March 15, 2020

Dealing with hate when making content online

Content creation

Opinions. Everybody has ‘em. And when you create content online, some people seem to think it’s their duty to make sure their opinion of you (your life/your work/your hair/your voice...) is heard.

It’s exhausting. And if you’re not careful, it can have a huge impact on your mental health.

Even if you’re not a content creator yourself you’ve probably witnessed a creator you love getting hate comments at some stage. We all know it’s to be expected when you put yourself out there for the world to see and judge. It has become a widely recognised truth that the comments section will eventually turn into a cesspool of negativity.

But just because we expect hate, doesn’t mean we should accept it.

As an optimist, I believe the world as a whole can do better. That we can be kinder to each other. And as such, I’ll never accept hate as normal or something that “comes with the territory” of publishing content to the internet. I recognise that it’s something that often happens, but I refuse to accept it as a price I have to pay for having an audience. I don’t deserve that. You don’t deserve that either. No one does.

Constructive criticism vs hate

Let me be clear right off the bat: there is a difference between constructive criticism and negative “hate” comments. Constructive criticism is delivered by someone who cares about you and wants to help you succeed (and honestly, it’s usually given in private rather than in public in the comments section). Hate is pure negativity. It might be wrapped in a “with all due respect” or a “I mean no offence”; but its intent is not to help you. It doesn’t come from someone who actually cares about you improving. Its only purpose is to ruin your day, or to make the writer feel better about themselves (and often it’s both of these things).

Be aware that many a hater will attempt to pass off their negative comment as constructive criticism. It might even be how they justify it to themselves before they hit the Post Comment button. But you’ll know which comments are constructive and which aren't. Trust your gut. And don’t let anyone tell you that “you just can’t accept criticism” when a negative comment has made you feel bad. You’ll know the difference.

How hate feels

The most common advice we hear when it comes to dealing with hate is:

“Just ignore it”

I’ve been guilty of giving this as advice myself in the past. I mean, it is valid advice; you do need to try to ignore it and not take their words too seriously. But I believe this advice misses the heart of the matter, and that is that we’re humans. Humans with feelings.

Logically we know that the commenter is probably jealous or spiteful. We know that we shouldn’t let them get to us. That we should rise above it. We may even know for damn sure that what they’ve said is incorrect and completely unfounded. But none of those things tend to work to stop our very human instant reaction to reading something negative about ourselves. It can feel like a punch in the gut. It can make us feel frustrated, or just downright sad. And in the worst scenarios, when a comment pokes at a sore spot, it can work to exacerbate the way we see a perceived flaw in ourselves.

Eventually, with the right coping mechanisms, we can move on. And that reaction-to-recovery time will speed up the better we get at dealing with hate. But I just wanted you to know that if you’re struggling to “just ignore it” without feeling anything first; you’re not alone. And it’s because you’re human.

That said, let me tell you how I personally deal with hate when it happens.

Step one: Processing

Without a doubt, the hardest hate to recover from is comments that mention a flaw you already see in yourself. Be it your appearance, your voice, your mannerisms... if there’s something you’ve had to work hard on loving about yourself, a negative comment pointing it out can take you right back to square one. When this happens, I find acknowledging the emotion to be helpful. How has this made me feel? Am I sad right now? Frustrated? Angry, even? You should for sure ignore their words and not take them to heart, but ignoring your emotions is never healthy. Allow yourself to feel whatever it is you’re feeling in order to process it.

When I get a comment that makes me feel particularly uncomfortable, I’m prone to screenshotting it and sharing it on Twitter with a little rant. I’ve been told not to do this, because the haters and creeps are wanting attention so I shouldn’t give it to them. That’s probably true, and maybe it’s not super productive. But sometimes I just feel so mad about the unwarranted things men say to me, that I just need to feel the support from others outrage at the comment too. “A problem shared is a problem halved” and all that. Plus, I like shedding light on the sheer amount of creepiness a woman has to deal with on the internet. It’s a lot. And we shouldn’t have to deal with it alone.

Step two: Deleting and blocking

Guess what? You get to choose who is allowed to have their voice heard in your personal space online. And the comments under YOUR video or on YOUR blog, are YOUR space. On YouTube I regularly make use of the “hide user from channel” function when I see a comment I’d rather not have read (this stops any more comments from that user from appearing in your comment section). On Twitter or Instagram, I use the block function to stop anyone who is rude to me from having easy access to seeing my posts in future. There are a lot of accounts on my blocked or hidden lists, because I have a zero-tolerance policy for negativity. I don’t give strangers on the internet the benefit of the doubt and assume that maybe next time they’ll be kinder. Why should I? They chose to take time out of their day to type something negative and send it to me. Why should I assume that next time will be any different? Sure, they might have been having a bad day or be going through a tough time in life and needing to take it out on someone else. But I have to look out for my own mental health first, so I don’t want to take the chance that they could do this again. I do what I can to limit the amount of negativity I have to read about myself online.

It’s up to you, and only you, to decide where your line is. Personally I delete all comments from men that are about my appearance and feel creepy. There’s no hard and fast rule about what is acceptable and what isn’t here. I go with my gut. I also delete comments that make me feel bad about myself, whether they be from people being rude about my work or complaining about an aspect of the video in an absolutely-not-constructive way (actual constructive criticism that comes from a place of caring and kindness is of course acceptable). Again, I go with my gut for this. Did the comment make me feel worse than I did before I read it? Block.

Blocking may feel extreme (especially when you’re trying to grow an audience!) but I promise you that your own mental health and the way you feel about yourself is more important than a vanity metric. And by deleting and blocking, you’re eliminating the possibility of you seeing that specific piece of negativity again. It’s one less piece of hate in the world for others to see when they read your comment section too.

Step three: Moving on

I used to find this step so hard in the beginning. I would think about a negative comment for days afterwards. Especially when the commenter had insulted my intelligence or was being spiteful. I’d feel frustrated that they didn’t understand me, upset that they didn’t like me. I’m like Pam from The Office. I want everyone to like me.

"I hate the idea that someone out there hates me"

I’ve found that the more I process my initial reaction though, the quicker I’m able to move on from it. Sadly too, just like your heart-rate recovery time gets quicker the more you exercise, the more you deal with hate the easier it will be to let it go. And you do have to let it go. Because the haters don’t deserve you expending any more mental energy on them than you already have.

Don’t let the haters stop you from publishing

Letting a concern about the potential for hate hold you back from creating content is like staying in your house 24/7 to avoid being hit by a car. Sure, you’ve eliminated the ability for it to affect you, but you’re missing out on a lot of potential positives too. And the world is missing out on your content; your point of view.

As I said at the start: we can expect hate to happen, but that doesn’t mean we have to accept it. Hopefully hearing about how I deal with it will give you the tools to cope with it if it happens for you too.

And leave a nice comment on your favorite creators YouTube channel, blog or Instagram next time you find yourself enjoying something they’ve created. Dealing with hate is easier when the positive comments far outweigh the negative ones. So do your bit to bring a little lightness to the comment section. Trust me, it will be appreciated.