3 Quotes to Help You Deal With Online Negativity
One of the (few) downsides of blogging is that if you manage to continue it for any length of time, the chances are that sooner or later you’ll encounter some kind of negative reaction to you or your blog, whether it be in the form of a rude comment, a snide tweet, or the discovery of a forum post dissecting your appearance in the least tactful way possible.
This kind of criticism comes with the territory as a blogger, but it’s something that ‘real life’ doesn’t really prepare you for. Not all criticism is bad, of course, and some of it can actually be helpful: unlike the type of feedback you might be used to getting at work, however, or from people who know you personally, internet criticism isn’t always constructive – in fact, at times it can be harsh to the point of cruelty, which can be very hard to deal with.
The other difference between online and offline criticism, of course, is that the negativity you experience as a blogger is often extremely personal, and is occasionally left as an active attempt to hurt, rather than help, you. I’ve had plenty of feedback from employers, for instance, but I’ve never once had any of them make fun of my personal appearance, call me names, or deliberately try to antagonise me – I have, however, experienced all of that online, and while I consider myself lucky in that it doesn’t happen often, when it does, it’s like a slap in the face.
I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t always deal with criticism as well as I should, and that’s something I know I need to work on. I have, however, developed some techniques to help with it over the years, and most of them can be summed up by these three quotes…
01. NEVER WRESTLE WITH A PIG. YOU GET DIRTY, AND BESIDES, THE PIG LIKES IT.
This quote has been attributed to many people over the years: the most popular “source” seems to be George Bernard Shaw, but honestly, who knows. What’s important, however, isn’t who said it, but what it means, and I should probably just take a minute here to make it clear that I’m not trying to compare people who leave negative comments to “pigs” – eek! Actually, I don’t apply this quote to people who say something that’s simply negative at all: I apply it purely to trolls -i.e. people who are actively trying to antagonise you, for the sole purpose of starting a fight. (And I’m not calling those people pigs either, for the record…)
Trolls come along every now and then, and are usually fairly easy to spot. Where this quote applies is in how you choose to react to them. The fact is that trolls do what they do in order to get attention. They don’t care what kind of attention they get, or who it comes from – they’ll just say anything and everything, in the hope of getting a reaction. For that reason, you should never, ever feed the trolls by giving them the reaction they want. Why? Because, to paraphrase the quote above, when you fight with a troll, you’ll both get dirty: the only difference is, the troll will enjoy it.
I learned this lesson the hard way, from my very first troll. Her comment wasn’t simply negative: it was downright vicious, and I was incredibly upset by it. I hadn’t been blogging for long at that point, and had never had anyone speak to me like that in my life – on the internet or otherwise – so I followed my natural reaction to fight back and defend myself. In retrospect, I actually think my response was fairly measured under the circumstances, but the problem is that when you reduce yourself to arguing with someone online, you WILL end up looking bad – no matter how right you are, or how justified your anger.
In my case, every other commenter on the post agreed that the troll was out of line, and many of them rushed to defend me. I, however, still came out of the episode looking bad, and a couple of readers emailed me to say how disappointed they were by the way I’d handled the situation – which, of course, made me feel even worse.
Those readers were right, though: I shouldn’t have fed the troll. The best way to deal with people like this is to simply ignore them – and, if they persist in trying to cause trouble, to block them from commenting. That way only one person ends up looking bad – and it isn’t you.
02. DO YOU WANT TO BE HAPPY OR DO YOU WANT TO BE RIGHT?
There are plenty of times, of course, when it’s possible to be both happy AND right: the two aren’t mutually exclusive. Sometimes when it comes to blogging, however, there comes a point where you have to decide what’s more important to you: proving a point, or walking away and doing something more productive with your time.
It can be really, really easy to choose the first option. For me, one of the most frustrating things about blogging is the way that it leads people to make assumptions about you – assumptions which aren’t always correct. When that happens – when someone misconstrues something you’ve said, or draws a conclusion about you that just isn’t fair – your natural reaction is to defend yourself: to correct their assumption, and explain yourself better. Because that person is WRONG, dammit! You’re RIGHT, and you WILL prove it!
Of course, sometimes it’s necessary, and even important to step in and correct something that’s blatantly untrue. My best advice, however, is to correct it ONCE, and then drop it. Resist the impulse to keep going back and arguing with the person, no matter how tempting it will be. The reality is that once someone’s made their mind up about something, it can be very difficult to change it – and all too often, you’ll just find yourself wrestling with that proverbial pig. Instead, simply state your case as clearly and politely as you can, then walk away, before you find yourself embroiled in the kind of argument that just leaves everyone involved looking bad. You’ll still be right – but you’ll be a whole lot happier, too.
03. WHAT PEOPLE SAY ABOUT YOU BEHIND YOUR BACK IS NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS (source unknown)
This is one of my favourite quotes relating to blogging, although, of course, it originally had nothing whatsoever to do with blogging! This one relates, not to the comments people might leave on your blog, or on social media, but to the things they say “behind your back” – on other websites or online forums. Most bloggers find out about these conversations from their search referrers: you notice a lot of traffic is coming from a particular website, you click on the link out of curiosity… and you find yourself on some forum, where people are discussing you – and not always nicely, either.
My advice here is to resit the temptation to read the things people say about you “behind your back”. Don’t Google yourself. Don’t click on links which come from forums. If someone tells you you’re being discussed over on X website, don’t go and read it. Just don’t.
Some people might say it’s short-sighted, or even stupid, not to read these things. They’ll point out that criticism can be be good for you: that it can help you to improve. They’re right about that, of course, but the thing is, for criticism to be helpful, it also has to be constructive, and it has to come from someone whose opinion you respect, and who you trust to have your best interests at heart. When criticism comes laced with spite, from an anonymous internet commenter, you have no way of knowing whether it’s fair, or true – sure, they might be saying it to help you (although, if they REALLY wanted to help you, they’d give you the feedback directly), but they might also just be letting off steam by snarking about someone who they don’t expect to see their comments.
When people don’t expect you to see what they’re saying, they don’t hold back: they won’t bother to be tactful or kind, so in order to get useful feedback from their comments, you’ll possibly have to wade through a ton of personal attacks, too – some of which could be directed, not just at you, but at your family, friends, or anyone else who’s appeared on your blog. It takes a very thick skin to be able to deal with that, so if you don’t have that kind of skin (I know I don’t), just don’t go looking for criticism. To quote another well-used phrase, people who listen behind doors rarely hear any good of themselves – so don’t listen behind doors, and don’t concern yourself with the things people say about you behind your back.
If you’re lucky, of course, you’ll never have to deal with personal attacks, or upsetting commentary regarding you or your blog. If you do, though, I hope this post will help you a little – and, as always, if you have any other suggestions on how to deal with online negativity, I’d love to hear them!