But now it very much is our problem. Because now we all want attention, and, thanks to the astonishingly infinite reach of every post or picture, we can all get it. Each one of us, whether we have 25 blood-related Facebook friends or 100,000 Twitter followers, is a publisher, producer and personality in our own right. And no matter what you want to say, or share, or do, even if it’s positively saintly in its mission and intention, you are in a position to be snarked at. And you probably will be.
One thing I do is teach talent how to scale their personal media brands — and fear of haters often holds them back. They don’t want to offend; they want people to like them. They’re afraid of critics. And yet, what I tell them is what I’ll tell you right now: Embrace the haters.
I’m not saying you have to like them, but you have to accept them as part of the landscape, which they most certainly are. Because if what you want is large-scale, media success, you’re going to have them. In fact, they can be a sign that you’re doing something right! Because you’re hitting a nerve.
I also realize not everyone wants that much attention or to be a huge star. I get it. But if you do want to make a big splash in your own pond or even rise up through the ranks where you work, again, you’re going to have people who seem to work against you. Online and off.
Fact is, no one is immune to haters — not a movie star, not a Nobel peace prize winner, not your stable older sister and not you. Feedback is one thing, and by definition should come from some qualified source. But entertaining endless snarky, antagonistic or passive aggressive barbs is another. You’ve got to build resilience by expecting it and ignoring as much of it as you can.
For my part, I rarely read the comments section on anything I write, even this one. I’ll glance sometimes, but as soon as things get ugly, I click away. It’s just not worth getting sucked down that rabbit hole.
I give my writer friends the same advice, whenever they feel the urge to jump into the mud pit, dukes up, ready to defend their work. I say: Does Cate Blanchett stand outside some podunk movie theater and defend, or debate, the merits of “Blue Jasmine” (and she got plenty of hate for being in a Woody Allen film to begin with)? Nope. So you don’t need to defend your work, either.
Of course, you care for a reason: You’re wired to. It’s not a weakness; it’s part of being human.
We are mammals who thrive in groups. And so that innate fear of offending, alienating or even just ticking someone off trips a kind of evolutionary alarm that makes us afraid we could be ousted. This is very, very layman science, mind you, but I’d venture to say it’s why we hunger for praise, attention and recognition — and why a whiff of sharp criticism can knock us off our feet. And, arguably, why I walked around my high school in LL Bean knockoff mocassins from Macy’s worrying that I would be found out, and sometimes still do.
The Age of the Troll
Internet trolls are a fairly recent iteration of an ugly human urge: To tear down someone else just because you can. And while we can complain about Youtube and Twitter, the social media landscape didn’t invent the tendency; it simply gave us a borderless playground on which to enact it. But you’ll find plenty of haters in real life, too. Here’s what to keep in mind when facing down four of the most common kinds of haters:
1. The Cynic
She may be a friend from high school whom you only barely granted FB access, and you have lived to regret it. Or she may share your workspace. Either way, this person loves to pinprick every balloon of joy, hope or optimism you float.
She’s the first one to tell you it’s supposed to rain the day you’re going to the beach or to write “must be nice” when you post a picture of a lovely candle-lit dinner. You know why she does it: She’s deeply unhappy and unable to let anyone be happy, either. She’s likely endured some serious disappointment or setback, or just a general, decades long malaise. The worst part is that she thinks she’s wise, or funny, or both. She’s not.
How to handle it: This depends, frankly, on what kind of relationship you want or need to have. If this person is part of your everyday life and it behooves you to keep things on the up, it’s worth killing her with kindness, if just to neutralize some of the acidity. I’ve found what works for these people isn’t trying to out-cynic them (never works). Instead, when the cynic burps up another bit of soggy commentary, shift gears completely: Inquire about something that you know matters to her — her dog, her mother, whatever.
Authentic connection, stripped of any irony or snark, is the best way to prune that discussion. As for cynical FB comments? Skip them. Don’t get into a cynical warfare. If you want to be a little bit passive aggressive yourself, you could like every comment to that post but hers. But maybe that’s just me.
2. The Green-Eyed Monster
The day you came home crying from school, your mother said that that girl was simply jealous of you. And you didn’t believe her. But she was right. In fact, you probably still have a hard time believing anyone could be intimidated by or wish they were you. But trust me, someone is, and does. And that person has locked onto you as her competition. This can mean a weird vibe, cold shoulder, or even some not-so-nice stuff said behind your back. It’s really not about you; it’s about her own insecurities. However, you still feel the effects.
How to handle it: Online, this is usually not a problem, because jealous frenemies don’t tell you what they think of you; they tell other people. Or they just observe, quietly. But in person, well, the weird vibe is uncomfortable. As a result, you tend to avoid this person. I say, do the opposite. Hone in. Be interested. And ask for help.
I once worked with a woman who needed to one-up me all the time. Granted, she’d been in the department first, and I was the newbie, so she had some innate need to guard her territory. If I tried to offer her any kind of help or information, I got an, “I know that already.” I felt like I couldn’t win, and I realized I was going about it all wrong.
So I did the opposite: I went to her for help. And the day I did, the tenor of our relationship changed. Once she was affirmed in her role as “in the know,” which was important to her, she went out of her way to help me. I was no longer a threat in her eyes and the tension dissolved. It doesn’t matter if it was true; our relationship improved and we ended up becoming friends. Once that fear was gone, she could be herself and so could I.
3. The Noodge
Look, this person is harmless. But her comments always drive you up the wall. She takes issue with whatever you post, she gets everyone riled up so that your simple commentary on a recent news story about school uniforms turns into a whole big Facebook pile-on. Why is she doing this? Does she hate you? Because why else would she suck so much time and energy for no good reason? I’ll tell you why: Because she’s bored and your posts are irresistible low-hanging fruit.
As with the Cynic, it’s less about you than it is about her against the world, and right now, that means you. Whereas the Cynic believes she’s world weary and wise, the Noodge may at turns be morally superior, easily offended or both. She’s not so much popping your balloon as she is making an example of you and “all that you represent.” And it’s worth adding that she may very well be a Green Eyed Monster, masquerading as a Noodge. In fact, the only thing that separates a Noodge from a Full-On Troll is that she’s not malicious. She’s all bark, no bite.
How to handle it: Try to resist her Facebook bait. She’s trying to lure you into a thing to scratch an itch; if you give in, she wins. Fact is, even if you can resist her Facebook bait, your friends may not be able to, and as with any party that breaks out in your house, you’re at least partly responsible for making sure nothing gets broken. If you try to ignore, she may get louder, so best to just play moderator and add a “Good point, Stacy, we hear you” and keep on truckin. She really wants one thing: to be heard.
4. The Full-On Troll
Now this is where things get serious. A Full-On Troll is a perfect storm of all of the above, times ten: She (or he, by the way) is cynical, jealous, bored, resentful, even ruthless. Not to mention, usually anonymous, especially since Full-On Trolls tend to work the more public comment forums, from small blogs to major publications to Youtube, that buzzing hive of haters.
Usually you don’t know this person, but it doesn’t mean you don’t care, because they come in and crap all over whatever it is you’ve posted. While the Internet didn’t invent cruelty or hate, it certainly did spawn trolls, who, under the invisible cloak of inscrutable screen names, roam around swinging their snarky, hateful bludgeons, smashing anything in their path.
I saw comedian Tony Deyo perform recently, and he did a bit about his recent and first appearance on Conan. During the sweet afterglow of his late night success, a single jab from one YouTube commenter managed to inspire bitter defensiveness and rage. In response to Tony’s four minutes of fame, this snarky respondent wrote, simply, “Boo, bitch.” “That review was two words long,” recalled Deyo. “And in those two words, he managed to insult me twice.”
How to handle it: In a word, ignore. You will not win in a fight with a Troll. Sure, if you’re bruising for a fight, you can dive in, but chances are, you’ll regret it — and probably lose. The fact that you care about something, anything (namely that which you’re defending), puts you at a disadvantage. Because the Troll cares about nothing. You can even call in reinforcements. But is it worth it? What will you win or prove? Nothing. It will cost you a mega-dose of cortisol and adrenaline, and leave you spent and bloody at the end. There are better ways to spend your time.
Deyo says he fumed over his hater for hours, and went on to recount how he turned the tables on him by — how else? — Googling his hater and inflicting his own breed of trollesque punishment on the guy. This was his attempt to right the scales, to make things even. Which he did, and continues to do, every time he tells that story to a new audience.
And thus the toxin spreads and the hater disease continues to fester. Because the most dangerous thing about engaging with a Troll isn’t that you might get hurt or mad or both — but that you risk becoming one of them.