Bullies, Trolls and Haters – Dealing with Negativity on Social Media


Let’s face it, if you’re active on social media – either personally or professionally – you’re going to encounter negativity from time to time. Sometimes it’s the result of frustration, a problem that you’re able to resolve. Sometimes it’s perception, the true tone or meaning of a message misconstrued due to the brevity of a tweet. And then other times it’s just flat out negativity. There’s no logic to it, no reason – it just turns out that it’s not your day. In most cases you’d hope to be able to avoid or alleviate such exchanges through the use of logic and compassion, but there are those who are set in their view. Nothing is going to change their minds. And they can hurt, those negative comments, especially when it’s something you put your heart and soul into, something you’re genuinely trying your best to improve. You have to know how to respond, how to deal with negative interactions. But just as importantly, you also need to know when to let it go.

Sticks and Stones

I know how much negative comments can hurt. I had a novel published in 2007, something I’d worked on for years in my spare time, writing nights and on weekends and basically any free gaps I had. Cumulatively, it would have taken hundreds of hours of writing, reading, re-reading, editing, working with the publisher and editor, re-editing, refining, till finally it was at the stage where I felt it was the best it could be. It was a dream of mine to have a book published, amazing to finally have achieved it. But all that time, all that effort, meant little to some who were set to review it:

‘[the novel] tries a bit too hard to impress by following the “boys behaving badly and lashing out at society’s moralistic strictures” template, but we’ve read it all before and it doesn’t offer anything else to this particular sub-genre.’

This is a quote from the first review I read of my book, published in the most respected newspaper for literary content in my home state. It hurt. You can’t imagine how excited I was to get this paper and flick through, the thrill of seeing my book reviewed in print. And I read this.

And there were others.

‘When a novel begins with the line “Troy f—ed up”, you can probably guess its ambition will be to shock and that this is unlikely to be carried out successfully. A ready use of expletives, like shape poems and the liberal application of exclamation marks, are devices that quickly lose their effect and purpose.’

This was from The Australian, a national newspaper. This is what people all over the nation read about my book.

A reviewer on GoodReads was also not overly complimentary:

‘Wanting to be an author myself I figured I should start supporting Australian fiction, so I bought this as it looked interesting and as though it may have something to say. Even though I wasn’t going into it expecting Heart Of Darkness I still came away majorly disappointed. No wonder Aussie fiction doesn’t get much recognition; the characters are 2-D, unbelieveably stereotypical and bland and the story makes no sense.’

This is my work, the result of my labour, and these people are just tearing it apart. There’s a huge temptation to respond, to correct them on their assumptions or criticisms, and I had to go take a walk a few times, just to calm myself down. But this is what happens. And these people aren’t even trolls or bullies, this is their honest opinion of my work. Maybe not constructive, but it’s their thoughts, views they’re totally entitled to express. It’s up to me to deal with it – and yes, it hurts, but that’s how it is.

‘Conation’ – Confrontation Without the ‘Front’

While these were comments on my work – criticisms on what’s, objectively, a product in itself – the type of negativity most common on social media platforms is that which is put out there just to elicit a response. Trolls feed off of negative sentiment and goading whomever they can. Haters might dislike one aspect of your digital persona, then they’ll find fault in everything else. They’ll say things online that they’d never dream of expressing in person, because it’s safe, it’s easy. It’s like when you’re driving and you curse out someone for cutting you off – it’s pretty unlikely you’d express yourself as demonstrably if someone were to cut you off in person.

‘Conation’, is what I’ve called it. It’s confrontation, confronting someone with your comments, but minus the ‘front’, not having to actually front them in person. It’s so much easier to throw a metaphorical punch then leave, so easy to stab a tweet at someone just to get a reaction – and the more prominent you are, the bigger target you become. And more often than not, it’s got nothing to do with you at all – they might dislike your company or products, maybe you look like someone they went to high school with and they just hated them so much. Whatever the reason, it’s important to keep in mind that the vast majority of the time it is not personal, it’s not something you should take to heart. At the end of the day, you have to know what it is that you’re trying to achieve, what your goals are, and know, in yourself, how you’re tracking to achieve them.

The Opinion You Need is Yours

It can be very hard to stop yourself from taking negative comments to heart. Sometimes, even when you’re responding via a brand profile, it’ll feel like the comments are directed at you personally. Sometimes people are so angry and so frustrated that they’ll just take it out on whomever gives them a response – if that happens to be you, there’s not much you can do about it. The thing you have to remember, in all negative interactions, is what you’re seeking to achieve. You should always:

  • Listen to all feedback – Good or bad, doesn’t matter. Analyse what’s been said, absorb it, take from it what you can, then move on as appropriate. Every opinion is worth listening to, regardless of tone or approach
  • Seek to improve what you can (in line with YOUR mission) – That’s the important aspect, knowing what it is you are trying to achieve (or your brand mission, when managing a business identity). As with the critics of my novel, after the initial sting faded, I knew that what I’d done was exactly what I wanted for that book. I’d achieved what I wanted to, and while it’s not for everyone, I’m totally happy with the finished product. Critics are not me, I’m confident that I got my story right
  • Accept that you can’t please everyone – It’s impossible to please every person all of the time. Think about the most famous brands in the world – Apple, for example, is always being bashed, yet they’re still wildly successful. Not everyone’s going to like you or what you produce. Accept it, live with it, and move on. Always come back to what it is you’re seeking to achieve, what you’re doing. If you understand the path you’re on and what you need to do to reach your goals, you’ll be more resilient to the opinions of outside forces

While it’s always important to acknowledge correspondence in social media, you also have to keep in mind that some battles just can’t be won. Be empathetic – everyone has issues in their life, complications that affect them in ways you can’t possibly know or understand. More often than not, negativity is not about you, keep that in mind and respond with kindness, where possible. But also know that some minds can’t be changed. Sometimes you’re better to cultivate the community you have than expend effort on resolution you’re never going to achieve.

And don’t take it to heart. We need different opinions in the world. If we all agreed on everything, it be a pretty stale place.

Post-script – Not all the critics were as harsh. Most reviews of my book were positive, and it sold pretty well, even won a couple of awards, but the positives are far easier to forget – it’s the criticisms that’ll stick with you the most (especially if you let them).

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