Should you engage with haters? These creators say no
When someone bullies or attacks you or your brand online it can really take a toll on your mental well-being and prevent you from being the creator you want to be. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
We spoke to three creators who’ve had their share of negative interactions online, and all three are fans of the simplest method of dealing with haters — not engaging at all. Easier said than done, you say? Read on to learn more about why each creator finds stepping away from inflammatory situations allowed them to reflect on their mission and values, and to see online harassment for what it is — unnecessary and unhelpful.
Your community is your beacon
In 2015, when Eden Hagos launched BLACK FOODIE, a website and social media accounts dedicated to celebrating Black food culture, she heard from supporters and fans who were excited about her brand’s mission and who were ready to contribute to the digital community she was building. But Eden also heard from people who didn’t see the value of representing Black voices in the food community. Their criticisms weren’t just negative, but reductive, especially when Eden used her platforms to speak out on social justice issues.
While Eden initially felt a pull to respond to people who left negative comments, she recognized when the feedback was “not rooted in anything real, just trolling.” A telltale sign she was dealing with a hater and not someone with actual constructive criticism: the comments devolved into racist and/or misogynistic attacks.
“Being a woman online, people talk about your appearance, your weight. And unfortunately, it’s part of the game, it’s part of being online,” Eden says. “You open yourself up to a lot of amazing people, but there are people who just want to be mean on the internet.”
Eden will block haters or turn off comments when needed, but there have been times she’s let her community do the work for her. “If I don’t catch a comment that is racist, or implying something racist, followers will catch it and they’ll respond,” she explains. “In that case, I will just leave it up because I think it’s important for people to understand that’s how some people think and this is how we respond.”
Her strong online and IRL community is what gives Eden comfort and strength at the times when the bullies get under her skin. Thinking back to the last time she was frustrated by a hater, Eden recalls she felt better after talking to friends, who allowed her to vent and get perspective about the situation. “Then it’s a lot easier to move past it, because if you get angry, then you just live in that, and it’s toxic, and it’ll distract you from all the good things that are happening within your community and the people who are showing up for you.”
Sticking to her values is key for Eden. It’s easy for her not to engage when feedback is “not relevant to the business, the brand or my interests,” she says. Her advice for creators who get wrapped up and dragged down by negative online interactions: Conserve your energy. “Anybody who’s a hater is not somebody who’s supported you… They wouldn’t have contributed or done anything positive for your community or you.”
Trolling isn’t constructive criticism
Peter-Astrid Kane is the Communications Manager at San Francisco Pride who moonlights as a freelance writer for publications like the Guardian, the San Francisco Chronicle and the Infatuation. Over their 10-year writing career, Peter-Astrid says they’ve experienced a fair share of negativity online, but it’s been minimal in comparison to what they know others experience on an everyday basis.
“Women get 10 times more abuse than people who aren’t women,” Peter-Astrid says. “I haven’t been especially hurled upon, but when it does happen, it just rolls off my back.” Peter-Astrid explains that part of being a writer is accepting that public feedback — both positive and negative — comes with the job. However, they stress there’s a difference between constructive criticism, which they welcome, and just plain hate, which they don’t engage with. “Every once in a while, a journalist or someone I respect will say something critical about what I wrote and it will affect me because I want people to read my work and not think I’m a buffoon,” they say. In those cases, they’ll respond, but 99% of the time, Peter-Astrid is OK with ignoring or muting what they call “energy vampires.”
“When someone harps on something trivial, it’s a will to dominate and delegitimize you as a writer,” Peter-Astrid explains. “You can write a listicle about 10 burrito places and if you leave one off your list, people will say you suck. If you let that bother you, you’ve lost.”
Recently, Peter-Astrid wrote an article about a controversial topic related to transphobia. Peter-Astrid, who recently came out as non-binary and transgender, prepared themselves for online backlash, and even haters bringing up Peter-Astrid’s gender identity to drag them. “They find your existence as an affront and want to shut you up, it’s a raw urge to overpower,” Peter-Astrid says.
Peter-Astrid seldom engages with haters online. Instead, they’ll step away from their computer and take a walk, or “mute” and “unfollow” trolls on social media. On the rare occasion they do respond, Peter-Astrid finds responding in a straightforward, neutral tone can help de-escalate the negativity, and sometimes, they’ll diffuse the situation with humor.
Haters don’t represent what everyone thinks
Stuart Schuffman, a.k.a. Broke-Ass Stuart, is another web creator who may resort to humor when responding to haters, especially when he sees an opportunity to use a good punchline.
“I write for a living, so I’m generally funnier or more clever than [the haters] are. It feels good to hit back sometimes,” he admits.
Being the namesake behind his own Bay Area culture blog, Brokeassstuart.com, means people address the majority of comments at him, for better or worse, and even in cases when he isn’t the author of the piece they’re criticizing. He realizes that naming the website after himself can make him a target, but at the end of the day, he feels it’s nothing to worry about. “If you just don’t like my opinions, you’re the one wasting your time on my page,” he explains.
Stuart has developed a thick skin since he launched the site in 2009, but admits that sometimes, the comments can strike a nerve. “When my San Francisco book came out, the Chronicle did a big spread on holiday shopping with Broke-Ass Stuart. Out of 158 comments, 150 were nasty. At first I was hurt, I thought, what’s wrong with people? But then I thought, all these people are thinking about me, so I think I won this time,” he says.
When haters attack, Stuart is fine with ignoring the comments and stepping away from social media, where he encounters the majority of negativity. “If somebody really wants you to know something, they’ll email you or message you. Commenting is such a low barrier of entry, so many people don’t go one step further to email you,” he says.
Stuart’s words of wisdom for creators who struggle with taking haters to heart: “The people who are the loudest are always the meanest, because when they feel something extreme, it’s easier to be angrier. You have more supporters than you know. It’s important to remember that. The nasty comments are the loudest.”
And Stuart believes the fact he can rile people up means he’s doing something important. “Because what I do matters, it impacts people and makes them feel things. Nobody who’s done anything interesting didn’t have haters.”