Jessica Grose: We're here to talk about hate-blogs. In my novel, Sad Desk Salad (shameless self promotion alert), the heroine and her coworkers at a women's website called Chick Habit are plagued by a hate-blogger who reblogs their posts and puts up incriminating, embarrassing personal information about them.
For those who aren't familiar with the phenomenon, hate-blogs are an actual thing. I based the hate-blog in my book (Breaking the Chick Habit, or BTCH) on the hate-blogs I had read up till then: The ones about Jezebel, the Pioneer Woman, and Julia Allison.
I asked you to join me in this chat because you’ve covered sites like this for Gawker, and you're an expert in the darkest recesses of Internet culture. To start off, I have one question for you: Whyyyyy?! That is, what is it that possesses people to start blogs where every post is basically just ad hominem attacks of a person or a website? (I have an explanation for the hate blogger in my book but it’s a spoiler to discuss it.)
Adrian Chen: Well, what posses someone to make a fan site, where they slavishly gush over everything a person or entity does? It's passion. To me the hate-blog phenomenon is basically anti-fandom: someone is totally obsessed with something but instead of expressing their passion through love, it's hate. It's a totally different product but comes from that same root, irrational fixation on the thing in question.
Jessica: But the people they're fixating on don’t seem like a big enough deal, in most cases, to encourage such an obsession. Have you observed a particular quality in the Internet types who end up having hate-blogs dedicated to them?
Adrian: Yeah, I think the more someone's Internet persona depends on them being a "real person," the more they attract these kinds of crazy obsessive hate-bloggers. The logic is almost the opposite of what you'd think, where the fact they're small-time means it's more appropriate to hate on them like you would a real-life enemy. What's the point in dedicating a hate-blog to, like, Lindsay Lohan when you know she'll never read it?
Jessica: That seems right. When the commenters convene in these blogs, I've noticed two common responses to the reason for their obsession. 1. They claim they actually want the person they're blogging about to change (be less narcissistic, write about things that are less frivolous, etc.); or 2. They are projecting some major personal baggage—comparing the person blogging to someone they hate in their actual life.
Adrian: Yeah, I think all hate-bloggers are either secret fans or disillusioned fans. I sent you those links about Kotakoti, the American model in Japan who's attracted a huge community of hate-bloggers.
Jessica: Yes! The community that hates her is both enormous AND international! Why do they care so much if she Photoshops her pics? I don't understand!
Adrian: Well, that's the thing, their hate basically boils down to the fact that she's phony because she 'shops her pics to look cuter and more like a real-life anime doll. But then they have huge threads on their forums where they post pictures of themselves Photoshopped the EXACT same way, only it's like, "Ha ha, look at me, I'm lame like Kotakoti." But clearly these girls have spent enormous amounts of time learning how to do exactly what they rip on her about.
Jessica: Ahhh, what?
Adrian: Yeah, it's weird. This is what teens do these days I guess.
Jessica: The youth! Speaking of which, you had mentioned to me earlier that there's been somewhat of an evolution in hate-blogging since I first noticed the phenomenon (which was probably like, 08 or 09?). I was seeing it rise more with Tumblr, where reblogging was such an innate feature that it made just saying something nasty about someone else's posts 100 times easier. But how would you describe the way the genre has changed over the past three or four years?
Adrian: It's weirdly mirrored regular media. Hate-blogs are on the decline. It's all about hate-social media accounts. I think some of the craziest stuff is going on on Twitter, where people make dozens of troll accounts or whatever and really try to destroy someone's online life.
Jessica: Does the motivation seem to be the same?
Adrian: Yeah. I mean it's always about getting a reaction from the person, and Twitter makes it way more satisfying because it's in real time.
Jessica: What is the success rate of a Twitter hater? Like do they usually push the person offline? The object d'hatred that is.
Adrian: Hmm, I don't know. Twitter is such a trollful medium that it's almost like they get lost in the shuffle. Although there was that guy who just wrote about how he got driven off twitter by his troll. Leo Traynor.
Jessica: He was the guy who discovered that his friend's son was the troll, right? That story was terrifying.
Adrian: Yeah. Really crazy. I don't know if that's exactly a hate-blogger, more like a crazy stalker, although the lines sometimes blur.
Jessica: In most cases, it seems like the hate-blogger doesn't personally know his or her target, though. That's been my impression. Any time they get someone who actually does know the target in the comments or via email, it's like they're investigative journalists all of the sudden.
Adrian: Yeah, there this definitely this idea of pulling back the curtain on whoever they're hating on, with that kind of stuff. But again it's like, are they actually trying to expose them or just really want to know more?
Jessica: Ah, I don't know! Has any hate blog ever done anything "good" or worthwhile? Like, has any true muckracking ever occurred because of a hate-blogger's dedication?
Adrian: Hmmm. I wrote a while ago about this horrible website Stickydrama, which was basically a gossip blog for tween e-celebrities. There were a couple hate-blogs dedicated to that site, I think run by parents of the girls that they'd write about, and I actually got some good tips from them. There was also this whole Livejournal community dedicated to e-celebs that sort of rallied together to expose Christopher Stone, the founder of Stickydrama; they were really nasty themselves, but knew so much about the site that they were a good resource.
Jessica: So the torch-wielding Internet mobs can occasionally be a force for semi-good. That is almost heartening? Not really.
Adrian: It's all about channeling the hate to something more hateful than the hate.
Jessica: Okay, time to get servicey: If you were giving advice to someone who was plagued by a hate-blog, what would you tell them. Ignore? Engage? Bring in blog authorities? Or actual legal authorities?
Adrian: I guess it would depend on what level you're getting it at. If it's manageable, it might actually be a good thing. Haters make you famous, etc. It's amazing how much the hater narrative has been incorporated into the entertainment industry, you know? It seems like every young female act, some storyline about how she's dealing with her haters is pushed, and you see a lot of people sort of blowing up like base-level hate and making it part of their story. So maybe you can hate-judo it.
Adrian: That's my new self-help concept.
Jessica: TM. Brand that shit now.
Adrian: "Hate-Judo your way to e-fame and fortune. Just try to attract as much hate as you can and good things will happen." (Kidding…)
But I'm not actually a huge fan of the "don't feed the trolls" approach, because it's sort of blaming the victim. Why should everyone have to deal with horrible people with saintly composure? I think if you can sort of shame them in a non-hysterical way, that's more effective than just ignoring it and also it gets rid of the fantasy that you're not actually reading the hate-blogs, because everyone knows you are so don't even pretend.
Jessica: That is sound advice. Anything else we're neglecting to mention about the terrible yet vaguely fascinating world of hate-blogging?
Adrian: How did you deal with the hate-blogging when you were at Jezebel? I don't think Gawker has a dedicated hate-blog.
Jessica: Jezebel didn't really have a hate-blog per se when I was there (they got them after I left). But what they did have was several fringe blogs started by disgruntled commenters who had been, like, core, obsessive Jez fans who became disappointed with the direction of the site for reasons that were never entirely clear?
Adrian: Oh yeah, Gawker has those too!
Jessica: So yeah, then those people would start their own sites, most of which petered out after a year or two.
Jessica: What was funny about that was always the feeling they had like, THIS SITE SHOULD CATER TO ME AND ME SPECIFICALLY! Like you could… just stop reading the site if you didn't like it anymore? It didn't betray you deliberately.
Adrian: Haha, yeah, it's such a fraught relationship people have with websites.
Jessica: Right? I mean, I always thought those websites were slightly sweet too, because they had created their own little communities, which I admired, and they seemed really psyched about that.
Adrian: Were there any Jez commenter weddings? There were at least two Gawker commenter weddings.
Jessica: What!? That is amazing! I have never heard of a Jez commenter wedding, but it's possible.
Adrian: Yeah, I've been trying to get someone to do a story about it because I think it's the funniest/coolest thing, but in a roundabout way that brings us back to the topic at hand. I think a lot of what drives these hate-blogs is the community that grows up around them. Like people are THRILLED that they found a bunch of other people who hate something as passionately as they do. A lot of Internet culture, I think, boils down to the bond between people who find other people who are into very specific, very strange things, and hating on a semi-famous person or blog definitely fits into that
Related: Why We Hate-Search
Jessica Grose is the author of the novel Sad Desk Salad (buy it now!) and co-author of Love, Mom. She is also a freelance writer and editor who lives (where else) in Brooklyn. Adrian Chen is a staff writer at Gawker. Here is his Twitter.