Dealing with Negativity on the Internet

I have some surprising news to tell you: Not everyone in this world is going to like you.

Shocking, I know.

And here’s something even more mind-blowing: Eventually, you’re going to piss somebody off. Maybe to the point that they don’t know how to react with anything other than stabs and insults.

If you’ve spent any time on the Internet, you’ve probably seen this for yourself. And if you’ve ever posted anything online, whether it was a full-length article, a paragraph-long Facebook status, or a short comment, it’s likely that you’ve been the recipient of Internet hate.

As someone who spends a considerable amount of time online sharing my personal opinions and feelings, I’ve had to deal with my fair share of trolls. And as a very non-confrontational person, it’s something that took me a long time to adjust to. In fact, there are still times where I struggle with dealing with this negativity.

But here’s the good news – there are ways to handle these “critics” without losing your sense of self. You can deal with disapproval with tact and grace, and it can actually be used to your advantage.

Don’t Fight Fire With Fire

I still remember the very first Google+ post that I ever made. It was simple, unobtrusive, unremarkable. The basis of it was an explanation of why I joined Google+ and an invitation for other users to comment and get to know me. It couldn’t have been more than two paragraphs long.

It ended up being much more successful than I could have ever imagined. The post hit What’s Hot and garnered over 400 +1s and 200 comments. As simple a post as it was, it didn’t take long for someone to comment with something derogatory. This particular user (who had never read any of my works at this point) felt the need to say that I had no talent, and that I was only getting attention because I was being promoted by several Google+ “power users”.

To be completely honest, it stung. I was riding a three-day high of compliments and well wishes, and that one comment was enough to deflate me and bring me back to Earth. I was confused and hurt – what if he was right? What if I wouldn’t have been successful on my own? Did I really need to attribute everything to those who had helped me?

At this point, I had two options: First, I could sling some mud myself. I could tell this man, with only a handful of followers, that he apparently didn’t have anything better to do than to tear other people down. I could ask him how successful he was, seeing as none of his posts had gained more than 5 +1s. In short, I could sink to his level.

Or, I could answer him with respect and kindness.

That’s what I did. I informed him that I was sorry for his opinion of me, and that I hoped to prove him wrong in the future. I encouraged him to keep a watch on the content that I would be producing, and told him that I would love for him to watch me progress. I left a comment that my mother would be proud of.

He responded with yet another snide remark.

Here’s my first bit of advice for those of you who will ever have to deal with hateful people on the Internet: always, always, always respond with respect and tact. 99.9% of Internet haters are merely commenting in order to get a rise out of somebody. They’re the same types of people that shove kids around on the playground and laugh, hoping to find some sort of childish joy that will fill whatever holes are in their hearts. The minute you snipe back, you’re giving them exactly what they want – to bring yourself down and sacrifice your self-confidence and professionalism.

So rather than give them a taste of their own medicine, be the bigger person. This is one instance where the clichéd Golden Rule is applicable and advised.

But alas, this is not an ideal world we live in, and sometimes turning the other cheek isn’t enough to satisfy certain individuals. As seen in my little anecdote, even after two respectful responses, the antagonist refused to drop the act and continued to reply in ill-mannered ways. So here’s my second piece of advice: Never, never, never allow yourself to become a doormat.

If anything, this has been one of the hardest lessons for me to learn. By instinct, I try to avoid conflict whenever possible (though this doesn’t necessarily include debates and playful arguments with those I’m close with – I absolutely relish those), and it took me awhile to disregard the reflex to put myself down in order to make someone else feel better.

But whether or not you’re a natural instigator or a placatory introvert like myself, it’s never okay to be so submissive that you end up sacrificing who you are and what you believe in. When the aforementioned troll continued to be disrespectful, I was fortunate enough to have several users speak up on my behalf. Since then, there have been many instances where it was up to me to take up for myself. And while there is certainly a way to do this with poise, there comes a time where feistiness comes in handy as well.

And sometimes, even these two steps don’t seem to suffice. Which leads me to my next piece of advice…

Don’t Be Afraid to Use the Block Button

Yep. Yet another hard-learned lesson in my journey of content writing. I have always considered the “block” feature of any instant messager or social network to be severe and unnecessary. Prior to my experiences on Google+, I’ve never really had a need to utilize it. (Disclaimer, because I know people will take offense to that: I’ve never had a large following that consists of thousands of people I don’t know on any other social media site, either.)

Unfortunately, that is no longer the case. To date, I am proud to say that I have only had to block one person. However, that is actually a rarity amongst those who have hundreds to thousands of followers. And taking the action to block this person definitely wasn’t easy for me, either. I felt guilt-ridden for days, even though it was wholly necessary.

Why did I feel the need to block this person, you ask? The interactions started off on the wrong foot to begin with. The user first contacted me to offer to purchase a (rather expensive) gift for me, one that I had jokingly mentioned I was considering buying in an earlier public post. Here I am, still adjusting to having strangers know my name and interact with me on a daily basis, and some random person wants to send me a gift? While I was flattered, something about it felt strange to me. I politely declined and thanked the user for the kind offer.

From there, it was all downhill. I began noticing this user commenting on several of my posts – mostly benign stuff at first, but there was always a slight undercurrent of sarcasm or disapproval. In case you haven’t noticed, it is very hard to judge people over the Internet, especially when it comes to their senses of humor. I brushed it off – I had bigger fish to fry.

It didn’t stop there. Pretty soon, this user was commenting on all of my biggest posts, primarily the ones where I was sharing my newest articles and fostering communication. Keep in mind that all of this was occurring while I was still establishing myself as a respectable content writer – something that isn’t so easy, both at my age and as a female. The main problem was this: every time this user commented, it was to starkly disagree with me in an extremely condescending way.

Now, please know that I am by no means implying that I have a problem with people disagreeing with me. I am not a proud person, and especially in my early days, I was constantly looking out for ways to improve and become a better Google+ user and content writer. When someone made suggestions to me, or found flaws in my argument (whether that person was justified or not), I eagerly took the bait. I don’t think I will ever reach a point where I consider myself to be above anyone’s recommendations (or at least the consideration of them).

The problem was that every time this user disagreed, he wasn’t doing so to have a friendly debate. He didn’t offer to defend his own opinions, or to show why he was right and why I was wrong. He would state the exact opposite of what I had spent several hours arguing for, make some underhanded remark about my inexperience or naivety, and that was it.

I’m sure you’re reading this with the impression that I blocked this user because I was tired of having my abilities and talents questioned, or because it became irritating to continually ask this user to explain his viewpoints in a polite manner (when I felt like cursing instead), or because standing up for myself just wasn’t effective enough. If so, you’re partially right – I’ll be the first to say that this particular user was an absolute thorn in my side.

But when it comes down to it, that wasn’t the primary reason that I blocked him. No matter the level of my annoyance, the consequences of blocking someone didn’t become any less severe to me. When you block a user, you’re preventing that person from seeing your successes, your failures, your growth. You’re keeping that user from reaching out to you for an insult or an apology. And while the block feature is obviously reversible, it’s still quite a statement in itself.

No, the main reason why I blocked this user is because every time he commented, it would completely halt engagement. He had a special knack for derailing a conversation, causing it to nose-dive into the ground and burst into flames. Even on my best pieces of content, a comment from him would always cause the conversation to be over as quickly as it had begun. And really, who could blame everyone else for backing away from the dumpster fire?

That’s why I had to block him. And that’s why my next piece of advice to you is this: If anyone ever begins interfering with your hard work, block that person. Simple as that. Obviously, the same logic applies to anyone who threatens you, frightens you, or makes you feel uncomfortable. It’s much easier to go back and unblock someone than to one day wish you had taken action. I know that not everyone who will read this works online, but there’s still a lesson to learn here. When you come across someone who causes that deep, unsettling knot in your stomach, it’s probably better to be safe than sorry. Your instincts are usually correct – don’t be afraid to trust them.

Don’t Write Off Criticism as “Hate”

My final piece of advice on the topic of Internet negativity is this: don’t allow yourself to become so sensitive that you immediately disregard constructive criticism as some faceless Internet goblin that’s trying to bring you down. It’s extremely easy to become immune to the random users who may comment on posts and have something negative or irrelevant to say. I get it – I’ve been there.

But one thing I have learned on Google+ this year is that there are countless “diamonds in the rough”, so to speak, that can easily be overlooked. Not everyone has the ability to present themselves or their thoughts in the most eloquent way. In fact, you will find very few people who can communicate with strangers in an articulate way! Regardless, that doesn’t mean that these people don’t have something extremely valuable to say. Maybe they aren’t experts on the arts of search ranking and marketing. Maybe they have little to no experience with writing at length. That doesn’t mean that they don’t have something valuable to contribute to the conversation. We all have different talents, but that doesn’t make one of them more esteemed than the other.

I mainly mention this because I have seen several people on Google+ (yes, even power users) immediately shut down other users who may comment with an opposing viewpoint or a suggestion, especially if those users aren’t established names or have poor English. I know far too many people who take any little disagreement to be a full-fledged attack, shutting it down with the excuse, “oh, he’s just being a hater”.

Acknowledge Your Opponents For Who They Are

Here’s the thing – all of these lessons can be learned outside of the Internet as well. Even though they are far more prevalent online for a number of reasons (such as the ease of conversation between people all over the world, and the option of hiding behind anonymity), these are situations that you could just as easily encounter in the workplace, or in the PTA, or on a sports team. And while there’s sadly no “block” button in real life, there are still ways to handle things without becoming a tyrant or a jerk.

Basically, all of my advice can be summed up into this one truth: no matter how awful someone can be, always remember that your “hater” is a person, made of flesh and bones and blood, just like you. He or she feels the same emotions as you, breathes the same air as you, and deals with the same universal human struggles as you do. And while that person chooses to handle situations in different ways than you do, you will undoubtedly be rewarded by remembering that.

People aren’t always going to like you. You’re going to end up pissing someone off. And you’re definitely going to encounter somebody that drives you up the wall.

But fear not! You have plenty of options and ways to compose yourself as a compassionate and professional person. And when all that good karma comes back to kiss you on the cheek, you’re going to sit back, smile, and prosper.

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