Poisonous Pens

Intimidation“When you step into a boxing ring, expect a few punches.”

That’s how I would paraphrase a well-known Dutch proverb.

I had to remind myself of that saying quite a few times last week, after publishing a critical blog post on podcasting.

Last time I checked, over 2,500 people read it, and many felt the urge to respond. Here’s what some of the fans had to say:

“I LIKED the article specifically because it addressed many of my pet peeves (long intros, crappy audio, self-aggrandizing hosts).”

“Your story basically said: “Try harder, and don’t put out sh*t.” To which I wholeheartedly agree.”

“This article is SPOT ON. And the industry is suffering because most podcasters are not paying attention to opinions like the one expressed there.”

“I’m going to print this out and remind myself to read it once a week for a month. FANTASTIC! I couldn’t agree more!”

But not everyone was as pleased with what I had written:

“The central point of this article is pretty ridiculous, and contains a very “get-off-my-lawn” sentiment that I believe is incredibly harmful to the industry of podcasting.”

“I think people need to step off of their high horses.”

“Wow this is insulting. Was this written by a radio dj threatened by podcasts?”

“The author, hilariously enough, made his article about himself by injecting snide attempts at humor.”

“New podcasters don’t deserve to be mocked or shunned.”

These reactions were pretty innocent, compared to what a few others shared with me after I had published my story.


Some angry, resentful readers told me to “stick it where the sun don’t shine.” They accused me of being an arrogant son of a gun, who should just go and “F” himself. One person suggested that I go back to the Netherlands, if I didn’t like what I heard over here (as if podcasts stop at the border…).

I’ve gotten some nasty comments before, even from my own voice-over community, but this podcasting piece seemed to have hit a raw nerve.

One thing separated the more graphic commentators from the rest. The vitriolic ones responded anonymously. Quite a few used an online identity like fartface5 or bigwillywonderman.

That’s not surprising.

Last year, assistant professor Arthur Santana of the University of Houston found that 53.3 percent of anonymous online comments included language that was vulgar, racist, profane or hateful. Only 28.7 percent of non-anonymous comments were found to be uncivil. 

This is often attributed to the online disinhibition effect. It’s the idea that people’s inhibitions drop when their identity is hidden, and their actions have no visible consequences.


In the days before the Internet, when someone spoke in public, the audience would be able to see who was talking, and they could hold that person accountable, right there and then. In the virtual world we live in that’s not always possible.

Some people believe that because they’re invisible online, they are safe, and they can say whatever they want. There are no authority figures to stop them. Free speech is free speech, right? Besides, they weren’t even serious. It was just a joke. The online world isn’t “real life.”

Well, tell that to the victims of cyberbullying, and their friends and families! I think they have a different story for you. Personally, I’ve never believed the children’s rhyme:

“Sticks and stones will break my bones
But words will never harm me.”

Words can have a profound effect on someone, in a very positive, and in a very negative way. I know people who haven’t spoken to one another for twenty years because of words that were exchanged. I know people who are comforted and uplifted by words of love and encouragement.

Words can heal, and words can hurt.

Words can be wonderful, and they can be used as weapons.

There are these sick individuals who find joy in publicly humiliating others in a most vicious and obscene way, using no more than 140 characters.


Perhaps you’ve read about retired baseball great Curt Schilling. After his daughter Gabby became the target of relentless Twitter trolls, he decided to go after them, and expose their identities. Within an hour and a half, Schilling found nine of them.

One troll was a student at Brookdale Community College in central New Jersey. He was suspended from school. Another turned out to be a vice president of the Theta Xi fraternity at Montclair State University in northern New Jersey. He lost his part-time job selling tickets for the Yankees.

The message was clear: Nobody should have to put up with trolls and other cyberbullies. There are serious consequences for this type of behavior. Just because we cherish and celebrate free speech in this country, doesn’t mean that anything goes. 


What was said to me after last week’s blog post wasn’t nearly as vulgar as what Gabby Schilling had to endure, but I was thoroughly disgusted. I am not going to expose the culprits, but I am going to do something else. 

From now on I will no longer accept anonymous comments, or comments by people using a fictitious online identity.  

On this blog I want people to own up to what they’re saying, and not hide behind a made up character. Comments that are rude and disrespectful will be deleted immediately.

This is my platform, and I will act as moderator.

I welcome a spirited, civil debate on this site, and if you would like to take part, I encourage you to create a Gravatar. A Gravatar is an image that follows you from site to site appearing beside your name when you do things like comment or post on a blog. A Gravatar lets us know who you are.

Click here to create your personal Gravatar

One last thing.

Trolls intend to provoke, and they want to see which buttons they can push. They live for the fear they instill and for the outrage they create.

We have seen that their insults can lead to injury and worse if we let them get to us.

Luckily, we are not like Pavlov’s dogs, and we don’t have to fall for their dirty games. 

Like Schilling, I have zero tolerance for trolls.

As far as I’m concerned, they can take their poisonous pens, and stick ’em where the sun don’t shine!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Dare to share if you care!

photo credit: Determination via photopin (license)

About the author

Paul Strikwerda

is a Dutch-English voice-over pro, coach, and writer. His blog is one of the most widely read and influential blogs in the industry. Paul is also the author of "Making Money In Your PJs, Freelancing for voice-overs and other solopreneurs." goo.gl/ihVpMc

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Internet, Journalism & Media, Personal, Social Media

33 Responses to Poisonous Pens

  1. Pingback: A Controversial Year | Nethervoice

  2. Mary Ann Ruan

    Really interesting essay Paul. I’ve recently become acquainted with a woman who has dealt with years on online abuse to to the provocative nature of her job (an out atheist who lobbies for separation of church and state). She was diagnosed with PTSD last year in part due to amount of online threats and relentless attacks on her character. Words are indeed powerful, particularly when threatening a life. Never, ever is that a joke. Good for you for expecting people to own their words on your blog.


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thanks for sharing that example, Mary Ann. There is one downside to not allowing anonymous comments. Some people may want to leave some candid remarks, but they’re afraid of the repercussions. Journalists breaking important stories often rely on sources that wish to stay anonymous. So, there’s still a place for anonymity in public discourse. As long as I know the identity of the commentator, I am willing to allow readers to respond under a pen name or pseudonym.


  3. dc goode

    Well done Paul…as always. This shines a big light on the issues surrounding the internet that are not so wonderful and prevailing attitudes of hate in so many these days.
    Don Henley posed the lyrical question in the 80’s…”How can love survive in such a graceless age?” Indeed.
    “Grace and civility” are better goals.

    Someone used the term “The Podcasting INDUSTRY”. You mean There really is such a thing? 🙂
    I’m always late to the party..”OMS” Old Man syndrome, i guess.
    To the podcasters out there, take no offense but I don’t have time to listen…to just about anything. ALL of my time is taken up in trying to make a living…ya’ll wanna be mad at something…be mad at that.


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    I’m with you, DC. In certain circles there’s not much grace and civility. Instead, there’s confrontation. People like to talk but forget to listen. You can certainly hear that in some of the podcasts I listened to.

    An hour ago I stood in a long line at my post office. People asked for stamps, money orders, customs forms, insurance… you name it. Not one person used the words “please” and “thank you.” And these were all grown ups!

    If adults have forgotten the basics of grace and civility, no wonder the younger generation is less civil and less graceful. What a terrible shame!


  4. Dave Smith

    I agree with you Paul, it’s unfortunate that people hide behind a facade to play Mr. Big Sh*t and think they’re being cool. It’s not cool and it’s not what freedom of speech is all about, it’s just someone being a jerk.


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thank you, Dave. The only jerk I liked was played by Steve Martin….


  5. Silvia McClure

    Good for you!


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Me think so too!


  6. John Gully

    Great commentary Paul! Social media as a whole has proliferated hatefulness in my opinion and it is so easy to get sucked into the negativity. I have had it happen to me and frankly I don’t choose to participate in those threads any longer. I choose to be more productive and positive in my online activity. More people should take notice and truly use the old adage of, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Of course civil debate about different points of view should never be taboo. The hateful, spiteful, mean spirited comments and responses, especially anonymously, are cowardly and negative.

    This is Captain Obvious signing off!! LOL.


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    It’s not the medium we should blame. It’s how it’s been used and abused. Social media has given certain people a new place to lurk, hide and be hateful.

    Although I see myself as a positive person, I don’t always agree with the “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” attitude. Evil needs to be exposed. Problems need to be addressed. People have to be held accountable.

    No matter what point of view we, choose, we will always piss certain people off, and that’s okay. Sometimes it’s necessary to ruffle some feathers, rub someone the wrong way, and push the envelope.

    Therapists will say that resistance is a precursor for change.


  7. Cornelie Hemmes

    I have the same experience with MOOC’s. Anonymous seems to be a ‘vrij brief’ for unpleasant ways of communicating. It is not open and unfair. Everybody has a right to say what they mean but this is a nobody who speaks so you should ignore them. But not letting them post things on your site is the best. They do not have the intention the start a discussion, they find them selves superior and always the best. I love your stories (the ones that I read). And what is a gravatar?


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    A Gravatar is an image that follows you from site to site appearing beside your name when you do things like comment or post on a blog. A Gravatar lets us know who you are.

    You can click on the blue link in the article to create your own Gravatar, Cornelie.

    For my English friends, “vrijbrief” is a blank check.


  8. Sally Blake ( Voice On Fire )

    Dear Paul,
    I totally support your decision to not have anonymous comments. They can be so cruel and hurtful. I believe this should be a law of the internet world:) Thank you again for such thought provoking subjects.
    Sally Blake ( Voice On Fire )


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Great Gravatar, Sally!

    Too many people forget that a Gravatar is a fantastic way to let the world know who you are, and what you have to offer. It’s a way to promote your brand, and it looks much better than the boring grey profile picture that pops up when you don’t have a Gravatar.

    Thanks for supporting my decision, by the way.


  9. Leah Frederick

    After reading some of my audiobook reviews, I have to agree that anonymity seems to give people the right to be hateful. I welcome constructive feedback but that seems to be the exception rather than the norm. Thanks for addressing this issue, Paul!


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    The beauty of the Internet is that anyone can respond.

    The trouble of the Internet is that anyone can respond.

    Paid commentators post rave reviews, and nasty diatribes. Can we trust them? As long as we’re not able to check the source, we have no idea who’s talking. We wouldn’t listen to some nitwit giving someone or something a bad review. But online, there’s a level playing field that doesn’t distinguish between clowns and experts. We can all have our say.

    Quite often, the loudest voices win the day. And that is what we call “progress.”


    Leah Frederick Reply:

    You hit the nail on the head, Paul. What I find most frustrating with reviews on sites such as Audible is that they offer no opportunity for dialogue. When rants such as “So-and-so narrator’s nasally interpretation ruined book” are posted, they sit out there like a sign that says, “Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here.” I believe everyone is entitled to their opinion but give me something I can work with here. For example, one of my audiobooks received several comments that the narration was too fast. That’s constructive feedback and tells me, “Hey Frederick! You’d better work on your pacing skills again.” Otherwise, the trolls are just messing with my livelihood as an audiobook narrator since publishers and producers go to sites like Audible to read reviews.

    I’m really pleased you addressed this topic, Paul. It definitely impacts our industry – obviously in many, many ways.


  10. jennifer m dixon

    Well said as usual,Paul. I especially like your decision to refuse anonymous comments. If one cannot express one’s opposing opinions honestly and openly and with respect then there is little difference between making vicious harmful anonymous statements and carrying out atrocious deeds wearing white, pointy hats. Shame on all of those rotten anonymous commenters!


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thank you, Jennifer. Thankfully, these trolls are only a fraction of all the commentators on my blog. Most of my Nethervoice friends are like you: honest, open and eloquent. I am proud to know them by name!


  11. Matt Forrest Esenwine

    I didn’t comment on the podcast post, but agree with you…I’ve never had any desire to do a podcast, even though I have 25+ years of radio experience, the facilities to record it, and plenty of material. I simply don’t have the time to listen to them, so I’m not going to add to the market. And I also prefer being able to scan text. Not saying everyone should agree with me; just my opinion.

    There are a whole lot of mediocre (at best) podcasts out there, so if anyone took issue with your post, it’s probably because the truth hurts! That’ll teach you for trying to lend some professional advice. 😉


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    We all have our strengths, and one of yours is a poetic pen!

    As a fellow-writer, you know that no matter what we say or how we say it, somewhere, someone is not going to like it.

    One of the ways to learn and grow, is to listen to feedback, and to judge that feedback by the quality of the source.

    Yes, the truth may hurt, but it might just set you free!


    Matt Forrest Esenwine Reply:

    Thanks, Paul. Yes, feedback is important, and the more we receive, the more capable we are of discerning which of it is useful and which is not. Keep up the good work!


  12. Paul Payton

    Paul, I support you 100% in your respose on the responses (or, in some cases, the knee-jerk negativism) regarding your post. I confess that I have not read your initial post (but I will) soon but I too feel that a lot of podcasts are badly produced or have limited content value and are thus time-wasters. That’s why I watch and listen to very few of them – and none recently, to be honest.

    I agree with you that those who post opinions should be willing to do so under their real names, especially in a work-specific discussion space such as yours. I also know that you will be fair about posting signed dissenting opinions, because that is the kind of person you are. I do agree re: trolls; hiding hate speech behind anonymity while raising hell for the sake of it is in part what has lead our country – and in fact, the world – to the kind of borderline anarchy we are currently facing. In a word, it is painful.

    I remember as a kid we were taught a song (in public school, not some idealogical kumbaya-land) which began, “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.” Your blog probably won’t cause world peace, but I compliment you for “beginning peace” here. Long may you continue to express your well-thought-out opinions. You write ’em, I promise to keep reading!


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Paul, thanks for reminding me of that song. I love it. I seem to recall that one of the classic Danny Kaye Christmas specials ended with it. More recently, the massed choirs of our area elementary schools sang it at the lightning of the Peace Candle in Easton. It was beautiful.

    You are 100% right. To quote Ghandi: We have to create the world we wish to see. That’s why I was a bit on the fence about the final line of this blog post. I did not want to lower myself to the level of the people I just criticized. But then I felt they deserved it, and I wasn’t commenting anonymously.


  13. M.C. Tapera

    Paul, I read your blog for your opinion and impressions. You’ve apparently been treading on some sensitive subjects recently. 🙂 Many if not most podcasters are not voice pros, and don’t want to be. But they are interested in getting their voices out into the world, perhaps in ways they haven’t been able to do in their own lives. Gettiing criticism from you probably felt very personal to those folks, especially if those podcasts reflect their fondest dreams and tastes. And, again: not voice pros. They are likely not sure why your suggestions would benefit them, or even how to iimplement them!

    Moderating your comments makes sense now that you are broadening your audience. I’m sorry that you’ve had to endure that, but, hey, increased trollery often means your profile is rising! :))

    Thanks again for what you do…


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    I had not made the link between increased trolley and a rising profile, M.C. Thank you for that!

    I do know that controversy boosts readership, but I don’t want to create controversy for the sake of it.

    If podcasters (no matter how experienced they are) can’t take criticism, they shouldn’t be sharing their shows with the world. By making their podcasts public, they must realize that the public will respond. And as I just have experienced, not everyone will be as diplomatic in their reaction.


  14. Kent Ingram

    Paul, remember what I told you, the last time things got ugly from those kinds of folks? To repeat it for everyone, I said those who don’t have a cogent, logical and civil point, rebuttal or debate point always resort to name-calling and vicious, vitriolic personal attacks. That’s their only defense and it’s pitiful, but sometimes effective, in doing great damage to another.


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    “Profanity is such a poor use of the English language,” my mother-in-law used to say. The same is true for obscenity, and other rude and disrespectful utterances, offline or online.

    Researchers have found that these rude comments do influence the way people think about the article they just read, and not in a favorable way. That’s another reason to ban them on my blog.


  15. Steve O'Neill

    Hey Paul,

    It is a sad indictment of our times that people find it appropriate to make comments online that they (often) would never dream of making to someone’s face.

    Moreover, the challenge as we know with written dialogue is that people transpose their own values on to what they perceive the recipient is feeling – because they don’t get the verbal and visual clues we get when talking face to face.

    Ultimately they can end up having a battle with someone over something which doesn’t even exist.

    Sadly many people don’t understand this characteristic/limitation and some end up writing things which are offensive, inconsiderate and simply downright inappropriate.

    You are one of a minority of VO people who have the courage of your convictions and consider tackling challenging subject matter.

    And you do it well, and passionately.

    I take my hat off to you – won’t always necessarily agree with you – but have a huge amount of respect and admiration for you in the process.


    Thank you,



    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    I’m glad we don’t always agree, Steve. The world would be a boring place if everybody would have the same ideas and preferences. What would we talk about?

    You’re right about people missing visual (and auditory) cues online. These cues are such an important part of how humans convey meaning.

    When people tweet or comment, they usually don’t get immediate feedback that could bring them to adjust their behavior. As you describe so well, it is very easy to misunderstand one another online. This can lead to tragedies big and small.

    PS Thank you for your kind words!


  16. Ed (Ed-VO) Waldorph

    I’m sorry you had to suffer that, Paul. However it was only a matter of time. You have a large following for a fairly industry specific blog, which is to your credit.

    We in the voice business have one of the most caring, thoughtful and self-effacing communities in the entertainment industry, but it appears there are still some dark cobwebby corners.


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Yes, there’s a whole dark world out there of sad individuals staring at computer screens in the basement of their troll caves. How low can one go. I wonder?


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