Practical WordPress Development

Don’t Feed The Trolls (or What I’ve Learned About Negativity on The Internet)

Last week, I commented on a blog post on the Mika Epstein’s blog – also known (or perhaps more commonly known) as @Ipstenu – on Handling Negatives.

In the article, Mika talks about the fun that comes with developing plugins, themes, and generally any product where customers can share their thoughts with you. And if it isn’t obvious by the title, she covers how to handle negative feedback.

It was a good read and fun discussion and it definitely rings true for anyone who is an open source developer, but I think that it rings true for anyone who’s an aspiring developer, photographer, videographer, blogger, and so on.

So, I thought I’d share my thoughts on the pervasive negativity on the Internet and how it’s hit home for me.

Here’s my bottom line. That is, if you don’t read anything else in this post and you stop after the next sentence, this is what the key take away is:

If you’re releasing anything to the public, you will be criticized.

Of course, it normally takes a short period of time before anything rolls in. Nonetheless, it’s inevitable.

When I first started writing this post, I began to differentiate between managing negative feedback on projects and negative feedback on blog posts, but the more I wrote, the more I realized is they aren’t much different:

  • You release something for public consumption.
  • Most people are quiet about it. This usually means either they are indifferent or they like it.
  • A few people will give positive feedback or constructive criticism.
  • A few people will give negative feedback and may be extremely mean.

It’s a fact. There’s no way around it. But when I got involved in my startup, or blogging for other sites (let alone my own), or trying to publicly share my work, and I began to receive negative feedback, there’s one piece of advice that I wish someone – and by that, I mean anyone – would’ve given me:

It gets easier the longer that you do it.

Here’s how I see it: If it’s true that for every thing you release to the public is subject to both positive and negative criticism, then it’s not going to change with the more stuff you ship. You’re increasing the potential for negative feedback.

But here’s the thing: you begin to develop a thicker skin.

At the outset, negative feedback hits close to home and positive feedback fades into the background, right?

This does change. You recognize that the positive feedback usually results in discussion, helpful criticism, or positive dialog, where the negative feedback kind of just fades into the background.

Negativity on The Internet

So if you’re working on anything that’s publicly available and are receiving negative feedback (which is certainly not the same as constructive criticism), or you’re on the fence about doing so, don’t let the trolls and the naysayers dictate whether or not you keep at it.

Every single one of us who blogs, builds products, shares photographs or videos, publishes for major sites, and so on go through the exact same thing. We’re all criticized, but we’re getting thicker skin.

Plus, it’s just as much fun to share your work as it is to see what others are sharing. Ignore the trolls.

My guess is that others can chime in on this as I know a number of bloggers, photographers, developers, videographers, and so on so feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments.


  1. Pippinsplugins (@pippinsplugins)

    I remember the first time or two that I had something criticized (and not in the good way). At the time it just about killed me and made me want to quit that particular project. Anytime a comment like that would roll in, it’d ruin my entire day.

    A lot has changed since then, and I have gotten a LOT more negative comments, though not because I put out a lot of bad work (at least I don’t think I do), but just because they happen, and they will always happen. No matter who you are or what kind of quality you put out.

    • Tom McFarlin

      You sound a lot like me – the first time that I received negative comments, it ruined my day. Shortly thereafter, each negative comment made me question why I was even bothering doing what I do despite any positive feedback I was receiving.

      At this point, I don’t want to say I completely dismiss it because – like I mentioned – sometimes it may point out of a flaw in the product, but overall I generally shrug it off.

      Besides, this comes at the expense of building something that people are actually using and that’s a pretty cool thing.

  2. Elliott Stocks

    Negative feedback always seems to make me question if I’m doing it right, or if the commenter is wrong. What I hate to see is when the negative commenter is clearly in the wrong with references (evidence) proving so, but they still try to troll their way out of it and basically turn a good article into a argument.

    What’s worse is when you know it’s one of your competitors and they are either doing it out of spite or jealously (or both). If I ever have anything negative to say I backup my response and criticize in a way which is useful (I hope),

    I agree with “Don’t feed the trolls”.

    • Tom McFarlin

      The way I see it:

      • Negative feedback without any point other than to insult can sting.
      • Negative feedback that actually points out a flaw in an article, project, etc, can hurt a bit more because there’s an ounce of truth in there. No one wants to be criticized like that :).

      But I rarely, if ever, engage in any arguments online. I may write a response or something to defend my position or why something is the way that it is in what I’ve made, but that’s about it. That’s probably a topic for an entire other post but suffice it to say that I don’t believe it’s that productive.

      So I let others go at it, instead ;).

  3. Noah's Dad (@NoahsDadDotCom)

    Great stuff Tom.

    You wouldn’t believe the things people say about our site sometimes…..people hit really below the belt. For example;

    “He doesn’t really love his little boy, he’s just using him to get rich.”

    What? I don’t love him? I’m getting rich?

    And that was considered a “nice” comment. Ha,ha.

    I’ve learned to just shake the haters off, but it’s odd how much the words of a stranger can really bother you at first.

    But like you said, I’m still developing that thick skin. :)

    • Tom McFarlin

      Exactly – it just takes time. The problem isn’t going away and the more popularity / readership you garner, the more potential you have for negative comments.

      It’s the nature of the beast.

      Sure it sucks at times, but honestly at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter.

  4. Abhishek Nagekar

    Useful article Tom,

    I have just started learning some good programming languages and plan to be a developer just like you all. I have already started with some pretty simple utilities in PHP. This thought always hunts me, what if people dont like my work and insult me. Reading this article helped a lot. Keep up with the good work.


    • Tom McFarlin

      This thought always hunts me, what if people dont like my work and insult me. Reading this article helped a lot. Keep up with the good work.

      There are always going to be naysayers, but there are those of us who want to actually help other people and see others grow in their programming ability. Focus on on what those people offer.

      Not the others :).

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