how to deal with internet trolls

There comes a time in every writer’s life when your ass will get chewed out. And if you write for the web, the ass chewing can be particularly brutal and swift.

In the 2+ years that I’ve been writing professionally for the web, I’ve been able to (amazingly) sidestep such an onslaught…until this week.

Tuesday I wrote an article for CLUTCH about the tragic murder of Kasandra Michelle Perkins by her boyfriend, NFL player, Jovan Belcher. When I first heard about the murder-suicide I was overcome with sadness.

To murder your girlfriend, the mother of your newborn child, and then shoot yourself just seemed so incredibly sad and avoidable to me. So much so that I wasn’t going to write about the situation at all because sometimes even I don’t know what to say.

But as the days droned on and I began to read more about the incident, an idea formed in my mind: why are Americans so addicted to guns?

I asked a similar question after the Aurora shootings. Wondered to myself how Chicago would be different if kids handled disputes with their fists instead of 9mms. But the discussion about America’s gun culture and our fixation with violence always gets overshadowed no matter how many people lose their lives.

But there it was again in my mind after hearing of Kasandra’s murder. I couldn’t stop asking myself what if Jovan didn’t a gun?

Sure he could have beat her to death, or he could have strangled her. But those crimes require a level of cruelty that most people just don’t possess. There’s a reason gun crimes have continued to increase, even as other types of crimes have decreased: guns make hurting people—even those you love—less personal.

I mean it is easier to shoot someone than wrap your hands around their neck and wring the life out of them.

But this post isn’t about all that.

It’s about what happens when the internet hates you. Which is exactly what happened after I asked if Kasandra’s murder could have been avoided if Jovan Belcher never owned a gun.

Most people thought I was wrong to discuss guns instead of domestic violence, mental illness, or the fact that young black women are often killed by their partners. And while I agree that those factors may have been involved in Kasandra’s murder, my focus was on the gun. And folks had a problem with that.

The comments on the article ranged from calling it “highly irresponsible” and requesting that it be pulled, to taking personal shots at me and other outlets that I’ve written for, calling the piece “lazily researched” and asserting that I was a “male identified” woman (I don’t even know what this means) who was giving Jovan Belcher a pass for his heinous actions.

To say that the comments were a bit harsh would be an understatement. But instead of allowing the 150+ comments to question my ability as a writer and cause me to slip into a funk, I took them in stride and decided to use it as a teachable moment.

You see, if you write for the web there will come a day when it seems like everyone hates you. They will say you suck as a writer. You’re an idiot. You should close your laptop and find something else to do.

How will you respond?

I’ve seen writers jump into a comments section to furiously defend their article and their position only to give up. Because no matter how hard you argue your point, someone, anyone, will pop up to keep the conflict going. And I’ve also seen writers take to social media to rant about “stupid” readers who obviously had reading comprehension issues because they didn’t get it.

I’ve been there.

I admit I’ve ranted about dumb readers before, but not yesterday. Yesterday I simply read through the comments, joked that it was my day to take a licking, then logged off.

After the fact I took some time to reflect on what was actually being said. See, there are lessons in everything, even in harsh criticism.

So how should you deal if you find yourself being lambasted by angry commenters?

Don’t respond in anger

When folks attack you or your ability to write your first response may be to return the angry jabs. Don’t. You’ll not only waste valuable time responding to some faceless person on the web who has all day to argue, but you’ll make yourself look bad in the process. It’s naive to think everyone will agree with you and shower your with praises. So expect a fair amount of criticism. But when you angrily respond it not only makes you look less professional, but it also signals to others that you may not be ready to deal with the rigors of professional writing.

Look for the lesson

While I disagreed with most commenters that guns weren’t one of the main causes of the tragedy, I agreed that I could have tackled other issues like domestic violence and mental illness before delving into guns. Whenever you encounter criticism, especially an onslaught of harsh criticisms, try to find the lesson. I assure you there will always be one. Perhaps you didn’t state your point as clearly as you thought, or maybe you should have spent more time researching your topic, whatever the case may be, try to use their gripes to better your writing in the future.

Log off

It’s hard to ignore certain attacks, especially when folks come at you personally. But just do it. Adopt what Deepak Chopra calls an attitude of defenselessness. He says that most people spend 99% of their time defending their point and if you stop doing that you’ll sidestep an argument and you’ll free up more time to do the things you enjoy, like write.

Writing for the web isn’t easy. While you have more freedom to write about things you are passionate about, readers also have more avenues to loudly disagree with you.

The relationship between you and your readers can be extremely powerful and can help you create an audience that is willing to support your work. But you have to be able to handle the good days when they love every word that flows from your computer, and the bad one when they hate your guts and aren’t afraid to say it. Be prepared.

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How have you dealt with angry commenters? Please drop me a note to share your experience.

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