How do I get over web bullies and commenters?
September 7, 2010 10:42 AM   Subscribe

As my web profile rises, how do I get over feeling hurt by web commenters and bullies?

I am a journalist and critic on the web. As my profile has risen, so have the number of hurtful comments. Commenters post ad hominem attacks on my writing, criticizing my spelling or grammar. Or they'll go to my personal website or Facebook and make fun of things I've written there, or my appearance (which is why this question's anonymous). A Youtube video of me conducting an interview has comments debating whether or not I'm "doable." I am female, if you haven't guessed.

I've tried brushing it off, but I'm sensitive. And I'm not famous by any means, nor am I so highly-paid that I can comfort myself by thinking other people are just jealous. It's gotten to the point where I'm so self-conscious that I turn down higher-profile gigs because I don't want to be seen or make a fool of myself. I am scared to Google myself because I don't want to see what people have written. I can't avoid them entirely, since I need to keep up with comments on my posts. But I never notice the positive comments, instead, I focus on the negative, anonymous ones. It seems like people hardly ever post positive comments anyway. One or two hurtful comments can ruin my whole day, or several days, where I dwell on it until I cry or can't eat.

So, how do I get over it? I can't usually argue back because the comment is anonymous. Plus I don't want to draw more attention to it (and it's embarrassing to have to defend my looks anyway). But the comment or forum post is there, forever, so I need a way to cope. Book recommendations, self-affirmations, amazing comebacks, triumphant personal stories, or any other pieces of advice are appreciated.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (34 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
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posted by griphus at 10:43 AM on September 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

I am a female professor. Don't google yourself. Nothing good can come out of it.
posted by vincele at 10:47 AM on September 7, 2010 [5 favorites]

As my profile has risen, so have the number of hurtful comments trolls

Look, as long as you appreciate that there are literally millions of people out there with little else to do but declare how clever they are and how only they are the keepers of the truth, or the special insight into WHAT MUST BE DONE, you'll realise that what seems personal and about you is actually impersonal and more about them.

If you doubt me, please read the comments section of, oh, any article in the Daily Mail.

So, how do I get over it? I can't usually argue back because the comment is anonymous

I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it. [George Bernard Shaw]
posted by MuffinMan at 10:48 AM on September 7, 2010 [6 favorites]

Don't allow anonymous comments?
posted by matty at 10:49 AM on September 7, 2010 [3 favorites]

Bear in mind that it is impossible to please everybody. There is literally nothing that you can say or do that won't elicit disapproval from someone. Historically, many of the greatest people in human history have been assassinated. Why would anyone want to kill John Lennon? But someone did. This doesn't mean that you may never receive a legitimate criticism. But legitimate critics are courteous and try to help you to improve, rather than trying to silence you.

It should be beneath your dignity to even respond to an attack based on your appearance when you are engaged in journalism (if you were a fashion model, it would be another matter).

The people who matter are the ones who do understand and appreciate what you are doing. The people who don't understand or appreciate what you are doing don't matter. Ignore them.
posted by grizzled at 10:54 AM on September 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Whenever you have a large enough group of people in one place, it becomes statistically inevitable that you run into people who are rude and inappropriate, and who also say things that are false. Unfortunately, when in the public eye, the group size you are working with is literally the size of everyone who has access to the internet. Comfort yourself by knowing that because of this, you have to be skeptical of any negative comments that you read. By definition, they are not verifiable, as you don't know these people and you don't know their true opinions, or whether their opinions should really matter. And here's the real head trip: simply because you read something, it doesn't mean that was their real opinion! It could simply be that people write things to incite responses, and for no other reason but that. Even assuming that you could read their true intentions, who writes this kind of stuff about other people in this way? Not anyone whose opinion matters, that's who.
posted by SpacemanStix at 10:56 AM on September 7, 2010

You know that image of the fat, hairy guy working on a computer in his underpants? Most of those yahoos are that guy.
posted by geekchic at 10:57 AM on September 7, 2010 [4 favorites]

The best mantra I ever found for this sort of thing is "At the end of the day, I still get to be me, and they still have to be them." I used this a lot when I did front-line technical support, which is a different situation than yours but involved an awful lot of real-time abuse. It's just a recognition and reminder of the fact that anyone who would do something like that is a really, really different kind of person than you are, and your kind of person is better.
posted by KathrynT at 10:58 AM on September 7, 2010 [17 favorites]

Trying to defend your looks to strangers on the internet sounds like a one-way trip to insanity to me. That kind of comment sounds like nothing more than juvenile & sexist attempts to assert dominance over you from anxious boy/men who feel threatened simply by the fact that you have some kind of place in the world that doesn't derive from male authority. You're never going to "win" an argument with this kind of individual.

The only concrete suggestion I have is to try really, really hard not to read the comments in the first place? Youtube is a cesspit (generally), so if you're submitting the videos, turn comments off altogether, or alternatively eliminate them with a suitable greasemonkey script (a quick google turns up several) so that you never have to see them.

When it comes to comments on your own blog, then I'd take a zero-tolerance approach and moderate the hell out of them: Your blog, your rules. If you don't want to read them at all, then could you ask a friend to moderate them for you for bit?

The more general issue of commentary on the wider internet is harder, obviously. There are always going to be people out there who think you suck, even if they're a tiny minority :(
posted by pharm at 11:00 AM on September 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

I do freelance journalism and have an easy-to-find e-mail address, so sometimes I'll get a really profane and insulting e-mail about something I wrote. I always answer these politely. And in just about every case the e-mailer answers my answer in a kind of abashed and reasonable way. I think it's just so EASY to call somebody an idiot on the Internet that people forget there's an actual human who wrote the words they're complaining about.

When somebody calls me an idiot in an online forum, I just presume that they'd react the same way as the people who call me an idiot by e-mail, and that makes it easier to take.
posted by escabeche at 11:01 AM on September 7, 2010 [3 favorites]

This is not gender-specific.

I could show you all kinds of online comments about me that irrelevantly bring up my personal life, my appearance, etc.

The only solution is to ignore them (unless the comment is on a site you moderate, in which case, delete it). Any attention will only encourage them. Also, if you express disapproval or offense in a serious way, they can always pull the "Lighten up, I was just joking!" routine, which would just put you in a worse light.

In short, don't engage with these people on any level.

I wouldn't say "focus on the positive comments!" The problem is, internet comments are generally negative. I hate to say it, but if there's a forum where the norm is to mostly post supportive/positive comments, I'll bet the level of discussion is very vacuous. (It's hard to formulate an intelligent response that's purely positive -- "Great article! Interesting! Keep up the good work!") But negative isn't the same thing as personal. Focus on the substantive comments, whether they're negative or positive.

Finally, as far as your private thoughts about them, look at it this way: How much of a loser does someone need to be to sit around obsessively tracking down and lodging personal insults at a random writer? Why don't they get a life?

And keep in mind these people could be 15 years old (no matter what it says in their profile).
posted by John Cohen at 11:02 AM on September 7, 2010

I've tried brushing it off, but I'm sensitive. ... One or two hurtful comments can ruin my whole day, or several days, where I dwell on it until I cry or can't eat.

This is the problem. As a web journalist and critic, you're going to garner lots of negative feedback no matter what you do, forever, as long as you live and maybe longer if you get prolific enough. There will be people who will disagree with you and everything you say, and hate you for it, and say mean things. That's just bell-curve social interaction.

Lots of people aren't nice, a subset of those people aren't nice to you. That doesn't dehumanize either of you. I don't think we can answer how to not let it get to you without knowing why you keep letting it get to you. The world is a huge place, I'm sure some people out there hate my guts, and maybe a subset of those people want me dead for who knows what reason, but if I let that influence my self-image I'd be doing myself a disservice.
posted by Phyltre at 11:13 AM on September 7, 2010

Could you give me a mefimail/email/throwaway email?
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:14 AM on September 7, 2010

Amy Alkon took a rather direct approach to this problem. You may not want to be that frontal.

In general, I'd say--any blog that has untruths, complete lies about you--email or comment with your own name (and a throwaway address) and set them straight. Don't sockpuppet.

Make your FB page private. And block anon. comments, and delete the mean ones. It's your blog.

Every woman in the web gets her looks discussed. It sucks, but I wouldn't take it personally--it's pro forma for commenters. Drawing attention to how mean they all are might get you a post in Jezebel, but I don't think it's worth it.
posted by Ideefixe at 11:14 AM on September 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

The comments are all about them and not you. The guy criticizing your grammar isn't offering helpful advice, he's saying "I'm an ass I'm an ass I'm an ass." The guy talking about whether you are "doable" is saying "I'm such a loser in real life that I have to try to impress people I don't know by implying my standards are so high that I wouldn't do this random woman on the internet." The woman making fun of your Facebook message is saying, "I want people to know that if I made a Facebook message, it would be much wittier than this one! I am better than this famous person!"

I have a pseudonymous blog and it's been interesting to interact with people and then only much later find out who they are. There was a guy who started making comments that politely disagreed with what I wrote and then started getting less polite and kind of aggressive. If I'd assumed what he was writing about me and my beliefs was true, it would have been pretty hard, but I was pretty sure I was right so I didn't let it bother me. It was only much later that I found out he's a seriously messed up guy who is not only extremely verbally abusive on other blogs but got into some serious stalkerish creepy-as-fuck sexual comments about a young female blogger 40-50 years his junior. He now has a website that talks about his family and his history and his beliefs and he's just an actual crazy person. His comments had nothing to do with the quality of my writing or my arguments and everything to do with his crazy.
posted by callmejay at 11:17 AM on September 7, 2010

You might want to read what Teresa Nielsen Hayden says about comment moderation.

The takeaway is - you aren't required to tolerate abusive comments on websites or spaces you own and maintain. THat means delete the trolls on your site, on the Youtube videos you upload, and on your facebook page. Delete them. If they send you email, delete it. And really, really delete it.

On places where you can't control the commenting - don't read it. If you're worried about something truly libelous being posted, then enlist a trusted friend. I have an attorney friend who does what he calls 'compliance checks' for me. I got him involved to write a letter to send to an internet forum where people were stating I had been arrested, had been charged with certain crimes, and making fairly serious allegations about me. All it took was one letter from that friend and that stuff gets deleted without even having to ask about it. He doesn't even tell me what he sees, if he sees anything, he either deals with it or moves on.

You have to not read it. And remember that whether or not a man (or woman) deems you fuck-worthy does not validate nor negate your existence. Which is what posts about your looks mean. It is about power. It is someone wielding the only power they feel that they have to try to minimize you.

Don't let them.
posted by micawber at 11:22 AM on September 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

Make your FB page private. And block anon. comments, and delete the mean ones. It's your blog.

Definitely make your Facebook page private. However, a lot of people are mentioning her "blog." I'm not seeing anywhere in her question where she refers to a blog. She said she's an increasingly prominent online journalist. Maybe she writes for a big media site and doesn't control the comments section.

However, if it's your blog, then there's no issue aside from your own private thoughts. If you have administrative rights, automatically delete any halfway inappropriate comment. If you need to stop and think about whether it's delete-worthy, err on the side of deleting. Don't worry about hurting their feelings -- they know they're being inappropriate. Or, if they don't, they'll learn once you start deleting.
posted by John Cohen at 11:30 AM on September 7, 2010

At the end of the day, it's a game you play in your own head. You can't stop shitty comments, and you can't defeat them by engaging the commenters. You need a thick skin--but it's not really helpful to say "have a thick skin", is it? The question is how you get that thick skin towards shitty Internet attention.

One way is to simply dismiss the negative attention as desperate pleas for attention or a reaction or any response at all from a bunch of basement dwelling trolls.

Another way is to remind yourself that you can tell a lot about a person by the quality of their enemies. Then be insulted that your enemies are just a bunch of anonymous trolls, and resolve to take those higher profile gigs in an effort to cultivate a better class of enemy--say, someone willing to sign their name to their criticisms.

Remind yourself of the Greater Internet Fuckwad theory.

And lastly, remember that a bunch of shitty attention from a large number of faceless people doesn't matter at all in your daily life or to the circle of people who are you immediate community. It's a lot of noise without impact, except when you allow it to have impact. So don't.
posted by fatbird at 11:32 AM on September 7, 2010

Anytime you have contact with the general public -- whether it's blogging or working retail or anything else -- there will be assholes. Lots of them. They can't be avoided without going to a different line of work. This is why I abandoned public service years ago and took a desk job.

In a way, you're lucky because all this is easily avoided: You can just stop googling yourself and going to sites where this criticism is happening. You can also turn off anonymous commenting.
posted by coolguymichael at 11:33 AM on September 7, 2010

You might find mindfulness meditation helpful for calming yourself. The ugly comments won't stop, so you need to find a way to have a healthier reaction to them than being upset for days.

A couple things that might also be helpful:

See if you can negotiate for only non-anonymous comments to be allowed on your posts. See if you can post comment guidelines and delete the comments that break those guidelines (or have someone do it for you).

Start responding to valid criticism if you don't already. If someone writes a thoughtful critique of something you post, respond to it. No one will bat an eyelash if you ignore horrible youtube comments, but you will really stand out if you take the time--occasionally--to respond to civil criticism in a respectful and engaging way. This will also give you extra credibility if/when you begin to delete comments that are simply ugly.
posted by Meg_Murry at 11:37 AM on September 7, 2010

And I'm not famous by any means, nor am I so highly-paid that I can comfort myself by thinking other people are just jealous.

Oh, they can still be jealous.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 11:41 AM on September 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

"It's gotten to the point where I'm so self-conscious that I turn down higher-profile gigs because I don't want to be seen or make a fool of myself."

This is a problem. While mean people suck, I'll be honest--if your sensitivity is impeding your career, maybe you need some professional help. Every writer, actor, musician, artist--whatever--has to learn to deal with rejection and criticism (deserved, mean-spirited, unfair.) Living in public means you are exposed, but that doesn't mean that you have to suffer because you and your work are out there.

Have you ever looked into counseling or short term therapy?
posted by Ideefixe at 11:48 AM on September 7, 2010 [3 favorites]

In a sense it's the bloggers dilemna. When you first start off you need to be the small town newspaper, writing copy for absolutely anyone who'll read you.

But after a while, you realise that in trying to please everyone, you're not really satisfying anyone, and that some of that dissatisfaction is going to come back as pure nasty anonymous hatred.

The solution is to identify the part of your readership that has been consistently supportive, and who you've consistently enjoyed writing for, and make them your focus. Write for the people who appreciate you, and who you appreciate.

Then ignore/comment out/or encourage fan vendettas against the rest (only partly joking with the vendetta bit).

Here's hoping it gets better for you, and you get back on track doing what you do well.
posted by Ahab at 11:54 AM on September 7, 2010

The best mantra I ever found for this sort of thing is "At the end of the day, I still get to be me, and they still have to be them." If I could favorite this 10,000 times, I would. Excellent.

But while you're working on improving your level of detachment and Zen-itude about the whole thing (I know it would be very difficult for me), note what Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten says about (most) online comments: It's as though when you order a sirloin steak, it comes with a side of maggots. (The whole column is pretty funny, in case you need a laugh.)
posted by virago at 11:59 AM on September 7, 2010

I note you mention you are a critic?

It might be that the subtext of being critical, regardless of how well you might be implementing that function, is that criticism is OK.

Not everyone has diplomacy, and not everyone who practices it practices it perfectly every time. With all possible respect, I might suggest that your problem is like that of the fellow who paints a big target on his butt and wonders why people are shooting.

It comes with the territory. Access to the internet, with all its readers, is available to people with no more qualifications than having a checkbook or library card. It's far from exclusive.

Visit any yahoo news story's comment section. It's like swimming in microbe soup, except that microbes are generally better educated, more polite, and smarter than the average Yahoo-er. Nothing, nothing, nothing meets with universal approval, and perhaps the real truth is that nearly everything meets with universal disapproval.

Even here at the relatively rarified air of Metafilter, you can be rather rapidly disemboweled by your "superiors". I truly think this is one of the better sites in that regard, and it depends on some hard working moderators.

I wonder if there is a solution other than willfully ignoring comments or counting on the satisfying truth that life is finite, and in a while, it will all be unimportant.

Personally, I think a kind soul bruises easily.
posted by FauxScot at 12:00 PM on September 7, 2010

i truly used to care what people thought and said about me, then I realized that people who point and giggle are either in high school (or below) or never left high school. And that includes people who point and giggle online. In other words, they're immature. So why should I care what they think? I've adopted a "screw them" attitude and it works for me - most of the time. Sometimes I have to take a minute to remind myself that i don't care about the opinions of immature people with high school mentalities. It's not easy and it takes some time too stop and remind yourself that they really don't matter in the greater scheme of things, but eventually it can be done.
posted by patheral at 12:06 PM on September 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Katt Williams put it best:

"Live your m'fing life. Get your hustle on. Understand people are gonna hate you regardless. Get that out of your head, that fantasy world where people ain't hating on you. You gotta be grateful. You need haters. WTF you complaining about. WTF do you think a haters job is? To f'ing hate. So let them do their damn job. WTF you complaining about. Ladies if you got 14 women hating on you, you need to figure out how the hell to get to 16 before the summer gets here. WTF you mad about. Fellas, if you got 20 haters, you need 40 of those m'fers. WTF you complaining about. If there are any haters in here right now that don't have anybody to hate on, feel free to hate on me."

I have a public profile and get shit thrown at me all the time, I deal with it by thinking of this quote. People don't get hated on who're invisible.
posted by bobby_newmark at 12:42 PM on September 7, 2010 [11 favorites]

Look, anyone with any visibility gets this sort of crap, deserved or not. You have to realize most of the negativity comes from people who aren't thinking, don't know you, would never say these things to your face, and probably don't even mean them when they type them on a screen. Even the most beautiful and brilliant people on this planet get this kind of crap. Shoot, if Jesus had a blog He'd get hate mail up the wazoo too.

I'm not famous but (ahem) I have gotten my share of negativity my direction. Once I learned to Quit Caring life got MUCH better. Yours will too. Now go get famous!
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:06 PM on September 7, 2010

Oh, one other thing. Remind yourself of this old-but-true saying:

"Any jackass can kick down a barn but it takes a carpenter to build one."

Repeat as needed. It works.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:08 PM on September 7, 2010 [7 favorites]

A young woman I was friendly with a few years ago (but we have since lost touch) has become prominent in her field -- political writing for a well-known US magazine -- and routinely has had stupid, snide comments written about her online as her star has risen. Many of those comments take the form of slagging her off on her looks.

The kicker? She's an over-six-foot-tall, naturally skinny, pretty, former underwear model. (That last part is not widely known.) In other words, she is better-than-average-looking by any pretty much anyone's definition. And yet she gets men making shitty remarks about her looks on the Internet, as some sort of proxy for them shitting on her work or her political beliefs, including right here on MetaFilter, a community where you'd think most of the men would know better.

The obvious conclusion is that men who disagree with you or your writings or your conclusions in any way, or who feel threatened by your success, or jealous, will think it easier to go after your looks than to refute your ideas. It sucks, but I have seen it happen to waaaaay too many "uppity" women who espouse politically unpopular ideas, or who merely deign to rise too far above the kitchen. As an extreme example, you may find Michelle Malkin's far-right politics odious, but if you have ever read some of her blog posts where she publishes the hate mail she receives verbatim, there is such a consistent, vile current of misogyny and racism and constant comments about her looks in so much of it, it's really sickening.
posted by Asparagirl at 2:26 PM on September 7, 2010 [3 favorites]

The best advice about this sort of thing was something I read right here on MetaFilter -- I only wish I could remember who said it to give them proper credit! In any case, it was something like this: "They're not your biscuits, so don't turn on the oven." This has become quite a handy mantra for me -- that and Pema Chodron's "Four Rs," a concept I've probably referenced too much in answering AskMes -- in part because it helped me see the part I play in letting these things get to me. And I mean that not in a blamey way, but in an empowering one -- I have a choice not to turn on the oven! How awesome is that? I don't have to do the work of cooking someone else's shitty biscuits!! I try to remember that when I am confronted with the judgment of people who are long on snark but short on knowing what the hell they're talking about.
posted by mothershock at 2:48 PM on September 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

criticizing my spelling or grammar

i've been in your position on various occasions and all you can do is learn to brush everything ad hominem off—those comments are more about the inner/outer ugliness of the person leaving them than they are about you. especially the anonymous ones! those are the nastiest but after some time, they become the easiest to ignore; you might even come to pity someone who has so much anger and insecurity that they can't own up to their own words on the internet and could never say them to your face.

but: if you're getting paid as a writer and as a critic you HAVE to pay attention to what people say about your spelling and your grammar. if these things are being brought up repeatedly (which in my experience isn't usually part and parcel of the kinds of comments misogynists leave) perhaps they actually do need work.
posted by lia at 3:44 PM on September 7, 2010

: "And I'm not famous by any means, nor am I so highly-paid that I can comfort myself by thinking other people are just jealous."

That doesn't rule out jealousy. Seriously, people can and will be jealous of anything. They may be jealous that you are simply getting attention aruond the web.

As far as random comments about your looks, realize that you're a much better person than them because no polite person would ever say such things about others. Channel Miss Manners.
posted by IndigoRain at 11:25 PM on September 7, 2010

What if you embrace it? Do you have any real-life friends who are also bloggers (or otherwise generate comments on the internet)? Have a monthly party where everyone gets three chances to read their worst comment and then loudly vote and defend your choices to see who can take home the prize. You all might want to drink a lot during this activity. Make up a huge trophy with some witty title and display it proudly when it's your turn to win it. Now, when you read horrible stuff about yourself you will be looking for the worst of the worst so you can win the trophy next month.
posted by CathyG at 7:31 AM on September 9, 2010

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