Why I Answered My Obscene Commenter

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.
Terrible.
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.”