This has been a rough year. I’ve seen more virtue signalling online than I ever have before, and there are no signs that it’s going to stop anytime soon. (I predict it will stop after the election, but that’s a matter for another post.)
Lots and lots of people are being criticised for what they say, think, or do, and much of this criticism — perhaps even most of this criticism — is happening online.
People are far more likely to criticise others online than they are in person. When you’re online it’s not as real; there’s a barrier between you and whomever you are speaking with. It feels safer to be critical because, hey, what’s the worst that could happen?
Just because it feels like a safe space where you can criticise someone’s opinions all you want, doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences for your words. There is a human on the other side of the screen who is internalising and reacting to what you’ve said.
Many humans do not respond to criticism well, and I used to be one of them.
I used to take criticism as if it were an attack against my character. And — judging from what I have witnessed on social media — lots of people take criticism as if it’s personal, and then blow up at their critics.
This creates a viscous cycle of bruised egos, vitriol, and then more bruised egos.
And it doesn’t have to.
With a little practice, we can handle online criticism better, and stop this awful cycle before it spirals out of control.
1. Read without judgement.
The first step to dealing with online criticism better is to first read the comment or post without judgement. I know this is hard to do, but it’s well worth your effort to practice.
Take it in, absorb the words, and then read it again to ensure you understand it correctly. It’s entirely possible the comment isn’t meant to be a personal attack, but if you immediately judge the post as being malicious, then you’re just as culpable in any shouting match that ensues.
When you assume the intent is to be hurtful, you go on the defensive, and you begin to react with the intention to protect your bruised ego. And that doesn’t do anybody any good. — Especially your ego.
2. Recognise it’s not about you.
Look, it’s been one hell of a year. We all have a lot going on both internally and externally. We have to deal with the way the world is evolving and unfolding, and we have to somehow process this crazy world.
A lot of people — myself included — aren’t handling things well 100% of the time. We all have moments where we just can’t handle one more thing without losing our shit on the next person who comes near us.
Unfortunately, a lot of that is happening constantly on social media. People are losing their shit left and right. They’re making criticisms and statements they’d never make if they weren’t feeling so wounded by the world.
If someone starts criticising you maliciously, odds are good it’s not actually about you. You just happened to say something that triggered them. And you probably did so unintentionally.
Don’t take their comments personally. Recognise they have other things going on in their lives that you can’t even see. Send them good energy, and engage in the rest of your conversation with the civility and respect that you are owed. Kill them with kindness.
3. Bitch in private.
I do this one a lot, and my husband is probably getting sick of it, but hey…it’s too late to divorce me now. 😉 If you really are upset by something someone said about you, do not, do not, DO NOT, post about it on social media.
Don’t go onto your Facebook and make a passive aggressive post, “Well, I guess I’m just a dumb bitch…”
Do. Not. do that.
For one thing, airing your bullshit publicly makes you look bad. It makes you look immature, petty, self-absorbed, and ego-centric.
Furthermore, you can easily fan the flames and make the whole situation worse.
Imagine you were arguing with someone, and when you calmed down you realised you were being a dick. You’re contemplating how to word your apology when you scroll down your newsfeed and you see a passive-aggressive post that you know is about you.
What are the odds you’d let it go?
Don’t put someone else in that situation. Give people the space to realise they’re wrong, and the room to feel like it’s safe to apologise.
If you really have to bitch, do it in private. Call up your best friend or your Mom. Sit down with your spouse, or vent at your cat. Get it off your chest in private.
Don’t air your dirty laundry.
4. Recognise what’s an opinion and what’s fact.
Everybody has opinions. That’s part of what makes humans, well, humans. We all have opinions about almost everything. And unfortunately we spew our opinions into literally everything we do. In fact, I’m doing it right now in this post. Notice how many opinions are stuffed in here?
I’m willing to bet you didn’t even think to look for what’s an opinion and what’s a fact before I said anything. The fact of the matter is (see what I did there?), is this post is all my opinion. This is an opinion piece.
Opinion pieces rule the internet because in many ways, it’s just one big collective brain dump.
And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. When it comes to dealing with criticism, this is actually a good thing.
Arguing about facts, data, and statistics is very different than arguing about opinions. Facts can be verified and corrected. Opinions cannot. You can tell someone their opinion of you is wrong until the cows come home, but that doesn’t make it wrong for them. It just means you disagree.
Disagreeing with others’ opinions is part of being a grownup. Learn to recognise when someone’s criticism is based in opinion instead of fact because once you can do that, it makes the next and final step a heck of a lot easier.
5. Let it go, man.
Cosmic Calendar from Wikimedia by user Efbrazil.
I want to introduce you to a concept called the Cosmic Calendar, which sounds like it’s wildly off-topic for an article about online criticism, but stick with me here…
The universe is old.
Like…really, really old.
13.8 billion years old, in fact.
The universe is so old that it’s difficult for mere mortals like you or I to wrap our heads around.
The Cosmic Calendar, which was popularised by Carl Sagan, is a way to visualise the age of the universe — all 13.8 billion years — in the calendar for one year.
In this calendar, the Big Bang happened on January 1st. (13.8 billion years ago)
On January 22nd (12.85 billion years ago) the first galaxies were formed.
On March 16th (11 billion years ago) our galaxy the Milky Way was formed.
On September 2nd (4.57 billion years ago) our Solar System was formed.
All multicellular life on the planet Earth came into existence in December, beginning 0.8 billion years ago (or December 5th on the Cosmic Calendar).
Dinosaurs? Dinosaurs appear on the Cosmic Calendar on December 25th — 0.23 billion years ago.
The entirety of human species appears on the Cosmic Calendar on December 31st. The end of the last Ice Age, which was 12,000 years ago, happened on December 31st at 11:59:33pm.
You and I?
Our births, our lives, our deaths…
The lives of every single human we have ever known and ever will know…
The lives of every human who existed in the last 2000 years…
We all appear on the Cosmic Calendar in the last five seconds of the last minute of the last day.
You and I, our loved ones, and even those asshole trolls who are giving you shit on Facebook, are experiencing an extremely small moment of time together.
A moment of time that feels significant to us, but is laughably insignificant in the great scheme of things.
Even more insignificant is online criticism.
It only matters because we think it does. In the grand scheme of things…it doesn’t matter.
And dwelling on things that truly don’t matter only serve to increase our unhappiness.
You don’t need to be loved by everybody. You don’t need to be admired and adored by everybody. You couldn’t be universally loved even if you devoted your entire life to making that happen. You simply cannot control the opinions of others.
Everyone’s opinion is shaped by the unique set of circumstances they experienced throughout their life. You could do everything “right” but if you remind them of a bully from grade school, they may never hold you in high regard. There is no way you could know that, nor could you control that.
And in the end…their opinions do not matter, and their opinions will not help you find happiness.
Let it go.
Read their criticism. Respond calmly and gracefully — if you feel called to respond at all. Take a deep breath, and on your exhale…let it go.
Learn to let go of the opinions internet humans, and you’ll have more time and energy to devote to the things that you can control that will help you find happiness.