It’s not a secret that people are mean on the internet and, if you live your life online in any appreciable way, you are most likely going to experience some sort of online harassment, and it will most likely suck. There are, however, some steps you can take to bounce back.
Photo by Adikos.
Online harassment happens, but you don’t have to ruin your day. As a woman who has existed in a visible way on this world wide web for some time now, I have developed a few strategies for not letting the bastards get me down, and I will share them with you here.
Strategy #1: Block, Delete, Report
Great news: Even if you make your money by being visible on the internet, it isn’t your job to get yelled at about your appearance, sexual orientation, or even the quality of your work. If someone wants to offer “constructive criticism” that is actually constructive (and polite), fine, hear them out and have an adult conversation about it. But if someone just wants to ruin your day by talking crap, you are under no obligation to put up with that.
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A former editor once put it to me this way: If a person walked in off the street into a place of business and started yelling at an employee about how they were stupid, ugly, fat and unlovable, and how they were bringing the quality of this particular establishment down by merely existing, they would be escorted out and (most likely) barred from entering that establishment.
Conversely, having a Twitter account or blog is not — despite what people may tell you — an open invitation for people to be crappy to you. This even extends to Facebook, and that dude from high school who says he “just loves a good debate”. It’s your damn account, and you are free to curate the content on it as you please. So block the profiles with default icons, delete comments, and report anything that’s truly disturbing.
Strategy #2: Make a Joke out of It
First, it lets me take something that was meant to upset me and repackage it into something that boosts my online presence. It also gives my friends material for witty jokes and observations, which takes the power out of it almost entirely. I have never shared a mean comment that resulted in a friend or family member saying, “Actually, they have a point,” and it always helps to have someone else confirm that the ridiculous thing someone said to you is, in fact, ridiculous.
Strategy #3: Log Off
This may sound overly simplistic, but getting outside always helps, even when you are pretty sure it will not. Early on in my online writing career, I upset a very upsettable corner of the internet, and received a fair amount of verbal abuse regarding my appearance, intelligence and (oddly, because the subject in question was completely unrelated) blow job skills. I wasn’t handling it that well, and instead of blocking the angry men and staying off Twitter for a bit, I compulsively checked my mentions, hands shaking, about five times each hour.
This was a terrible strategy. Luckily, my partner at the time realised what was happening and got me to go on a run along a very nice stretch of water. The run helped, but I very clearly remember looking around at the water, palms and pelicans and thinking, “Nature doesn’t give a crap about what happened on the internet.” That sounds silly, but it made me realise that, though people were saying some truly atrocious things about me, it hadn’t really changed anything tangible. Pelicans still existed (I like them). I still had my job. No one I actually knew or cared about was mad or upset with me. Nothing in my life had actually changed.
Also, just because you know criticism of you is out there, it does not mean you have to read it. Writing about one’s personal life online can make people feel involved in it. This can be very great and very terrible. It has, on the whole, been a pleasant experience for me, but last year, when I was going through my divorce, it was pretty terrible.
One night I decided to Google myself, and wound up on a forum wherein the participants were wildly speculating on why I was suddenly Instagram-ing from a different kitchen, why I hadn’t posted a photo of my husband in a while, and if my shift in career (from lab technician to freelance writer) had been the cause of my (now assumed) divorce. It sucked, there was nothing I could do about it, and it would have been better if I had just not Googled myself. Don’t Google yourself is what I’m saying.
Strategy #4: Focus on the Good Feedback
Most humans are very hard on themselves and, as a result, tend to accept criticism a little too easily. A lot of my friends are writers, and when someone criticises one of them online, my immediate reaction tends to be, “That person is just a troll loser with no life.” My critics however, are almost certainly nuclear physicist supermodels, and “have some valid points”. I also tend to cling to the negative. There could be 30 very happy comments on an article, and I will find and focus on the one telling me I’m going to die alone because I wear overalls or something. (Spoiler alert: We all die alone.) Don’t do this. Instead, believe it when people tell you that you are awesome, and go ahead and assume that your haters are just that: Haters.
You’re never going to please everybody, and trying to do so will make you into a (now insane) very boring human. People are always going to say mean things about other people, but that doesn’t mean you have to accept it, respond to it, or even read it.