A few weeks ago, I bumped into an old friend of mine, a political blogger. I was taken aback when he mentioned to me that he was ready to give it up. "I'm done," he shrugged, his voice defeated. He was fed up with the steady barrage of online criticism that followed each publication. I've heard people complain about the psychological toll of nasty online critics before, and it won't be the last time.
Are online haters sucking the life out of you, too?
Before you retire your keyboard and settle into permanent hibernation, let's take a breath, step back and gain some perspective about online haters. The Internet has forever changed the way we interact with people. For bloggers with a message to share, the Internet is like candy land -- a vast world bursting with sweet opportunity.
Related: How to Handle Social-Media Criticism
Decades ago, if you wanted to share an article or message with the masses, you needed to tap into established news media organizations. They were the gatekeepers, filtering news to the public.
Today, you have untold reach and access to billions of people across the globe. All you need is a laptop and coffee shop with Wi-Fi. However, this opportunity comes at a cost. Your message becomes accessible to a sea of people from diverse backgrounds, with vastly different opinions.
The thing is, negative push back is par for the course. When you cover a topic people care about and have different opinions on, you have to expect some heat. The bolder the message, the more intense it gets. You have to have a strong stomach to be in this business.
When you come across online haters, here are few things to keep in mind before succumbing to your urge to hit back:
1. Distinguish haters from critics.
When we see a dissenting comment pop up on our latest online publication, we cringe and are quick to call them haters. But ask yourself: Do they hate you or do they just disagree with your opinion?
Maybe you are taking their criticism a little too far. If they think your logic is flawed, that's one thing. If they are wishing you pain and suffering, that's entirely another. The latter group has issues you do not want to be dealing with.
Actual haters don't hate you, they hate themselves. These people spew hate for hate's sake -- especially the ones who can't spell and write in ALL CAPS as if they're screaming at the page. Don't let these adult tantrums shake you.
Critics, on the other hand, often make valid points that are worthwhile considering.
2. Don't take it personally.
When people communicate online, they are not interacting with you; they're interacting with a computer screen. The computer is great at disseminating your message to millions, but it's terrible at making the messenger human.
The screen dehumanizes. When people disagree or are threatened by what you post, they don’t react to a person, they react to a screen. The screen doesn’t feel and it doesn’t hurt. This disconnect frees people from their social inhibitions, allowing them to say and do things they would never do to a real live person. They forget that there is a person behind that screen.
So, how do you cope?
Don’t take personally. I guarantee you that most of the negative feedback would not exist if you were face-to-face with the critic. And that's often not because they feel the hate but keep it bottled up. It's because they don't feel the hate.
3. Use it to get better.
It can be a rough world out there and we all need validation. Our egos are so fragile that the minute someone gives us any criticism, we assume they are attacking us. When someone disagrees with you, learn from it. If it hurts, then maybe they hit a nerve. Sometimes, you are upset because they may be correct, even if they are over the top about it.
Think of online criticism as a non-confrontational opportunity for growth. There may be a nugget of truth in there that can make you -- and your work -- better.
4. Humanize yourself.
Remember, your critic is talking to your screen. You'll benefit from showing them that you're human.
Don't retreat into self-pity or retaliate. Rather, respond with grace, class and humility. Explain yourself and your rationale. Don't try to convert them to your point of view. When appropriate, apologize to the critic who didn't find value in your work. Show your humanity. You'll be shocked by how often bullies back down once they get some attention.
Sometimes, they will even write back about how they agree with some of your points, but were in a bad mood. Often, those who seem downright nasty in their online comments are actually decent people who are just flexing a bit of muscle from the comfort and safety of anonymity.
If they don't back down and continue spewing venom, revert back to lesson #2: Don't take it personally. Their rage isn't about you, so don't bother engaging them.
5. Don't focus on the negative.
We know that heat rises; so does hate. Most people that liked your work won't comment on it. They may share your article but most will just enjoy it and move on with their day. But it's more than that. According to Professor Clifford Nass, professor of Communication at Stanford University, we're more likely to remember negative criticism than praise. So, even if you did get positive feedback, you're more inclined to focus on the negative.
I recently wrote an article that received dozens of comments. I read them all. If someone had asked me, I would have said that the feedback was overwhelmingly negative. Later, I checked the post again and there were only four negative comments. Those four stuck with me all day, and the positive feedback faded to the background.
To conclude, online haters are tough to swallow, but that's the reality of playing in a global sandbox, especially from behind a screen. If you throw in the towel, the online haters emerge triumphant, and they'll find someone else to dump on.
The greatest advice I can give fellow writers is to leverage all the feedback -- the good and the bad -- to get better. And of course, to never stop writing.