As someone who first started doing political blogging in 2001, I can tell you that there was once a time when the chances of a regular person being cut to ribbons online for a faux pas were practically zero. As someone who has been deluged with negative comments after building a top 10,000 in the world website, has received numerous death threats and quasi-death threats (i.e. “Someone should slit your throat), has been doxed, has been the target of hit pieces in BuzzFeed and the New York Times, and has literally had thousands of negative tweets aimed at him in a few hours’ time, I can tell you it is no longer like that. YOU, yes you reading this piece, may one day be in the crosshairs of a social media mob because of something you do or say on social media. So, what do you do when it happens?
1. Don’t apologize to the mob
I believe in apologies so much that there’s a chapter in my book 101 Things All Young Adults Should Know that talks about the importance of being willing to say you’re sorry when you mess up. Of course, that’s with your friends, your family, your co-workers, or maybe the person whose shoe you accidentally stepped on.
When social media mobs start yowling for blood because they don’t like a joke you told or they’re offended by some common sentiment you utter, the first thought you may have is, “If I apologize, maybe all of this will go away.” Unfortunately, that is not how it works. To the contrary, an apology is taken as an admission of guilt and evidence that their pressure is working. It’s not about getting an apology for these people; it’s about people with meaningless lives getting a sense of accomplishment by punishing you. Don’t give them the satisfaction. The people who do the best in these situations are inevitably the ones who don’t apologize, aren’t ashamed, and don’t back up one inch.
2. Be prepared to take some losses
The world is full of cowards and people who go along with the crowd. Some of them may be your online “friends,” your social media networks, or even your boss. When the New York Times did a hit piece on me, Twitter pulled all the web page Twitter accounts I own (@rightwingnews, @GrumpySloth1, @Linkiestblog, etc.) without explanation. There was no violation of its rules. Twitter just went along with the crowd. The reality is that people in the middle of social media firestorms do sometimes lose jobs or take temporary hits at their businesses. That may be a shock to the system, but in MOST CASES it’s not really that big of a deal. You lose your job, then you look around and find another one. It may be a setback, usually a minor one, but rarely is it the end of the world. So don’t withdraw from society. Don’t quit. Don’t resign. If other people want to sell you down the river, fine, but don’t do the work of the mob for all of them.
3. Don’t try to reason with them
Social media mobs are made up of outrage junkies. For them, attempting to deal out punishment to someone online lifts their mood and gives meaning to their pointless lives. They don’t care about being fair, about your perspective, or about trying to reach some kind of mutually beneficial understanding. They want to ritually flog you and they expect to take joy in your suffering. The more you suffer, the better they like it. Debate is not suffering. Explaining your thinking is not suffering. Having a discussion with other humans requires a certain amount of good faith that they were are willing to listen, respect your opinion, and change their minds. That’s highly unlikely to happen with members of a social outrage mob. Mute them, block them, or even tell them to screw off if you like, but you’re probably wasting your time trying to have a rational conversation with these people.
4. Don’t take it personally
I will always remember talking to an extraordinarily beautiful woman who was getting trolled over something she had written. One of her trolls had told her that her ears looked weird and apparently, that was a soft spot for her and she was worried about it. So, here we had a stunningly, amazingly beautiful woman with very normal looking ears upset over a random fake comment. Incidentally, this is common. When mobs form, their goal is to hurt and insult you in every way possible and they do. They will attack your looks, your style, your personality, your motives, your family, your everything — and you can have hundreds of people (and/or multiple accounts controlled by the same people) liking really bizarre comments about you that have no bearing in reality. Worse yet, you will typically find that most of your friends WILL NOT rise to your defense. Most will figure you made your bed, so why should they lie in it with you? All this is to be expected. Just let it roll off your back like water off a duck because it really doesn’t have anything to do with you personally. Outrage junkies always need a new fix and whether it’s you or someone else, they just want that sweet outrage.
5. Nothing lasts forever
When hundreds of comments from hate-filled strangers are pouring in, time seems to slow down. Punctuate that with a few death threats and it seems like the attacks are going to last forever. Happily, they don’t. Today these troglodytes are outraged at you, coming up with dumb insults, and then getting all 30 of their fake accounts to like their comment. Tomorrow they will be pissed off at someone else. In a week, most of them will have forgotten your name and whatever you said that made them react like you just nuked Finland. They may hang in a bit longer if whatever set them off stays in the news or they think they have a chance to get you fired, but these are short attention span failures who love to find something new to be upset about. If it bugs you, just log off for a while and go do something more productive than social media, aka almost everything.