[Editor: Firstly I gotta admit that the reason behind this article is personal. I feel that in my little corner of the internet, that there has been a general uptick in the amount of online negativity and toxic behaviour. Maybe due to a global pandemic or maybe something else entirely? But I wanted to learn more about it and specifically how to deal with it. So I asked the following question to a few artist, who have a large online audience …]
While 99% of comments are positive and feedback is generally uplifting and useful. Sometimes, one negative comment just seems to stick. Human nature being what it is, we often only remember the negative criticism.
So what strategies have you developed to deal with online toxicity and trolls?
As my channel grew, so grew the influx of ill-spirited comments. At some point the anxiety I got from these was so great, that I had to do something: I needed to turn them into art. So I started taking screen shots of the comments. Instead of getting a ‘fight or flight’ response every time a mean, sexist or fascist statement came in, I felt joy – it was like a game of shitty Pokemon.
I asked other creators to join in – Red Means Recording, Noir et Blanc Vie and Simon the Magpie also collected and then read their hate comments on video. I created a tape loop collage out of the collected hate and destroyed that slowly over time, using sandpaper and knives applied to the magnetic tape loop. Hate Loops, which you can find as a video on my channel, was truly cathartic.
Ever since then I feel the freedom to react in whatever way I want to with trolling or simply hateful replies – laugh, sticky, repost to Twitter or simply ban.
Aldo Is Taken
I’m in a « choose love » kind of mindset where I try to refrain from typing that sick comeback line I’ve been mentally working on for 20 minutes. I often feel the urge to justify myself or to attack the Hater, because I know this will provide some instant satisfaction, but ultimately it can only lead to more toxic interactions, so I take a deep breath and I keep on scrolling.
Sometimes I will even heart the comment, that’s how hard I’m choosing love. Once I have completed this cycle I’m usually alright and ready to get emotionally destroyed by the next comment <3
One thing I try to do is think about why the person wrote what they did. I imagine most of the time, they are projecting some other issue or feeling onto you. That helps me not take the words to heart so much.
I’m a sensitive person and don’t really think I have a thick skin, so I find approaching these things from an empathetic or humorous perspective alleviates some of the negative feelings that I might initially feel.
The more extreme the comment, usually the less offensive it actually is, as it heads into absurdity. For the worst, sometimes leaving the comment for others to see and judge, is its own punishment to the person who wrote it. I suppose it’s the ones that play on your own fears and doubts that stick in your mind. But I really have learned from valid negative feedback, even though it hurt to hear, as it has unquestionably helped me improve things. Unjustified praise can make you complacent, and sometimes the negative person has a point, or part of one. But also, you have to acknowledge the universal truth that not EVERYONE will love everything you do all of the time, and so take comfort in that receiving negativity (along with the positives) means that your videos are being found, and watched. “Let the dogs bark, Sancho, for it means we are moving forward.”
One further thought – YouTube’s recommendation algorithm favours videos with high engagement, which includes comments. The reality, both sadly and happily, is that negative comments and ensuing arguments and discussions help your video rank higher. This of course leads to creators who may wish to create negative videos in order to stir up comments, and get views. It’s no different to any other medium in that regard, the choice of how to respond to controversy (namely, whether or not to encourage it) is yours. Either way, it will help you.
Ricard Magnusson (WheelSounds)
As a licensed psychologist I meet people all the time that are sensitive to other peoples’ judgements about them. Even the slightest negative comment, however innocent and well meaning, can feel like a stab in the heart and invoke feelings of rejection.
So what is it that makes certain people so hung up on that one negative comment, even in the face of several positive ones?
There could be several explanations: If you consider the fact that the human species historically has depended on the group for survival, it makes sense that rejection feels almost life threatening, because historically it actually has been! Try fighting off a hungry wild animal on your own…
A common theme in cognitive therapy is cognitive distortions, sometimes referred to as thinking errors. Thinking errors are faulty conclusions by our brain, or a tendency to interpret things in a certain way that might not be true. The mechanics behind this is assumed to be our basic beliefs and assumptions about our self.
If we, for instance, have a basic belief that no one will ever love us, we might be at risk of only seeing the things in life that confirms this belief. So negative comments from others will be more aligned with our basic beliefs, and therefore we tend to focus on those things that confirms our view of the world.
This is a kind of confirmation bias, a tendency to see the things that confirms our pre-existing beliefs.
Another common thinking error is “Mind-reading” – we assume that we know what others are thinking of us, but in reality, it most likely tells more of our own thinking than the other persons’ thoughts… The reality is, we have no idea!
The dilemma with thinking errors is that they happen in a split second, almost like a reflex, out of habit. Our mind is lazy and often cuts corners, it’s more energy efficient and faster than generating new conclusions. Therefore it’s always a considerable effort to think new, more realistic and helpful thoughts. But it gets easier with practice!
Step 1 is identifying your negative thoughts. If someone gives you negative feedback, pay attention to what you think in that moment (for example “I will never make it in the music business” or “this song sucks”).
Step 2 is creating a more helpful thought. Because thoughts aren’t truths, they are just thoughts. We can train ourselves to think more helpful and realistic thoughts. What we do repeatedly will become a habit, so make sure to do the right things!
[Editor: If you want to read more about cognitive distortion, specifically for musicians, here’s a very interesting article about cognitive distortion by Ricard Magnusson over at ProducerHive]
Find Ricards music as WheelSounds on Spotify
I think a lot of the time, people forget there’s an actual human being behind the computer screen, on both sides. And that can be hard to handle when you try to understand why people say such hateful things. There’s no understanding it. For me, my response depends on the severity of the mean comment.
For mild rudeness (someone hates my music) I respond with a “it’s not for everyone! thanks for watching!” and remind myself that a negative comment counts just as much as a positive comment in the YouTube algorithm.
Heavier comments (usually misogynistic) result in a shadow ban from the channel and I go for a walk or spend extra time around my family and friends.
For the heaviest comments — I won’t go into what those entail — I don’t really have a good answer for how to handle those. I’ve had panic attacks from reading those kinds of comments, and I’ve tried to rationalize, understand it, or picture the meanest and unhappiest person writing the comment, but the cruelest and most disgusting threat I’ve ever received happened on a public forum from a husband and father of 3 girls.
I wish I had a better answer for how to respond to stuff like that, but I think talking about it helps, and I’m really grateful for the love and support I get not only from the majority of my audience, but from my fellow artists who have to endure similar things while continuing to create things for other people to enjoy.
I think my bottom line nowadays is “I can’t help everyone”. I’d love to help widen their views, and get out of their malicious habits etc. But there’s just so much one can do. And even if it’s a bit sad to just leave them be, there’s just only so much you can do for people in a commenting section. I think my responsibilities towards myself are more important. To keep myself whole, sane and sound.
I have a sort of “mantra”: If my creation communicates, it’s good enough. Of course I know of my current level, my shortcomings, what I want to improve, what I might never reach etc. But as long as what I’m doing communicates, I can live with all of that. Attacks attack those shortcomings has no value to me anymore. It used to upset me, but now it kinda just washes away.
But to be honest, I’m truly blessed with the finest commenters on the whole Internet. People are usually very thankful and encouraging.
[Editor: This article will be updated whenever new answers find their way to my inbox… Also if you, dear reader, happen to have a way of dealing with internet trolls, then please leave a comment below]