The internet is a scary place. The global stage where the voice of the people does not have a reputation for being friendly. If you have an opinion, be prepared for someone to twist your words, misunderstand you, and fire back with hurtful comments and a hateful heart.
To make matters worse, the reality that what you post could become national news or viral content without your consent is a bit intimidating. We see stories like Jason Russel of Kony 2012 or my wife's article on leggings or even my recent Facebook post about vacations spurring MASSIVE conversations around the world within 24 hours.
With this reality, comes an extreme level of responsibility. For most, it scares them to the point of silence. They retreat to private profiles and believe a small voice is better than public confrontation. The truth is, having an opinion these days is not for the faint of heart. But if you're one of the bold entrepreneurs, thought leaders, or bloggers prepared to brave the fiery darts of the adult bullies of today, then here are my tips on how to handle the haters while maintaining your message.
I've broken my points down into two categories. The first is for responding. I'll share my top two tactics for handling the heat from haters not only on the internet, but inside your mind. The second category is for writing. These two points speak to the art of defensive communication and the strategic anticipation of the offended internet.
1. Your Silence Is More Powerful Than Their Noise
Over the past several years, I've had two death threats and probably 5,000-10,000 hateful comments on social media. I've received emails, physical mail, and even voicemails from people telling me how stupid, ignorant, disgusting, and appalling I am to them.
And while I've been told I have the skin of a rhinoceros, these vicious statements have left scars of my emotions. As I said earlier, online influence is not for the faint of heart.
But over the years, I've learned the best way to respond to such people, is to not. To remind them that I am bigger than their hurtful immaturities and I will use my silence as an instrument of purposeful avoidance of their poor character.
Because if you give them anything, they will take everything.
Haters are like great white sharks, and their targets are like chum (shark food), the more chum you throw at them, the more worked up they get. Stop throwing chum, and there is no reason to stay.
2. We can't control what happens to us, but we can control what happens in us.
The internet is the wild west. There are no "nice police" or even honorable algorithms protecting our emotions from the attacks of others. But even in a seemingly ungovernable arena, we must remember the power we hold. While anything can happen to us, we get to choose what happens in us.
For me, that's been based in empathy for those who say hurtful things. For example, when I see a driver become so frustrated in traffic they begin to yell, raise their hands in the air, or flip off another person, my only emotion is empathy. I think to myself, "Wow... their life must really stink." We must remember that in most cases, negativity is a projection of their story. And whether it's online or in the car, hurt people hurt people.
But I want to take a moment to look deeper into our internal reaction of opposition. I want you to understand the big picture. In reality, haters are actually your heralds announcing that you have arrived at the main stage. Because in my experience, if you're not upsetting someone, it's likely you haven't stood for something.
Playing in the middle is safe. It's where everyone agrees, and nobody needs to lead. It's where people go to make noise at no cost. But push the boundaries of any topic, and the alarm will sound. The key is how we view it. Or more importantly, how we internalize it.
Option #1: Allow their comments to validate your fears. To create a nasty mix of positive and negative that develop a schizophrenic self-esteem and tosses your ability to navigate who you are, what you stand for, and where you're going out the window.
Option #2: Realize that opposition is the sign of influence. And while you thought mountain lions were prowling in your backyard, in reality, they are squirrels and raccoons. The internet can make three critics seem like 3,000. But the truth is, it was three hurt people with too much time on their hands.
At the end of the day, next time someone sends you some hate, don't internalize it. Instead, send them gift card thanking them for signaling that you are accomplishing your mission and that your voice is not in the middle, but out in front.
3. Aim for respect, not recognition.
For Writers: The devil is always in a hurry, and rushed writing is almost never a good idea. As I mentioned above, our words come with immense responsibility. For into today's world, when there are published, they are permanent.
Because of this, I've learned to write with anticipation. To build in clarity, disclaimers, citations, and scapegoats in the event someone tries to twist or misuse my words.
A good practice is this: Write your article as if tomorrow you would be asked to explain it on CNN. This shouldn't change your message, just your approach.
But more importantly, let's discuss article ambition. For me, I aim for respect over recognition. While many people might not agree with me, or even like me, if my words are crafted carefully they often respect me.
But when an article comes from a place of striving. Where the writer "needs" to make a point. Where they must win the conversation. And when they speak with a self-righteous authority that offers no room for rebuttal, it is the kindling to a roaring fire of heated conversation.
Freedom of speech is a great thing. But how we use this gift will determine not only the pace of your influence but the frequency of your backlash. By crafting your words and aiming for respect over recognition, you'll find your message reaches further and your impact is greater.
4. Define Discuss, debate, division, and death.
There are some topics not appropriate for the internet. Throughout history, we've seen conversations occur anywhere from the public forum to the dinner table to behind locked doors. The danger comes when we don't recognize the difference.
As writers, we must define two things: What we stand for and where we should tell people about it. For me, I've made it a rule that topics that cause harsh division or issues I would die for, are typically not best discussed in the open forum with strangers on the internet. I've decided to reserve those conversations for the dinner table, the in-person meeting, or maybe even a small gathering.
I relate it to pre-internet thinking. If you're unsure if the topic should be discussed online, ask yourself, "If I was in 1995, would I be willing to pull out an ad in the newspaper, be interviewed on a large radio show, or appear on national TV for my view on this topic?" If the answer is no for then, then you probably shouldn't post it on the internet today.
The success of this point lives in maturity. Do you have the discernment to orchestrate your message in the appropriate arena? Are you capable of restraint when necessary? Or do you post your dinner table topic in the public forum?
We all have things we care about. And the internet makes us feel as if they should all be shared in the feeds of our social profiles. That just isn't true. There is a time and place for everything. And just like the points we have discussed today, our content decisions have the power to spawn productive conversation or destructive opposition.
What about you? How have you dealt with the haters and offended internet? Any good advice? Let me know in the comments below.
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