How to beat bad behaviour online. Hit back with Haiku!

How to beat bad behaviour online. Hit back with Haiku!


Sometime last year, Anthill’s online growth triggered an unexpected and somewhat unwelcome side-effect.

The size, reach and visibility we had worked so hard to achieve was attracting a new kind of reader.

Whereas Anthill’s audience had previously displayed the most courteous of online behaviour, guided by our liberal ‘user-governed’ Engagement Policy, we suddenly found ourselves tackling random, often snarly attacks from what we have politely come to refer to as the ‘uncouth fringe’.

The most common type of attack is usually directed at one of the humans we write about. The charming founder of fashion upstart 99Designs Nikki Durkin, as an example of mild provocation, was recently described in an anonymous comment as “OTT” (over-the-top).

But often these types of comments are designed to be quite hurtful.

Perhaps not surprisingly, most of these unwelcome remarks hit our website on weekends and holiday periods, when the ‘uncouth fringe’ are, we assume, feeling at their lowest (glass of red in hand, warmed exclusively by the flicker of a laptop monitor in a darkened room… and the warm tears of loneliness running down their faces).

Sprays at Anthill are also not uncommon but are usually reserved for instances relating to our own incompetence… and that’s fair enough.

We have always tried to foster an open community, where dissenting views are fearlessly shared, which does not rely on a policing force (or some level of moderation). It’s our view that this sort of censorship stifles the best attribute of the web — open and honest dialogue.

As such, when enforced, our 10 point Engagement Policy can usually be distilled down to one rule: Readers may attack the idea but never the person. (Incidentally, we have only ever needed to terminate four ‘heated conversations’ in the history of Anthill. The rule works.)

However, today I am seeking your help.

No, I am not making a plea for good behaviour. If you are reading this you are probably a member of our thoughtful, conscientious, erudite and delightful core and don’t need a lesson in manners. And, no. I am not calling for the assembly of an Anthill vigilante guard either. (Although there is something strangely seductive in the concept.)

No, I don’t want either of those things.

I want your help… writing haiku!

This might require some explanation.

Anthill’s 6 most common ‘anonymous sprays’

Over time, I have found that ‘troll-like’ activity usually only takes one of a small number of forms.

I know this because, lately, every personalised answer that I write in response to every justified or malice-fueled critic is beginning to seem more and more like the last.

Over the summer break, when anonymous venting reached surprising heights on the Anthill website, I began to write a list of common ‘sprays’.

It seems that the six most common sprays identified occur when an anonymous spleen-venter criticises:

  1. The commercial abilities of someone we have written nice things about
  2. The personal traits or appearance of someone we have written nice things about
  3. Anthill for supporting the person we have written nice things about
  4. Anthill for not knowing the difference between two highly technical, incidental things
  5. Anthill for covering a story without the depth of analysis the reader would prefer
  6. Anthill for a spelling error or typo

Naturally, we don’t mind the latter three criticisms. In fact, we rely on them!

However, it frustrates us when our mistakes are highlighted by anonymous bandits, with unnecessary glee or disproportionate ire. (Let’s call it a ‘love-hate’ relationship.)

The third complaint is slightly more complex, as it usually prompts us to look more closely into the activities of the subject.

But, most of the time, we find that the cause of the anger has little to do with the focus of the rage (the person we have written nice things about) and more about the anonymous dissenter.

So, rather than draft similar but unique responses every time, one for every critic, I began to prepare ‘multi-purpose’ responses… in haiku.

Haiku’s to combat bad behaviour

I first heard of the idea of using Haiku’s to combat bad behaviour online in a Fast Company article about the eccentric founder of Craig’s List, Craig Newmark.

While I have not yet come across any examples of Newmark’s poetic flair, the idea stuck.

A haiku (plural haiku), to paraphrase wikipedia, is:

A form of Japanese poetry, consisting of 17 moras (or on), in three phrases of 5, 7, and 5 moras respectively. Although haiku are often stated to have 17 syllables, this is inaccurate as syllables and moras are not the same. In Japanese, haiku are traditionally printed in a single vertical line and tend to take aspects of the natural world as their subject matter, while haiku in English often appear in three lines.

Fortunately, for my intents and purposes, haiku also often possess a mystical and authoritative tone. For example, these four were written on a plane from Melbourne to Sydney late last week.

Anthill Haiku: A New Era in Online Engagement

While I have been able to identify six common ‘sprays’, I have only been able to come up with four haiku. I hope to apply them to multiple scenarios.

Haiku #1: Snake in grass
Restless asp in grass
Distracted for a moment
Who will catch the mice?

Haiku #2: Anger management
So much anger here
Doth the man protest too much?
Thanks for backward praise

Haiku 3: Sensei, please
School us, Sensai Sensei, please
Anthill is jack of all trades
But master of none

Haiku #4: Egg on face
With egg on face
We say, ‘Never wrong for long’!
We love living web

Now, I’m sure that there’s a haiku purest purist out there, who will point out a small error (or perhaps a large one) in one of my poetic extravagances above. To you, I say, leave a comment, then read “Read Haiku #4”.

As for everyone else, I intend to create a separate page with an explanation for each one of the above and next time we receive an aggressive (or polite and justified) comment from a critic, I intend to respond (and instruct our staff to respond) in three simple lines and a link.

Are there any common examples of ‘troll-like’ activity that I have missed? Would anyone like to exercise their own flair, and perhaps add to our arsenal? Is this idea inspired or deeply flawed?

School me, Sensei!

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  • Anonymous

    I don’t know if 1. quite covers – personal attacks on contributors because trolls are, by nature, jealous of anyone getting more attention than them and don’t really have anything TO attack and therefore have to make some kind of accusations about … stuff.

  • Shannon Dolan

    I dont understand at all are you trying to stop bad comments by labelling the accused. any type of control in an open forum is scensorship do what the best in the world are doing at the moment and just let us flag and ignore them, but thanks for the concern MUM…

    • Anonymous

      Private companies have every right to perform “censorship” (I think that’s a fairly loose use of the word, but okay) – especially where comments are posted anonymously and are often slanderous … Some of these trolls have been beyond flagging and ignoring – I had to stop contributing to Anthill when I was getting accused of using drugs and started receiving random anonymous hate-phone-calls … the price was merely too high.

  • Chris Blackman

    Haiku the art form
    Becomes a strategic force
    Disarming the trolls

  • Alex Avery

    You spelled it correctly the first time: “sensei” 😉

    Oh Internet Trolls!
    Your wisdom and smarts abound,
    Take deep breaths, relax.

    • James Tuckerman – Anthill Mag

      Hahah! You learn fast, grasshopper.

      I could say that it was a deliberate ploy to trigger a comment… but… well… hmmm.

      Let’s just say, everyone here learnt something today. *awkward*

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    The subtle point missed
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  • Anonymous

    Pendant, maybe just
    Purest / Purist ?
    Now you have to inform me

  • dkellam

    On a more serious note, where DID you get those troll dolls from? Whose are they? Fess up!

  • James Tuckerman – Anthill Mag

    Words with a strike through
    Create permanent record
    Keeps journos focussed

  • Anonymous

    How about this in lieu of 1?

    Psycho rant reveals
    Wasted wind fills no sail
    Karma rules apply

  • Guest

    How about this in lieu of 1?

    Psycho rant reveals
    Wasted wind fills no sail
    Karma rules apply

  • Caitlin

    My poor brain does not perform as well as the brains of the other contributors, so, alas!, no haiku from me.

    Just wanted to say I LOVE James’s idea because he’s dealing with a serious issue with a sense of humour which is enjoyable to witness as lots of website forum owners and participants don’t display humour, so this particular discussion provides a refreshing change.

    I think the contributors who made up such clever haikus are good sports to join in the spirit of James’s approach of minimising the hurt feelings trolls can cause. The fact they write their comments anonymously really shows how mean-spirited they are; they deny the target(s) of their spleen an opportunity to engage in a healthy debate with a known adversary. Hiding behind unknown identities also reveals trolls to be cowards; if they had the courage of their convictions AND honour, they would write their opinions openly and be prepared to defend those opinions by identifying themselves. It’s easy to write spiteful comments about others when you know they cannot reply to you; there’s nothing noble about lurking maliciously in the dark.

    Please keep the haikus coming. I’m thoroughly enjoying everyone’s creative flair! (Just wish my brain would provide some witty rejoinder, but nope, it’s still blank.)

    Caitlin Foster (not the slightest bit afraid to identify myself online)

  • Liesl Capper

    for the arsenal – these took 2 minutes. With more headspace, perhaps more could emerge.

    World in their head
    No world without
    Will they ever meet?

    Focus on the miniscule
    Loss of the whole
    No loss if ignored

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  • Rhondalynn

    1 things 4 sure
    You can’t please everyone
    Stop trying to NOW!


  • Dan8

    What complete rubbish. Get back to work!

  • Karen

    Thanks for the feedback.
    We don’t have to like it, but
    We’re glad you can read.

  • Denise Duffield-Thomas

    I seriously love this post – what a great idea. I’ve gotten a few bad comments before and I’ve just learnt to let it go. If it’s on my own website, I’ll delete but if it’s on a third party site I won’t even read it.

    I don’t believe my good OR my bad press!