2017 has been the most difficult year I have ever spent online. I began the year realizing that I had an unhealthy addiction to Facebook (particularly to arguing with people on Facebook), moved on to receiving tons of unwanted attention after being sucked into a negative campaign targeting someone else, got wrapped up in someone else’s #MeToo, and I helped create a project that became the subject of an online campaign to make it one of the most disliked videos in YouTube history. Having gone through all of that, I wanted to share the things I’ve leaned to help others who might experience similar online turbulence in the future.
- Shut off Social Media. Most people don’t actually need to have active social media accounts, and our social networks have all been set up to demand as much attention from us as possible. This means that as people begin trying to get your attention, the systems are set up to get their messages to you as quickly as possible. You begin receiving notifications, and when you look at your notifications, it is impossible not to see the messages being sent to you. On some social networks, you can set up filters to avoid seeing incoming messages, but that requires you knowing what you need to filter out. On others (see: Facebook Messenger), negativity from strangers is essentially unavoidable. So do yourself a favor and lock down social media for a while – even if just in 24-hour increments.
- Remember Outrage is a 24 Hour Cycle. At a panel discussion at AdColor, I heard activist Deray McKesson say something to the effect that outrage is a 24 hour cycle. It was advice he’d been given from someone else as his social media profile began to rise with the explosion of the Black Lives Matter movement. If you can get through 24 hours of vociferous outrage, people will move onto the next outrage the next day. I think feels truer each day and may be due, in part, to constructs in our social media networks, which both reflect and lead conversations through the display of trending topics. If you can get through 24 hours of intense scrutiny, the next 24 hours will be easier, and so on until the moment has passed.
- Realize This Is A Very Vocal Minority. One of the reasons, online outrage passes so quickly is that the amount of people who are voicing their displeasure is actually very small. Yes, compared to you, a person, the numbers of these squeaky wheels may seem massive. As a proportion of the people online, however, they’re small. As a proportion of the people on any of the social networks, they’re small. Their numbers are small and they will decrease through attrition with each passing day until there are just a few people left whose grudge may never die. When you’re down to that handful of people, it will no longer seem as though it’s you vs. the world.
- Rely on Your Friends and Family. You’ll need something to balance out the negativity you’re experiencing, and the advice and perspectives of trusted friends and family will be of paramount importance. Even if you don’t accommodate any of the negativity, just dealing with it can be exhausting. Talking to your friends and family can be energizing, and they can help you see things, including silver linings, in your situation that may not have been apparent to you. While pep talks help, they can be really useful in helping you with the last of these tips.
- Try to Understand Your Critics. This last tip may be the most difficult and painful thing to pull off, but, for me, it’s been valuable. Without accepting the hate and vitriol as spewed by the online agitators, I try to understand what is driving their anger. I think that keeps me from being to angry at them. In many cases, I find I’m able to say “I understand why they’re upset. They’re wrong, but at least I get it.” In other cases, I’m able to tease out something of value from beneath the pile of rubble that is their tweets, comments, and other negative interactions.
Maybe all of this is second nature to most people, but, having a generally low profile online, I had never really had to deal with the opinions of hordes of people online. I was lucky. As I dealt with some of the more difficult things I handled this year, I had the benefit of advice from friends and co-workers who have to deal with this on a regular basis. Not everyone has access to that, so I hope this can be a resource for anyone else who is about to enter a period of intense unwanted online attention.