Sunday, May 6, 2012



This is the third post in a continuing series of posts about legal issues that affect food bloggers.

Are you afraid to comment on something for fear of reprisal? Do you feel passionately about something but fail to speak your mind because you are afraid of being attacked for your opinion? If not, then this post is not for you. However, I know from speaking with many of you that you have experienced some form of bullying online.

In my practice I have represented school districts that deal with this issue among school children of all ages. Guess what? It doesn’t stop when you graduate. Based upon the multiple emails I received on my Recipe Attribution post, I know that many food bloggers out there had strong opinions about the subject but did not feel comfortable expressing them. Why? Because they were afraid of being berated. They were afraid to offer an opinion. They felt they might be bullied.

Of course, some may hold back because they don’t want to offend the author of the post but that is the exception not the norm.

I dare you to post a recipe with a boxed cake mix and ask readers to comment on whether they think anyone should use packaged mixes in their recipes. In all likelihood you will see a deluge of people professing how they are appalled that you did not take a few extra minutes to make the recipe from scratch. Now, calling something where you used a packaged mix a “recipe” is something that might be up for debate. Do I think it’s okay to use packaged mixes? Yes, as long as they are not composed of artificial ingredients or flavors. That’s my opinion that I’m sharing with you. See what I did there? I shared my opinion. I did not say things like “How could you feed your family something like that?” or “Don’t you care what you put into your body?” Big difference.

For the most part, the nasty comments one might receive on a post are not illegal. They often do not rise to the level of an illegal activity like cyberstalking or cyberharassing. Nor are they something that would warrant notifying the Internet Crime Complaint Center. However, even though the activity may not be illegal in the eyes of the law, it can still be considered unacceptable by most standards.

Am I asking everyone to be nice? Yes. Am I asking everyone to agree with each other? No. We should have a healthy discourse, one where we respectfully disagree. I can’t tell you how many decisions by the court have made me want to scream “What were you thinking?” While I may feel that way I never say it that way. Whenever I write to the court, in support of or in opposition of something, I always close with “respectfully submitted.” I show respect.

A blog is an extension of of ourselves. It can be real and raw and when someone tries to intimidate someone it can be alienating. Sometimes it feels just like high school. I HATED high school.

I know there are those out there who are simply looking to drive traffic to their sites and will post whatever they think will draw traffic instead of revealing who they are. I want to believe that they are the minority. Most bloggers I know share their struggles both in and out of the kitchen. They put themselves out there to connect. When they are attacked with nasty comments or bullied for sharing their opinion it hurts.

If you are only talking to people who think exactly like you, you are essentially talking to yourself. That is what crazy people do.

Related Posts:

Trademark Infringement

Recipe Attribution: The Debate Rages On

Disclosure: While I am a lawyer, I am not offering legal advice. Posts on legal matters are intended to provide legal information and do not create an attorney/client relationship.

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13 Responses to “Bullying”

  1. 1

    Anita at Hungry Couple — May 7, 2012 @ 9:11 AM

    Interesting read. I’m big on respect and if I don’t agree with someone and can’t disagree respectfully than I move along. If I don’t have something polite to say than I don’t say it. I just recently got my first nasty comment from someone who ripped apart my recipe in a rude manner while admitting he had not actually tried it. I can honestly say I was not more than momentarily upset and cheerfully hit the delete button. Maybe I’m stronger than average, I honestly don’t know, but I would never bully anyone and I will absolutely not accept it or be afraid of it.

  2. 2

    Kimberly at The Hungry Goddess — May 7, 2012 @ 9:35 AM

    Well done – great post! Having discourse and debate are something that we should celebrate as bloggers – rude comments and people are an unfortunate experience of life. I prefer to abide by the maxim – if you don’t have anything nice, don’t say anything at all.

  3. 3

    Tina@flourtrader — May 7, 2012 @ 10:52 AM

    I agree with Kimberly. With so many blog posts out there, how productive is it to spend your time being nasty on the ones you do not like-there are too many good ones out there and this practice does noting to help anyone. So if you leave a nasty comment-do not expect me to publish it. Someone once commented that they would not make my recipe because they thought it would taste like medicine. That was an actual comment on a recipe, outside of that she does have a talent for commenting on everything else in your post except the food. Cool wallpaper in your kitchen-which is a clear sign she does not even like the recipe. Sad that she cannot find any good posts of food in her opinion.
    Do not comment if you do not like.

  4. 4

    Mom Foodie — May 7, 2012 @ 11:22 AM

    I bake from scratch far more often than I use a mix, but I certainly don’t find it offensive to use a mix, as long as you do something at least somewhat interesting with it. After all, most households have some sort of boxed my on hand, and not every reader is an experienced baker.

  5. 5

    Barbara | Creative Culinary — May 7, 2012 @ 2:24 PM

    I think there are people who are unhappy and angry that need a way to express themselves and sometimes that comes in the form of a comment on our blogs. I have NO problem with comments about their own experience even if not successful; our inability to control every environment (and degree of user’s experience) can lead to something failing. I’ve had comments and emails from readers wanting to know more; what they might have done and those are the type of discourse I’m taken to; I want to help.

    But when someone comes along with a vitriolic comment about a post I’ve done; there I might draw the line. I just had one recently. She had made a cheesecake from my blog that I’ve been making successfully for…hmm, 20+ years. Several readers have made it and loved it but not her. No…I gave wrong instructions for baking, the sour cream layer did not setup and the lemon glaze was sickeningly sweet…and oh, she was an EXPERT cheesecake maker. Whew! I could have so easily deleted the comment but instead replied, ‘Everyone’s experience might not be the same as mine or other readers but I stand behind the ingredients, the preparation information and the end result. I hope you have better luck next time.’ Responding without getting defensive felt better than deleting!

    Regarding the notion of cake mixes. I used them for years when I was younger without one bit of guilt. Of all the prepared foods out there, I find cake mixes to be among the least offensive possible. Wary of posting a recipe I’ve made over the holidays that uses a box mix, I was determined to development a full recipe until a friend said, ‘You know Barb, there might be people who would love the convenience of a box mix. Everyone loves that cake, I say do it as you always have.’ And she was right. It works just as it is; is a bit more convenient and the end result is stellar. So who should really care? Sometimes I think the ones who make the most fuss are guilty of ‘Me thinks thou doth protest too much’ and are probably eating a bag of Cheetos while writing their comment. :)

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    Laurrie Piland — May 7, 2012 @ 5:47 PM

    I wanted to share with you my experiences with “trolls”, “bullies”, however you want to label them. Being a supporting member of a very popular cooking website, I decided to write a blog (that was one of the features of a supporting membership) that based on my life experiences, mainly in the kitchen. It was a hit from the very first post. I decided to make a “theme” and cook from every country in the world and I had such a wonderful, positive response. After about the 10th or so country, I started getting posts from different people about how I wasn’t cooking authentic, that I promoted my blog too much, yadda, yadda, yadda…it all started sounded like a flock of seagulls to me after a while. I was pretty taken aback at first. I thought there was a long list of people, for whatever reason, didn’t like my blog, didn’t like my project, or didn’t like me and it really did start to bother me for a while because every single time I would post, I would have to get up in the middle of the night to delete rude, crude and nasty comments off my blog. There was a brief instance in time where I thought that I would quit blogging completely. The website that I started on did not offer the option of comment moderation. One lady started sending me emails. What I thought was a long list of people turned out to be only 5 or 6 women. They created a multitude of different accounts and a multitude of different screen names to do this junk to me and to a whole long list of other people. I am still in possession of these emails in a folder and I do go back and look at the pathetic-ness (I’m not sure if that’s even a word and if not, I just made it up !) of the whole situation. These women had gotten a hold of my private email address and would sign me up for dating services and I just don’t know what all else. In these emails, the whole entire reason came out as to why they did this. It was nothing more than my blog had become too popular on that website and they were jealous, as stupid as it sounds. I did take my blog off that site and onto my new site where I’m still cooking from every country in the world, over 2 years later. Was what they did illegal? No. Was it right? Probably not to normal people, but to them it was. Did I learn something from that experience? Sure did! The joke turned out to be on them…not only did I not quit blogging, as they hoped I would, I also now write a monthly food based column for our local newspaper that is based on my blog and has the same title, I’ve had a mention of my blog in a national magazine and I’m the administrator of a very active, very popular private Facebook group where I do encourage civilized debates and people do have differing opinions about things and nobody ridicules another member for being different. And, for the record, I use boxed cake mixes and so forth and there is not one thing wrong with that…so keep cooking, folks, and I’ll keep reading and admiring your blogs and learning something new in the kitchen from you all! Peace!

  7. 7

    LIz — May 7, 2012 @ 9:08 PM

    Well said. It all comes down to being respectful. I wish everyone was capable of this common courtesy, but that seems to be wishful thinking.

  8. 8

    Lisa — May 7, 2012 @ 10:02 PM

    Fantastic post, Wendy. I love this

    “If you are only talking to people who think exactly like you, you are essentially talking to yourself. That is what crazy people do.”

    I think that sums up A LOT. Which leads to another thought – is ignoring or sabotaging a blogger who doesn’t think the way you do or fit into a certain mold, a subtle form of bullying?

  9. 9

    Nancy@acommunaltable — May 7, 2012 @ 11:34 PM

    Great post Wendy! I completely agree that it is healthy to have debates over food related issues but sadly most people aren’t interested in hearing another opinion and can only focus on defending their own – which is of course where the trouble lies! Your example of the cake mix is spot on – it’s unfortunate that we don’t seem to be able to discuss these things in a calm and rational manner but that seems to be the way of it!

  10. 10

    Isabelle @ Crumb — May 8, 2012 @ 9:50 AM

    I think you’ve made some great points here, Wendy. I think there’s something about the very nature of online communication that makes some people check their manners at the door – you just need to look at the comments on a newspaper story to see it. (True story: when my company laid off 300 people, more than half of the comments amounted to “Good! It’s about time those no-good lazy employees got the boot. Hopefully my bills will be cheaper now.”)
    I don’t use cake mix, personally, so I probably wouldn’t make a recipe that uses one but it would never occur to me to actually take the time to write a comment chastising someone for posting a recipe that uses one – it’s their blog, their opinion and their food, after all.
    Goodness, what a boring world it would be if we all cooked the same recipes in the same way using all the same ingredients!

  11. 11

    Trish — May 9, 2012 @ 7:07 PM

    This is a great post!
    Yes – it’s naive to think that eventually the bullying stops and everyone grows up to be nice and respectful. Wishful thinking I suppose,

  12. 12

    foodpornqueen — May 23, 2012 @ 1:01 PM

    this is a great find (Bullying) in food.

    and I love food experimentation too, and hate bullying as well and the “bullying” must be stopped.

    @ Laurrie Pilland, wow! the nerve! of that “tolls”

  13. 13

    Matt mmWine Horbund — October 30, 2012 @ 10:03 AM

    I know I’m late to the game – but I am glad I finally arrived.

    First – great post!

    Second – bullying exists and probably always will, everywhere. It’s not age related, gender related, or race related. It’s something people are taught, even if it’s with the best intentions. We often teach our kids to be competitive, sometimes I agree with wholehartedly, but we do so in the wrong way. We teach them to win at all costs, and be better than the other person. However, we often fail to teach them to do so with respect, dignity, and sportsmanship. Winning the game is important, I’m not one of these “everyone plays” people …. but respecting your opponent and fellow team mates are equally as important. Getting on someone because they don’t perform as well as you want them to is normal. Doing it in a respectful, dignified way to improve their performance is the key. DOing it to cut them down and make them feel bad just means you have a lack of respect for others, who’s talents may be elsewhere.

    And yes, it happens in the online world all too often. People will use any dirt they can to bring someone else down.They will take every opportunity to take you down a peg. And it’s often because they need to feel better about themselves.

    Use the boxed mix, I wont mind :)

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