Blogging and Writing

Dealing with Inappropriate Behaviour Online

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One of the great things about blogging is being able to interact online with others. However, sometimes people will decide to persist in trying to interact with you even when it’s unwanted. That can involve assorted inappropriate, intrusive behaviours, so let’s chat about how to deal with that. This post isn’t going to touch on criminal-level stalking, but rather the lower-level inappropriate behaviour that many bloggers may come across at some point or another.

Reacting vs. ignoring

I’m generally a fan of not giving people the reaction they’re looking for, in the hopes that they’ll give up and move on along. This is probably most effective for the more casual, less targeted people, who will likely move on if they can’t get what they’re after. However, it may not serve as much of a deterrent for people who are more deliberate and have chosen for whatever reason to fixate on you as their target.

Managing comments

Blacklisting

One tool in the toolbox is blacklisting someone from commenting. You do this by going to My Sites > Settings > Discussions, then scroll down to the box where it says disallowed comments. You can enter a person’s username, email address, or IP address.

There are a couple of ways to find a person’s email or IP address. One is to go to My Sites > Comments and find a comment they’ve left you, then click the user info button. Another way is to go to a post on your site where they’ve left a comment (do this on your actual site, not in the Reader). There will be an edit button next to their comment; click that and it will display their info.

If the person creates new email addresses, which is easy enough to do, you may have to blacklist those too. Watch out for comments from Gravatars you don’t recognize, especially if they don’t have a blog URL attached to them; you really never know who they might actually be.

Turning off or moderating comments

This might be worth considering if someone is repeatedly trying to get around your blacklist. Moderating might help if someone is leaving inappropriate comments that you really don’t want others to be able to see, but it won’t prevent you from being exposed to them. If the person at issue isn’t being outright nasty, moderating might not be of that much benefit to you.

Turning off comments entirely probably means a big change to your readers’ experience as well as your own, which may or may not be worth it. Going private with your blog might make for a better choice.

Likes

WordPress doesn’t let you block someone from liking your posts or liking comments on your posts. Given that someone has to be signed in to be able to like a post, this seem like something they should be able to implement if they were so inclined, but WP seems to be too busy trying to make things more complicated to have any time left for coming up with features users might actually like to see.

You can remove the like button altogether and/or remove the comment like option from your site by going to My Sites > Tools > Marketing, and then clicking on the Sharing Buttons tab. While this removes the like options from your site itself, people can still like posts and comments within the Reader, so it really doesn’t accomplish much. I haven’t come across any way to disable that for WordPress.com blogs.

Since it’s easier for post likes to get lost in the shuffle of notifications, I’ve noticed that people who are trying to get noticed will sometimes like comments, as that makes it more likely you’ll be stuck seeing their Gravatar in your notifications. Speaking of things it would be nice if WP allowed you to block… I really don’t care who reads my blog, but it would be nice to be able to manage who can show up in my notifications.

Removing a contact form

While a contact form may be a nice thing to offer readers, if someone’s misusing it, it may be worth taking down. It’s very easy for someone to create an email address and contact you pretending to be someone they’re not, so if you do leave the contact form up, it might be a good idea to be selective in responding to apparent strangers.

Restricting access to your blog

Switching your blog from public to private

Changing your blog from public to private allows you to control who has access to your site. However, if you do that, anyone you want to be able to continue seeing your site will have to added as a viewer individually.

Security plugins

Plugins may be able to help in some ways, although most people using WordPress.com don’t have access to plugins at all. On my plan, I can install plugins, but not ones that WP.com decides will interfere with their stuff, so some of the ones that looked potentially helpful I couldn’t try. I don’t think any of them can do anything about what happens in the WP Reader. It looks like you can probably stop certain IP addresses from being able to see your site, but I doubt it’s a very effective way of controlling access by specific people, since there are so many ways to change up IP addresses.

What happens on other people’s blogs

You can control, at least to some extent, what happens on your blog, but you can’t control what happens on other people’s blogs, and you can’t stop someone from being able to reply to your comments on other blogs.

Laying low for a while might help, but you never know when the person behaving inappropriately might find you on another blog and try to engage with you there. And unlike comments on your own blog, you can’t blacklist or check the email/IP associated with the comments to be able to add a block on your own site.


Unfortunately, you can’t stop someone’s poor behaviour choices, nor you can’t force them to have the boundaries that they lack. The right balance on restrictions to try to reduce their impact is probably going to depend on what’s most important for you to continue having as part of your blogging experience, such as the ability to interact with your community.

Have you ever been the target of inappropriate behaviour online? How have you dealt with it?

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43 thoughts on “Dealing with Inappropriate Behaviour Online”

  1. I have seen a few posts on this very topic in the last few weeks in the WP blogosphere. But, your post excels at the options it suggests to safeguard one’s blogging experience. Really well written and researched post. I learned a great deal. Great share Ashley Leia. Thank you.

  2. Thanks for some important reminders Ashley.

    I had some negative interactions, but so far people stopped when I politely asked them to.
    I avoid ignoring if possible, even though it might be best in some cases.

  3. Having been online since 1998, I’ve certainly experienced a lot of inappropriate behavior. Some of this has declined since the last U.S. election, with the general sense that supporters of POTUS 45 have “lost their steam.” Also, it seemed to “come to ahead” during the four years of that particular Presidency. My columns were often greeted with comments such as: “You suck! You’re a socialist leftie!: OR “Actually, your words reveal that you are NOT a Christian. You will spend an eternity in hell, Andy Pope.”

    For me, such statements are fairly inappropriate. I also find it interesting that somebody would classify me as a “socialist leftie” when my own self-identification from even saying the misleading words: “I’m a liberal.” (I always say “I’m a progressive” in order to avoid certain connotations.) But I suppose that’s another theme.

    As to how I deal with it, I used to get really uptight, but now I just say: “Consider the source.” It’s pointless to engage with trolls as well as with people whose intelligence levels are such that they won’t even comprehend your arguments, let alone change their minds. Thank you for the “blacklisting” information. That should come in handy as well.

    1. When it comes to trolls, I figure they’re not doing what they do because they’re open to being convinced to see things in a different way. They’re doing what they do to inflame. Trying to reason with someone when that’s their motivation is unlikely to get very far.

      1. In 2004, someone googled “Andy Pope” and “musical” and found an amusing LiveJournal account from a guy I met late at night in a donut shop who happened to be the head of a satanic society. I remember giving the guy a couple Klonopins toward the end of our encounter, and all of a sudden this person who made the google search posted a public blog entitled: “Andy Pope Gives Free Drugs to Total Strangers.”

        I instantly contacted them with legal information and they removed the post.

        Something even more disturbing (but along those lines) happened in 2010 and had serious effects on my mental health even after the inappropriate blog post was revealed. This one actually included a picture of me taken from the Internet with a misleading caption. I had to have about five friends of mine write to the Owner of that site (who never answered emails etc.) and put the name “Andy Pope” in the subject of the email with high-priority before he attended to the matter and advised the ill-blogger that they had to remove the post as it violated their T.O.S.

          1. That kind of thing seemed to happen more often back then. Not sure if the Internet’s gotten safer or if I’ve gotten sharper.

            1. That makes sense. There may also be a greater number of “lurkers” now, I suspect. People who like to troll & lurk have gotten better at over time. I worry about the latter more than the former.

  4. I’ve been on social media since 1998, so yep I have definitely encountered all kinds of bad behavior (and probably engaged in some myself way back when). Best way to deal if you truly don’t want to engage? DO NOT ENGAGE. Delete/block/ban, etc. Never respond. Responding in any way to a troll only ever encourages them. I use the word “troll” loosely… it can mean a person who deliberately stirs up trouble for his own enjoyment OR someone who simply is an ass naturally, rude, hurtful, and/or unnecessarily argumentative. I won’t put up with any of it! My block lists are enormous on WP, FB, and Twitter…

  5. Have you ever been the target of inappropriate behavior online? How have you dealt with it?

    I haven’t had too much trouble here with other bloggers. On other sites I used earlier in my computer experience, I saw the worst of trolls sometimes and I even left a site or two because of that kind of nasty behavior. Here I’ve encountered a handful of people who were either really nasty in what they wrote, OR who were trying to push their own unsavory agenda via comments and my blog was one they happened to comment on (example: really religious types spouting Bible verses to support things like why abortion is “bad”, any abortion for any reason and crap like that). Since I’m open about my wish that such judgmental fodder not be shared on my blog, those sorts of people get the immediate boot and black list or block. Only once have I gotten ‘flamed’ (someone came after me with evil intent) because I innocently used a photo they had taken (no identification nor copyright information on the photo where I got it). I apologized, took the photo down, and black listed that blogger. Clearly a nasty woman for how rude she was, not for her defending her intellectual property, just to be clear.

    There was one blogger that was always a bit sour when he replied to comments on his blog, and one day he took exception to what I wrote and really lambasted me for being ‘stupid’. I took him off my watched list and stopped following him.

    The biggest peeve of mine are those who leave their manners at the door because this is a virtual venue and I suppose they feel empowered to be as rude or ugly as they like. More power to ’em, but I BET they don’t get much traffic.

    1. Yeah, the virtual aspect seems to make some people lose whatever filters they might otherwise have in real life.

      I’ve heard of a few people who’ve been targeted by nasty characteristics over copyright. It seems like it shouldn’t be that hard to tell who’s made a mistake and who’s blatantly choosing to steal other people’s work, and it’s totally uncalled for to flip out at someone who clearly didn’t realize that they’d infringed on anyone’s copyright.

  6. I can’t remember how I did it but I turned off notifications for likes on my posts and comments. The notifications were just getting rather annoying. Although, if I enjoy someone’s comment I still leave them a like even if they don’t see it haha.

    1. I know in the WordPress Reader you can turn notifications within the Reader itself or by email on and off for various things. I have email notifications turned off for everything, but I like the notification system within the Reader, aside from the fact that you can’t disable notifications from specific users.

  7. I haven’t come across any of this because my blog is relatively benign as content goes. Think poetry and whiny life updates tangentially related to Judaism. I’ve toyed with more controversial posts, but it’s not a priority right now.

    I did have someone who wasn’t as respectful about my desired level of anonymity/privacy as I would have liked; moderating with an email about the reason for moderating was successful in that instance.

    I do have a “frequent flyer” spammer, but the spam filter is pretty good about catching that!

  8. Wow!
    This is really useful…thanks Ashley…

    I have been targeted unfortunately from time to time, but that was mainly due to certain ones from a certain site.

    Since I’ve been free of that site and all of its Web, I have been left alone thank goodness.

    I now have different blogs anyway.

  9. Great post Ashley! Someone needed to tackle this subject and glad it was you!
    I have experienced bad behaviour on a certain social media. It became so bad that I just closed the account and moved on.
    As for bloggers, I have only had one instance of someone behaving badly. I private email to the person seemed to do the trick. I try not to shame bad behaviour, it just causes more headaches.

  10. “…a fan of not giving people the reaction they’re looking for, in the hopes that they’ll give up and move on along” – my chosen choice and mostly advised along with blacklisting as you said and good old blocking across platforms. I report if they’ve really gone too far but I understand and have handled banter vs bullying vs harassment and cybercrime. Knowledge and advice from others is definitely positive power 🥰💜

  11. Thankfully, I’ve not received any trouble since blogging, but like we talked about the other day I’ve had several experiences of inappropriate behaviours and harassment online. I don’t understand the fixation that stalkers get a kick out of…

  12. I think I haven’t had these experiences on blogging so far other than repeated likes on all posts by some creepy accounts. I think the blogging community is pretty nice. For sure, it can’t be perfect and 100% safe! But it’s completely fine… 🙂

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