Why I Answered My Obscene Commenter

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on October 30, 2012 – 6:04 AM

Whenever I post an article citing the “worst gaffes” of a certain time period, I get feedback from a few readers who disagree with my choices.

So I wasn’t surprised that some people took me to task for an article I posted on Sunday, “The 10 Worst Media Gaffes of Election 2012.” After all, I acknowledge that my choices are completely subjective, and readers often make a reasonable case for why they disagree.

But I received one comment on Sunday that went past the usual criticism. And the dialogue that ensued was rather instructive.

A reader posted this comment:

“I thought your list sucked.


Todd Akin and his “legitimate rape victims don’t get pregnant” gaffe that is going to lose a Senate race and possibly republican control of the senate doesn’t make your list.

Yet President Obama’s non gaffe reminding us that successful businesses relied on taxpayer funded infrastructure to succeed is?

Fuck off buddy. I won’t be back.”


I usually don’t post those types of comments. But the reader was wrong on the facts, so I decided to post his comment and engage him. Here’s what I wrote:

“I usually don’t post comments such as yours, as it violates this blog’s “No Jerks Allowed” policy.

But I made an exception because I wanted to correct your error. If you had read the single sentence in bold toward the top of the post, you would have seen the line that read, “This post will highlight the ten worst media disasters of the 2012 presidential campaign.” Todd Akin is not, as you surely know, a presidential contender. If this list had looked at Senate and House races, he surely would have been on it. And he’ll almost certainly make my year-end “Top Ten Media Disasters of 2012″ list.

As for President Obama’s non-gaffe, had you read my post more closely, you would have seen that I generally agreed with you.

I’m sorry you chose to interact with a stranger in such a vulgar way. I’m glad you’ve chosen to set your sights elsewhere.”


Minutes later, the reader responded, but this time with a different tone:

“I obviously missed that.

My most humble apologies. I am sorry.

And thank you for bringing to my attention.

Peace buddy. And I will check back in.

Good luck with your blog.”


Although it may seem surprising that his tone changed so quickly, at least one study suggests that his reaction isn’t terribly unusual. A study conducted by Harris Interactive in 2011 found that unhappy customers quickly forgave companies that responded to them. Thirty-three percent of customers who left a negative review on a shopping website ended up posting a positive review after receiving a response, while another 34 percent deleted the original review.

Sure, that study was looking at businesses, not blog comments. But the underlying truth is likely the same.

There’s likely another dynamic at play here, as well. I suspect that it’s easier for a person to rail against some random blogger, but more difficult to rail against a random blogger who takes the time to respond to them.

My lesson learned? Sometimes it’s worth taking on your harshest critics instead of relegating their emails to the “trash” folder. At the very least, it might quiet their criticism. And in the best case, they might become an ally.

For more, you can read my recent article, “How Do You Handle Negative Comments.”

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Comments (9)

  1. By Chris Syme (@cksyme):

    Good piece, Brad. I can say an “amen” to the fact that sometimes engaging angry posters brings a change of heart…sometimes not. Even thought the Harris poll was about customer reviews, it is very reflective of human nature. I can attest it works in online crisis management as well. Most people just appreciate being heard. Many don’t care–they just want to spew and leave. But when you do engage someone and they soften, it’s a wonderful experience.

  2. By Deborah:

    Very smart of you to respond like that. It is easy for people to leave nasty comments as long as they feel they are dealing with a faceless blogger. Once they are dealing with a thoughtful person, they can’t retain their anger and rudeness. I will use this example about how to deal with comments in my blog workshop!
    Thanks for posting,

  3. By Jane Jordan-Meier:

    Brad – this a GREAT post. Admire your courage, tenacity and commitment to a high level of professionalism. We need more of you in this world. Thanks for sharing. Good to see that facts did win out in the end. Gracious too of your reader.

  4. By Brad Phillips:

    Chris, Deborah and Jane –

    Thank you all for those nice comments.

    One lesson I’ve learned after blogging for a couple of years is that I’m no longer afraid of the nasty things some people say. As the old expression says, “daylight is the best disinfectant.” I’ve become fond of showing these people for what and who they are – and although I don’t relish these types of skirmishes, I’m also not inclined to let people get away with boorish behavior.

    Thanks again,

  5. By Mary Fletcher Jones:

    You’re a class act! My instinct would have been to just hit delete, but I can see where your response actually made a real difference. Thanks for giving us an instructive and real-life lesson on how to respond to negative comments.

  6. By Jack Bushell:

    I love when I see people become the better person. These days it’s much too usual to see somebody respond in kind or, as you say, trash and ignore. This was so well written and empathic to what many of us have gone through that I am going to take the time to peruse more of your posts. Well done.

  7. By Brad Phillips:


    Thanks very much for those kind words. I can’t tell you how gratifying it is to hear that my post came across with the tone I was hoping for.

    Please don’t be a stranger!

  8. By Michael Leiman:

    I think one of the keys to your success in engaging this individual is that you changed the tone. Instead of responding in an angry or attacking manner to his insulting language you straight forwardly used the facts. He was able to acknowledge that he was clearly in the wrong because the dialogue became about what you actually wrote and not about an offputting counter attack. Well done!

  9. By Art Aiello:

    I’m inclined to agree with you, Brad, when you say that a 180-degree change in tone often accompanies a response by the company/organization. I’ve seen it first-hand in posts to our Facebook page. Not always, but often.

    Well done!

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