Not three words into the new comment on my article and my heart had already dropped into the pit of my stomach. As this particular comment doesn’t deserve to be quoted, let’s just say the reader was not into my sense of humor. To paraphrase, it was something along the lines of, “Oh God, this writer is very dumb and unfunny and also undeserving of love or happiness and while I may have only read the title of this piece, I am remarkably outraged.” And even though it was a ridiculous response to a satire piece I had written, I took it to heart.
I ended up letting an internet troll make me cry.
Flopping myself on my bed, I was determined not to let an internet troll make me cry. But since trying to hold back tears scientifically makes them burst forth more strongly (don’t fact check this), I ended up in fact, letting an internet troll make me cry.
And hear me out! The type of “backlash” I get online for my work is incredibly tame compared to what many women face. It’s likely because I don’t really write anything controversial (not that that is ANY excuse for cruel internet behavior), but it seems that anything can set an internet commenter off. It has to be at least weekly that I see a woman on Twitter dealing with horrible, harassing tweets just for speaking her mind or making a joke (usually both). And I know it happens every single day for many of them.And oh GAHD, Instagram—the hot trash fire of comments runs rampant over there. Every day, I see troves of hateful comments on the accounts of celebrities, beauty bloggers, and basically anyone putting themselves out there. Comments that would send me into a personal crisis tailspin. Comments that make assumptions and judgments on anything from someone’s hair to their parenting to what they’re eating. These comments don’t even sound like the people commenting realize they’re talking about a human being. They truly astound me in their ugliness. And yet, these public figures carry on. Some write back, standing up for themselves, some delete comments or posts entirely, to keep the trolls from taking over. But it seems a lot of them just ignore them entirely.I tweeted something about this last week, saying, “When I see people leaving mean comments on Instagram I’m like, ‘Why don’t you just screenshot and talk shit with your friends like a normal person?’” (P.S. Is it cool to quote your own tweet in an article? Cool.)
There has been much written about the anonymity of the internet, and how that veil empowers people to really unleash their darkest, most merciless thoughts with little-to-zero consequence. And while everyone must decide for themselves how to handle this, I’ve (for the most part) decided to stop reading them entirely.
Yes, this means that I miss out on some kind, lovely comments about things I write. But it mostly means that I can save myself from reading cruel things; things that someone wrote in a few seconds and forgot about right after…but that stick with me for days, weeks. Some might argue that you can learn a lot from your critics. Sure, if they are offering anything constructive. But 9 times out of 10 these comments are just someone using you as an outlet to unleash some of their unhappiness. And I, for one, don’t want to let them use me that way.Back when I was first starting out as a writer, I was lucky to get a handful of comments. And most of them were from my mom. So I was like, “Wahoo! This is it!” But as I started to land pieces at bigger publications, I realized that with more eyes comes more opinions. And with more opinions comes more people flying off the handle and saying unkind things. At first, I would read every single one—glossing past the positive comments and narrowing in on the rant-y, mean ones. I would swear to myself that this was it and I was never writing anything again. And then inevitably, I’d dust myself off and get back on the word-horse (just go with it).
Sure, on some level it helped round me out as a writer. It helped my ego toughen up, and it helped me to not take the negative responses too seriously.
And sure, on some level it helped round me out as a writer. It helped my ego toughen up (something every artist needs), and it helped me to not take the negative responses too seriously (unless there was a rare, valid point made).
Mostly what I realized was that if I continued to read these comments, it wouldn’t make me a better writer or person. It wasn’t making me more brave or kind or smart.
The real feedback that mattered was from my mentors, my editors, my close friends, and family. Because they know me; they can point out where I (often) go wrong, how I maybe could’ve said something differently, why, perhaps, that was insensitive joke to make. You know, things that actually help.I’ll close by saying please don’t stop leaving nice comments on the internet. Not everyone has the same motto as I do, and even if they don’t see it, the trolls might. And putting good out into the world will always matter. I just tweeted to a (sort of) big-time comedian that I loved her snaps. I felt silly throwing my small voice into the hundreds of thousands she hears from and, at first, I wanted to delete it.
But then I thought, “You know what? I bet she gets a lot of shit. And maybe she’ll see this and be encouraged. And maybe that’s just a nice, cool thing to do.”