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What to do about Comment Trolling on 99Designs

3 days ago I started a contest on 99 designs, for a book cover. i talked about what I wanted in the cover, design influences, told them what the book would be about. Then I said, “US Designers preferred” in my design brief.

This set off a wave of angry comments from indignant designers from all over the world, simply because of my preference.

You’d think that if they didn’t like my preference, they simply wouldn’t bid on the project.

A preference for who does your job is a totally valid thing to have. People put preferences in job descriptions all the time. Like, “US Security clearance given preference” or “Preference will be given to those with judicial experience.”

It was not a disqualifying statement, simply a preference. It was a preference reflecting the fact that I wanted someone who would speak English well, who I would have a chance of clear communications with.

Some of these disgruntled designers took my preference to mean that I was racist, “chauvinist” “homophobic” etc.

The fact that they misunderstood me so badly is exactly the point of having a preference for native English speakers.

They also said I would steal their designs, they made disparaging comments about the designs that I liked, they called other designs copyright infringement. Then they went into the profanity.

None of them had a design in the running. They were just there to troll.

What is trolling?

“In Internet slang, a troll (pron.: /ˈtroʊl/, /ˈtrɒl/) is someone who posts inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community, such as a forum, chat room, or blog, with the primary intent of provoking readers into an emotional response.”

Why do trolls do this?

According to Tom Postmes, a professor of social and organisational psychology at the universities of Exeter, England, and Groningen, The Netherlands, and the author of Individuality and the Group, who has studied online behavior for 20 years, “Trolls aspire to violence, to the level of trouble they can cause in an environment. They want it to kick off. They want to promote antipathetic emotions of disgust and outrage, which morbidly gives them a sense of pleasure.

One of the more disturbing things was that they egged each other on, to greater levels of harassment.

One of the main themes I noticed in the comments was the “concern” trolling. As in, they were  “concerned” that I was going to discriminate against them.

What is concern trolling?

“A concern troll is a false flag pseudonym created by a user whose actual point of view is opposed to the one that the user claims to hold. The concern troll posts in Web forums devoted to its declared point of view and attempts to sway the group’s actions or opinions while claiming to share their goals, but with professed “concerns”. The goal is to sow fear, uncertainty and doubt within the group.”

Below is a sample of some of the abuse I received.






I attempted to placate the trolls, which perhaps I shouldn’t have done. I sent them private messages asking them to understand that I needed someone who spoke English fluently.

They responded with more abuse, and encouraged other designers to heap abuse on me.

It began to go into my private message folder.

I was getting emails from complete jerks, and there was no way to stop them.

When I questioned the 99designs team about this, this was their reply.


They apologized and said it was very unusual, and they also said I should not have stated this preference, in essence, blaming the victim.

Why am I telling you about this?

I’m creating this post because I believe harassment, in any form, should be brought to light.

If anyone else has been on the receiving end of comment trolling on 99designs, they should know they are not alone.

The more we raise our voices, the more we can do something about bullies, gangsters and mobbers who feel anonymous and safe. They are not safe when they try to make us feel unsafe.

We have to send the message that online harassment is NOT OKAY and 99designs needs to take action.

In a recent article about trolling in the New York Times, the author, Julie Zhuo, concludes

“Instead of waiting around for human nature to change, let’s start to rein in bad behavior by promoting accountability. Content providers, stop allowing anonymous comments. Moderate your comments and forums. Look into using comment services to improve the quality of engagement on your site. Ask your users to report trolls and call them out for polluting the conversation.”

What would be “an appropriate response” to these cyber bullies?

99Designs should create a button to turn off comments on your contest, to report comments, and to BLOCK designers from commenting on your contest.


Why not ban the designer from commenting on a contest unless it’s related to a design they submitted?

Or just ban them, period? This will promote accountability. Show them that bad behavior will not be tolerated, as it violates the 99designs terms of service?

From the response I got, I don’t think they are going to do anything about this. They simply say “Proper action will be taken when needed” and they never say what that action will be. They never say who is following up, or what is happening. It’s the worst form of passive corporate speak I can think of, like something is happening in a parallel universe where human beings do not exist.

Because I didn’t like the trolls comments, the only option available to me was to close the contest.

Which I did.

So if you’d like to make a foreign designer on 99designs mad, then simply tell them US designers preferred. You’ll get abuse and you won’t be able to do anything about it.

Have you gotten comment trolling on your design contests? What did YOU do about it, if so?

This will be the last time I use 99designs.

I suggest that you find somewhere else to get your nonprofit designs made.

If you are a nonprofit, will do your designs for free. And they do a fabulous job.

3 responses on “What to do about Comment Trolling on 99Designs

  1. Tim T says:

    Mazarine you are 100% in the right to state your preferences of who should enter your contest. Steve hit it on the nose with the Buy American comment. I’ve been a designer on 99designs for 6 years and I come across some Jerks every couple of weeks. I ignore them and carry on. If they didn’t like your comment there are 600+ contests going on at any given time that they can enter instead. Hopefully you’ll try 99designs again in the future because wherever you go someone is going to be a jerk.


  2. Mazarine says:

    Thank you Steve.
    I appreciate that.


  3. Steve says:

    Preferring an American designer isn’t racist, chauvinist, or anything else. It’s fine, and OK, and normal and appropriate, to want your design payment to go to someone in your country. Remember when “Buy American” was a thing? This is just another form of that. You don’t even need to use language as a justification…you just want to buy American.

    The people who ganged up on you are jerks, and this is a good warning about that site.