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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Ask the Matriarch - When Trolls Lurk Under the Bridge

RevGalBlogPals has been a most beautiful bridge for this matriarch and editor - an opportunity to meet and interact with women and men across the breadth of Christian community whom I would never have known otherwise.  The community has encouraged many of us to try our hand at engage in a new form of communication that both connects and exposes us.  Such is the case with the RevGal whose question we address today...

Hi Matriarchs,

Not sure if this is a matriarch question or not.

My blog is mainly sermons, which I started as part of being involved in RGBP Saturday Night preacher party. My blog doesn’t have my name on it, but it wouldn’t be too hard for someone to work out who I am if they wanted to know.  I noticed last week that I have a new follower on my blog, whose name I did not recognize.  I have been able to follow through the links to find his blog. Why would someone so sure of the TRUTH – lots of capitals in the blog – want to follow a blog that is very different theology to what their blog espouses? My first reaction was to wonder if someone is checking up on me, but I can’t imagine who, or why. My theological perspective is within the broadness of the denomination I am part of, so that isn’t an issue.  

I know that what I put in the blog is there for all to see, but somehow this spooked me, now I feel a bit foolish for letting it worry me. Maybe I am just feeling paranoid. Should I be worried?

From Muthah+  who blogs at Stone of Witness

Dear Blogpal,

After a colleague shared her experience of being stalked, I am a bit more aware of what some folks have to deal with.  I have never had that happen due to my blog work or because of anything I say.  I am aware that many of the things that I write or say make me vulnerable to all kinds of criticism and professional attack, but I set myself up for that knowingly and welcome it because I believe it is part of how people interact with difficult issues.  I tend not to engage with comments on my blog.  And I do moderate all comments.  I do not tolerate inconsiderate posts.

But your issue does not seem to be about what you are writing.  It is more of the presence of someone who is following you for personal reasons.  It isn't paranoia when it is just good sense.  Pay attention to those 'icky' feelings and find a way to block this person from commenting or following your blog.  If he is local, perhaps a background check is in order. Maybe some of our more geekie sistahs can tell you how to block him.  Be safe but don't stop what you are doing.  If what you are preaching is the Gospel, never fear preaching it!

From Martha, who blogs at Reflectionary

Take it from someone whose Internet history stretches back to Usenet: some people will do anything to get attention. Unless you see something very specifically tying the person to your own community or denomination, I would guess this one is what we call a Troll, a person whose intention on the Internet is to sow discord and create disruption. And the first rule when dealing with them is "Don't Feed the Troll." There is a man who has followed some of our ring members and left comments here in the past--very conservative and full of CAPS--and it wouldn't surprise me if you have attracted the same guy. The Christian Troll is a slightly different variety. He (or she, but mostly he) wants to sow discord and create disruption in the name of Jesus. The same rules apply. Do not feed. 

With sad experience (so do as I say, not as I did)

From Kathryn…
My experience with these folks is that they eventually lose interest and seek other places. If they begin to comment negatively, then there are ways to handle that (3 Ways to Deal with an Internet Troll - ). It sounds like your blog is not exactly inflammatory and its content is in line with your own beliefs and the tenets of your denomination so even if it is someone from your congregation or denomination that is 'checking up on you' there should be no problem.

Don't let your imagination of the unknown get the better of you (in other words, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain). That said, if things do start to escalate via comments or other means - it may be wise to keep track and pay attention. 

Now it's your turn.  Use the "Post a Comment" function to add your insights.  

We welcome your questions, and the queue is getting short, so send them to us here.

May you live in God's amazing grace+


  1. And always control who can comment on your blog. Don't feel bad at all about blocking comments from people who seem to want to derail the conversation or send it down a road you didn't intend. Yes, we should be in conversation with people with whom we disagree, but this is different.
    And if he is in your community and if his comments make you worried for your safety, tell someone.

  2. I have had, on a couple of occassions to start moderating comments because of a troll (whose trollish bevaviour surfaced in a number of places related to an on-line community in which I participate). At first I tried (because I was hopefull I could help him into respectful dialogue) to dialogue and that didn't work. Then he accused me of censorship when I refused to post his drivel. So I just ignored and when he gave up took comment moderation off. [mind you my work e-mail account has about 20 blocked e-mail addresses from him now]

    But moderation and/or deleting comments and not responding is about the only option I found that worked

  3. I think there are two issues here: trolls and stalkers. If he's a troll, I agree that ignoring/blocking him is best. If he goes further than just posting on your blog — if he comments about you personally in a way that makes you think he has more info than you've revealed on the blog, if he contacts you in any other way, and certainly if he threatens you or your family or your faith community — call the police.

    I've been stalked (the reason I'm posting this comment anonymously) by someone who believed I was someone else. It began online and progressed to the phone and then physical presence, and I wished later that I had involved the police more quickly when it began. Every time we had a first-time visitor, I wondered, "Is this him/her?" That alone was toxic.

    And now I'm hijacking your thread, so I'll just close by saying, "Set a boundary with which you're comfortable and enlist whatever help is necessary in enforcing it."

  4. Gord, I agree. Don't allow these guys get in the way of proclaiming the Gospel. It isn't censorship. It is having the respect for your readers not to have to put up with this kind of interference.

  5. It sounds like at this point, the person is only lurking, not commenting... It is certainly possible he's going to start trolling, or try to make trouble for you in some other way. It's also possible that he is legitimately interested in what you have to say. Keep preaching the good news, maybe he'll hear it! And if it turns out he's there for something else, don't feel bad about deleting comments, blocking him, etc.

  6. It sounds like the guy (?) isn't commenting at this point, just lurking, but since the conversation has gone to comments, here's something from an article I posted to my blog a few weeks ago that sums up my thoughts:

    "Time was when ‘disabling comments’ on a blogpost was at best an indication of arrogance and at worst an indication that the author was an anti-democratic elitist who did not value the opinions of his or her readers. It is time, I think, for us to accept that disabling or deleting idiot comments is no more anti-democratic or elitist than refusing to engage with a person harassing you on the street. Just because everyone is allowed to have their say, it does not follow that the bilge they say is worth listening to."

    And Brene Brown recently said she will no longer write for venues that don't have some kind of comment moderation or control. The shift on this has been interesting.

  7. It doesn't read as if this person is commenting - just reading. I follow several blogs whose writers have opinions and beliefs very different from my own. (Including some of yours, RGBP!) But they are good writers with interesting ideas that provoke me to think in new ways - even if I ultimately discard most of them. Could be you've found a troll. Could be you've found an explorer. Although I heartily endorse the encouragement to moderate comments or even block someone from your blog if it becomes necessary, it sounds like it's a bit early to get too worried.

  8. I have found that because I moderate all comments, I don't get as many... And that's fine by me. When I do get the nasty response, I do not publish it. They may kvetch all they wish... and then they can go write their own blog!


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