Human response disarms negative online commenters, tweeters

Nasty comments, emails and tweets have become such a part of life, there probably isn’t a day that goes by that at least one of our reporters doesn’t get virtually slimed. Online civility is hard to come by.

In an interesting experiment, a Sports Illustrated columnist finds that “when journalists take the time to respond personally to venomous notes, proving that they are made of flesh and blood, the reaction is strikingly – and puzzlingly – positive.” (Thanks to Kate Gardiner for the link.)

His tale is worth reading, but it’s not just him. Here’s one of the most telling quotes from the article:

“I don’t know how many times I’ve tracked down someone who’s sent a vile or nasty e-mail, tweet or Facebook post,” says Richard Sandomir, the New York Times’ sports media columnist. “It often results in their being so astonished, even honored, that you’d find them, that they act normally.”

An Austin American Statesman reporter did a similar experiment last year with a similar outcome: She tracked down a nasty commenter and won him over.

We see this phenomenon in social media, too. I’ve written before about how humor can disarm and soften even the most mean-seeming readers. It happened again just this week.

Yesterday, while using TweetDeck, I accidentally retweeted something from a fake Twitter account.

Turns out the real Gov. Rick Scott is @FLGovScott, as a co-worker reminded me (which darn it, I knew, because I had just set up a Rick Scott Twitter widget a few days earlier on our PostonPolitics blog).


In hindsight, of course, it was dumb to think the real Rick Scott’s Twitter account would have said something like that, but I’m not a fan of deleting mistaken tweets unless the information is egregious or harmful. Better (and more honest) to send another tweet correcting the information. In this case, it seemed appropriate to have a little fun with it.

Predictably, the firehose of snark and outrage began. I decided to take the approach of acknowledging the responders in hopes of showing them The Palm Beach Post is made of real people, and perhaps even winning them over a little.

It worked.

And another follower:

And now, off to find some coffee to speed up the connection between my brain and my itchy retweet finger …


1 Comment

Filed under Social media, Twitter

One response to “Human response disarms negative online commenters, tweeters

  1. Well played. I gotta say; I think diffusing situations is 90 percent of what makes a good community manager.

    If you can correct, gracefully, from a mistake, you’re doing OK.

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