I began publishing video online in 2006. I didn’t plan on that becoming a career, or the launching point of a “personal brand” (what’s that?) back then, but timing + insight worked well for me.
Within 24 months of first publishing content, I made first contact with an emerging but now-familiar species: online trolls.
Troll (via Urban Dictionary): Someone who deliberately pisses people off online to get a reaction
Trolls are normal in the basketball world (which made up 99% of my video content from 2005-10) for a simple reason: any male who’s ever even watched a game thinks he knows the game really well. Every dribble, dunk and jumpshot I posted was a magnet for possible derision — though, I should note, the overwhelming majority of the feedback was positive.
Human nature has it, though, that we notice the negative much more easily and remember it for longer.
I remember when someone posted one of my vids to their Facebook profile and tagged me. “Here’s a cool move by Dre Baldwin.”
It was me in an empty gym doing some one-on-none moves. Those empty gym drills are how I learned the game, and how “DreAllDay” and “Work On Your Game” got established.
Regardless, some fat guy (based on his profile photo on Facebook) wasn’t impressed. He commented, “any good defender would easily stop that crossover and block the jumpshot.”
I didn’t respond. The post was on someone else’s page, after all, and the guy wasn’t actually talking to me anyway. But I’ve always remembered that comment by this big-boned fellow. I just chuckled thinking about it while writing this.
I learned something really interesting about comment sections, and by extension, people, over the years: The people who are inclined to leave comments online are very susceptible to group dynamics.
In other words: when the common tone of the comments is positive, you get more positive comments. When the general tone of the comments are negative, those same people will instead leave negative comments.
The broken window theory strongly applies to internet comments.
From Wikipedia (this is out or Urban Dictionary’s depth): The broken windows theory is a criminological theory that states that visible signs of crime, anti-social behavior, and civil disorder create an urban environment that encourages further crime and disorder, including serious crimes.
Put simply: Give trolls and inch, and they not only take a mile, but influence other neutral observers to become trolls.
I tried, for many years, engaging trolls. When someone tried to tell me how a “good defender” would block my shot, or that I’d incorrectly demonstrated a Kobe jab step, I’d politely explain to them why I knew what I was doing, add context to the 2-minute video, or verbally shut down the idiot who was just looking for attention.
Here’s what happened when I did this, trying to engage and convert trolls: More trolling occurred.
I realized that trolls are trolls for a reason. They weren’t really trying to get their point across, they just wanted attention at any cost. And negativity travels faster than positivity.
It didn’t help when YouTube started with voting for comments. That changed the game in another way: people came to videos (and other internet content) just to engage in / observe the commentating, not even to watch the content. The game became who could say the most incendiary thing to get the most “upvotes” by fellow spectators (sure, you can get upvoted for positive comments too, but where was the fun in that?).
The internet was further incentivizing people to watch and talk.
In the big picture, this was a good thing! More commenting capabilities meant more comments, more overall engagement and more watch time / “time on site” for the platforms. And since watch time and engagement contribute to ad revenue, ostensibly, it was good for creators.
The thing with me, is that I actually read my comments.
This is one of several “things that don’t scale” that I’ve always engaged in that’s made my brand become what it is. I can create as much as I do and come up with new ideas so consistently because I know what people are saying, what connects with them, and what they’re challenged with.
Reading my comments is how I got the idea for HoopHandbook (my first product) over a decade ago.
Commentators asked me to tell my story, leading to Buy A Game (the first of 27 books).
A commentator suggested that, since I was already making Hoop “Handbooks,” but was still talking about the “Mental” Game, that I write “The Mental Handbook.”
I sprinkled screenshots of YouTube comments through my 2016 TEDxTalk, “Dear Dre…How to Be Confident When You’re Not.”
I’ve met people in real life through my comments.
I like my comment sections to be civil. And, while I hate that some people are so easily swayed by the crowd, I understand that it’s human nature. I still read all my comments, and it’s a pain to have to block trolls all the time. So, I’ve found that when I get rid of the first one, very few others come around.
Strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter. That’s quite fitting.
Because of all of this, I will block a muthafucka QUICK.
I’ve had people disagree with this idea, saying things like, “Well Dre, if you publish something online, people are going to respond! Don’t publish if you don’t want people to have their opinion! You can’t post something and then be defensive about it!”
This is (mostly) correct — yet only half of the equation.
I allow comments on all platforms, and all my pages — Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, Website, SnapChat, LinkedIn — are public. Anyone CAN comment.
Here’s the other half: Just because you have the right to comment, that doesn’t remove my right to eliminate your ass from my page. And I / my moderators are the judge + jury of what’s acceptable. There is no appellate process.
That’s how it goes when you’re the creator. I like having this control.
Anyone can say anything they want in response to my posts. And, anyone can be blocked as a result of their response. These are the “terms and conditions” you agree to when you comment on MY pages.
This is America. But my comment sections are not a democracy.