the fault of Barack Obama or George Bush.

      They claim everything that ever went wrong in this world can be laid at the feet of the Republicans or Democrats (depending on your point of view).

      To be perfectly fair, there is one personal finance blogger who also feels and blogs this way. I won’t say which political party she supports but I finally had to stop reading her blog.

  14. I appreciate your writing. Please carry on.

  15. The more popular the site, the dumber the comments, unfortunately. Think of all the money these people could earn if they spent their time working instead of trolling!

    • Donna Freedman

      Some of them may be unemployed and this is their way of venting their rage and frustration. But if the online persona bleeds over into real life, it’s a cinch they’re going to have trouble finding jobs.

  16. Donna….you have the patience of a “saint”. there seems to be a lack of tolernce and an ability or actually willingness to exchange ideas fairly. It seems “bullying” is the way thing are done now. As for the MSN Money postings and being banned. I THINK I was banned as I have tried many times to post and was unsucessful. I checked my archives and for the life of me I can find no offensive language or curse words. I did however make a rather unflattering comment on the head of GE….Mr. Imel…and his poor decison making and performance. I am a GE stock holder and bought at $31 only to watch the shares “melt down” to $15. GE had/has some interest in MSN and I surely hope the powers that be would not want to punish an avid reader of MSN for speaking their mind.

    • The first and only word that entered my mind was ‘bullies’, as well. We walk away from them without a thought.

    • Donna Freedman

      MSN Money recently switched platforms and several people have mentioned being unable to post. Possibly you have to sign up again…?

  17. Jennifer

    Those nasty trolls ARE an unfortunate presence in open comment sections. Their vulgar nonsense or even hateful evil comments can only be defeated by ignoring them (or by taking the empowering “comment collapsed by community” action). I try VERY hard not to “feed the trolls” by engaging in ANY dialog, but it can be VERY frustrating. Good luck to you, you seem to have a good support system of family and friends and certainly many supportive followers online. Don’t give the trolls your precious time – they don’t deserve it.

  18. HAHA!! Suzy Homemaker, a bygone product from a bygone era. We had something similar in the UK, ahhh the memories 😉 As for the negative comments that people leave on your articles/blog, just delete ’em and move on. There truly are some nasty people out there and they probably are just as you describe: living small lives, no friends, no family, no life. They are to be pitied! There’s no other way to imagine someone who could leave such ‘die’ comments. Talk about ‘overkill’ (hehe).

  19. Lynn C.

    I’ve enjoyed your posts/articles/blog for quite some time now. And I agree that herding trolls isn’t easy. But the little corner of me that’s genteel (the rest certainly isn’t!) was disturbed by your use of “the c-word”. It’s so inappropriate and I’m disappointed that you used it, even in a quote. Like my grandma would say, “you’re better than that!” And you are.

    • Barbara

      Lynn — Sometimes you have say what the truth is in order to get people to understand the seriousness of the situation. There is no way to explain how vile the post “Die, c_ _ _, die” is without using the word the troll used. Journalists don’t always have pretty stories to tell. They can’t candy-coat the villains of this world. And the mini-troll in me has to say: Don’t go after Donna for being a good journalist. Hmmmmm…does that make you mini-troll too?

    • Donna Freedman

      As Barbara noted, sometimes you just have to report the facts. You’re right that it’s disturbing. Abbreviating or paraphrasing would blunt the message.
      Most of the time I pick my spots for cursing.

  20. Miss Donna –
    Some people are just so unhappy with their lives that they have to spread the unhappiness. I can’t imagine doing what you do – I have a quick temper and would be tempted to flame right back – so kudos to you for not doing that! I say, delete and move on.

  21. People critique when they can’t create. I said and I’m sticking with it.

    • Donna Freedman

      Ooohhh, I like that: “critique what they can’t create.”

  22. The degree to which you are a great writer is measured by the extent to which nut cases hate you.

    So…be flattered. Poor wretches.

    {sigh} Fortunately not enough people read my site for the real crazies to waste their energy there. Instead I’ve been killing time zapping spam whose scribblers spoof their way past Akismet. Some days several dozen get through…and that’s enough to lead me to consider closing the site down. Or at least closing the comments. I don’t have time for that.

  23. Barbara

    Now I am really interested in trolls in social media. I wonder if they have been studied or if there are research papers about them. Goodbye gals — I’m off to surf.

  24. Nicole Berry

    Hi Donna,

    Have you ever thought about comparing the total number of views to the number of idiotic comments? I’ll bet you’d find that the trolls are an incredibly small percentage. It would be some consolation, I’m sure. I’m willing to bet that the majority who rarely–if ever–comment prefer to reflect and consider how to apply the articles that you write to their own lives. You do a great job; don’t let the inevitable assholes that try to tear others’ success apart dampen your spirits.

    One of your many, many fans,

    Nicole Berry

    • Donna Freedman

      “The inevitable assholes” — sounds like the name of an alternative music band.
      Thanks for your support.

  25. Vicky Fox

    I am really taken back about the “C” word thing. Where I come from, if any person, male or female used that openly…….

    • Barbara

      We shouldn’t be surprised that trolls use profanity. I’ve been looking around the Web to get a better idea of what these trolls post. It’s bad. I think the worst I’ve seen are the racist trolls. ARGH.

  26. Virginia

    You give a good summary of common troll comments. Don’t let them bother you. Those types of comments are really a reflection of the troll, not the author. It amazes me how people can link anything back to politics. You could right a nice article about a grandma starting a jam business in her basement, and you would get “that’s not possible in Obama’s economy!” or “she won’t get to live long with our new healthcare!”.

  27. It makes me wonder if they hate the world so much why bother even taking the time to read the article or if they don’t like it to just move on. I think it makes them feel better about themselves to put other people down. I am sorry you had to deal with that. It comes with the territory though. They want to get our goat. Well screw em!

    • Donna Freedman

      I think some of them read the headline and then believe they’ve read the whole article. Ex: I did an article about going car-free. It very specifically said “This isn’t for everybody” and gave some examples of why it wouldn’t work in some cases. A ton of comments raged about how it was a stupid idea because it wouldn’t work for everybody. Every now and then someone would leave a comment along the lines of, “Did you read the article? The writer said that herself!”

  28. I think we need to stop allowing anonymous posts. I think that if the person was “brave” enough to make ridiculous comments, then they should be brave enough to give their name. Of course I’m speaking of a utopia where it would be easy to tell if someone gave their real name. Not sure how you would require that, but it sure sounds nice.

  29. Don’t give the haters the smug satisfaction you remember their ignorant words.

    I love your witty articles. Thanks for the humor and making frugal cool not boring! 🙂

    BTW – Love the T-shirt reference to Dickwad Theory. I want one!

    • Donna Freedman

      I’m wondering if I shouldn’t give one of those T-shirts away some week. On the other hand, where would you wear it except around the house? Some people are easily offended.


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