Do Negative Comments Hurt Social Media?

Group InteractionOne of the more important aspects of social media is the emphasis on user generated content that blends with community discourse. As people have noted, many comments are negative. Some of the comments are downright scathing. As such, many users in social networks tread carefully, and I really cannot blame them. Whereas some of us are so much less anonymous than many commenters, we’re bound to feel vulnerable since nearly all of our cards are on the table.

There’s also the element of being able to vote comments up (for agreement) or down (for disagreement). Many community-based sites operate in this way (and for the sites that don’t, I am often compelled to search for a + sign or a thumbs up sign so that I can vote my approval). A few weeks ago, a user contributed to a respected blog with a comment that said that giving a thumbs down is negative and reflects a natural homogeneity within the specific community. The comment in question was critical of a blog post but clearly lacked sufficient information in its criticism, if only to say that the commenter did not enjoy the post by the poster. This is fine, and in general, criticism is quite valuable, but criticism needs to be backed up.

That brings me to an important path of social media that many people, including myself, have been afraid to tread upon. Why be different if your comments, and the frightening reaction, can stab you in the back? The person who wrote the criticism in the blog post was not afraid to do so, but someone else was offended by the comment’s 8 negative votes. Therefore, is it bad to react negatively within social media sites? Are negative votes a bad thing? Should you be afraid to speak up for fear that you may be treated too harshly?

I’d say that if you’re full of self-doubt, it’s important to recognize that while social media is partially of our own creation, we can’t predict everyone else’s reaction. The positives and the negatives combined produce social media. Challenging responses are typically welcome by even people who disagree as long as the criticism is not unfounded (and lacking of substance). That said, even though I personally have felt afraid to voice my strong opinions, I’ve learned from my actions. For the most part, I’m ready to take the plunge as long as there’s moral support, and there is in this community. :)

Bear in mind that your comments and posts make an impression on your readers. You need to be careful when it comes to making typographical mistakes, for example, because if you leave a sour taste in someone else’s mouth, you’ll get voted down. At the end of the day, for the particular comment in question, there were clearly other factors in play.

Before I wrote my post about downsides to social media (as a top submitter of Digg), I had my doubts. My open letter to Kevin Rose was well-received among my peers and I made some new friends. Yet there were people who disagreed with my statements, and I was initially afraid to give another controversial opinion. However, in the end, I realized that all of the criticism can help me grow and continue to improve.

The bottom line is that social media is an ongoing dialogue and requires more than just interaction. It requires thick skin, too. You should never be afraid to grow, nor should you give into peer pressure and refuse to conform. You won’t please everyone, but you’ll gain a lot of respect among those you do satisfy. If you’re blogging (and leaving comments open), it’s probably because you want to specifically engage in the discourse, so use it to your benefit and for personal improvement.

Don’t let social media and the anonymous voices get you down. Take criticisms with stride and use them to learn and to mature.

16 Comments

  • Tamar,

    Great to see someone addressing this!

    You touched upon some really important issues. I bet there is more than one blogger/commenter out there losing sleep over some meaningless comment someone said about them, that’s long been forgotten by others. The unneeded stress is not healthy and it’s not in any way productive.

    Learn, grow, move forward.

  • Nice post Tamar.

    I rarely use up or down votes because I usually forget they’re there. Generally, I feel that my opinion on someone’s opinion means squat anyway and I’d rather just honor their right to speak. That said, when someone is being a total jerk and out of line, a “thumbs down” action feels good.

    I find it interesting that we now need to develop a thick skin online if we own a blog or any site that thrives on conversation. Anything can be said behind the veil of the Internet. Permission to hurt people has increased, and this bothers me because I had thought that the Internet would bring people together. It has in some ways, and yet humans have clearly shown they don’t know how to accept their differences.

  • Kim, I have this desire to thumbs up the very clever comments on blog posts. It never fails and then I get frustrated that the button isn’t there!

    The Internet was a close-knit community once. Now, not so much. I think that it’s easier for some over others because there’s clearly anonymity for some of these people, thereby making it easier for them to put on an attack without fear of being outed.

  • Mark Dykeman says:

    Tamar, I think you have hit the nail on the head with the “anonymity” comment. It allow people to make attacks with relatively little consequences for their actions.

    I made a similar observation in a previous blog post when I talked about the anonymity available to on-line gamers leading some of them to do rotten things “in game”. I think the same principle holds true for blog commenting or any other outlet where people can communicate anonymously. Some people will just use it as an outlet to vent or to do certain things that they would not dare do in person. The attached link leads to that post, in the response to question 3:

    http://markdykeman.wordpress.com/2007/09/12/brain-broadcast-interviewed-by/

    Er, sorry for the digression there, but I thought it would add to your point.

    I enjoy reading your blog!

  • Tamar,

    I think a lot of people people say things they would never say if it wasn’t for the anonymity of the internet. Social media definitely requires thick skin.

    One thing you said got me curious though, how exactly was the internet a close knit community once? And when?

  • Mustafa, sadly, probably in the early 90s when I started surfing on the ‘net.

    My absolute first interaction with a member in a chat room, when I was 12, was actually with someone who attended the same high school as me but was 13 years my senior. How about that for the odds?

    Most early social networks also seem to exhibit some sort of closeness. I haven’t rejected any Yahoo! Mash invitations. I made a lot of “anonymous” friends on Friendster. I’m a bit more conservative on other social networks because of what I might call “social maturity,” and realizing that I want to befriend those who I truly have something in common with (or know personally — with a few exceptions — in the case of Facebook).

    I started on AOL when it was $6/hour on dialup. Back then, few people were serious about taking the plunge (and predators did not roam the hallways). I actually used to hang out in the AOL chat rooms when famous author Tom Clancy was chatting among the rest of us. At that point, it truly was a close-knit community.

  • Matt Jones says:

    A lot of negative comments are made just because they often get more attention. They definitely shouldnt always be taken too seriously.

  • Barbara KB says:

    Great post here, Tamar. All respond to Web differently and some will always see the attacking mode as an option. But I think socnets are making it less and less AS more folks join the internet. I think revealing more of yourself and being more open is best. The think skin element will always be there, as in any sort of communication, but I think it’s becoming less and less as folks open up and be more *human*. I think it’s one of the reasons Facebook is so popular: show your Face!

    I think the days of anonymity on the Internet are coming to a close. Even at a place like digg, I am seeing more and more folks gain *respect* because they have opened up and revealed themselves more. I refuse to be so anonymous any more and encourage others to open up.

    Peace to your day!

  • Sean Berry says:

    I got to your blog by using the “Movie Freak” thing you put up on Digg.

    As far as the negative commentary goes, I can only add the following: I’ve had a blog for over a year. It’s a dumping ground for stuff that I don’t publish the old fashioned way, and it keeps friends up to date on what I’m thinking about. I’ve got a comments spot on there, and I’ve asked them to leave comments from time to time if they have anything to add. Much more often than not, my friends wait until they see me to say, “I liked that post you had,” or, “I think you’re full of it.” (Many of my friends have different views than mine, which makes for great conversation and, I guess, great friendships).

    In any case, whenever I ask why they don’t leave comments for me to look at, they’re more afraid of being able to remain anonymous if they want to pipe up with reactions to what I’ve written (I ask people to leave a first-name and home town when commenting). Many of them have been on sites where they see others being “shouted down” or insulted to some degree, and they just think it’s a waste of time to put their opinions on the screen. So when they want to speak to me directly, they wait until we can talk, rather than be afraid that someone will read what they’ve written specifically to me about a specific topic, and end up being called something rude by a stranger.

    I can see their point. Many times in the comments sections of blogs, the original post gets completely lost, and by the end of a long comments string, people are talking about a completely different topic altogether, and pretty pointedly, too. I think my friends still look at a comments section as a ‘letter to the editor’ as opposed to a wide open discussion board.

  • Ed says:

    I think as far as comments go, the content and tone is a reflection of the education and the maturity of a site’s owner. Readers who dial into that owner’s ways then comment accordingly.

    Unlike on my site which is very tongue in cheek, it doesn’t seem appropriate to be a smart ass commenter at techipedia, and by the same token, it is not hard to fathom why the worst comments experiences I have had myself or witnessed in others, is on Digg.

  • Ed, your comment totally rocks. :D

  • Jason Falls says:

    If you never stimulate the negative you get a laundry list of “nice post” comments, if that. True engagement is that which elicits responses to the extreme (polar extreme, not neccesarily dramatic ones) so negative reactions should not only be expected, but sought after.

    But then again, I like stirrin’ the pot.

  • socio gaga says:

    Bad taste in the form of negative comments is only half of the equation. The other half is just about as bad, and that is mainstream business getting all excited about social media as a “marketing” tool opposed to a “networking” tool. There is a big difference and the later is OK. Again, so long as it’s in good taste.

  • Sydney says:

    Negative comments are part of the reality of life. If you are in business then you need to use those comments to improve.

Comments are closed.