A few years ago, I was reading this LinkedIn Group thread. They were discussing career advice, but things took a turn for the worse as two “professionals” got into a fight that lasted for dozens of comments.
One unintended personal insult led to another, and it spiraled out of control.
I’d seen this type of petty stuff happen all the time since I first got on the Internet in 2006, across online forums and social media comments, so I was thinking, “Here we go again.”
Each response became an essay. And the funny part is it started with two people who didn’t know each other in real life trying to give career advice.
I have been sucked into stuff like this in the past, and it still occasionally happens. But I’ve gotten better at it. Some influencers say that they have learned from it, so it never happens anymore; I’m skeptical about that. It may be true, but sometimes, you still get sucked in, just not as often.
It is the nature of the internet for this stuff to happen. The key is to leave before it starts snowballing. For my life, it’s usually started by some anonymous jerk with no real face or name, so it’s not typically as dignified as the previous example. There’s often someone posting a nasty, rude, vicious, or very negative comment somewhere on social media. And sometimes, I try to respond to them to give them the benefit of the doubt, respect, empathy, or to show that I engage with my community. Often, they reveal that they are very negative, skeptic, narrow-minded, and ready to hurl as much hurtful things as possible at you.
Some clues to watch out for include the fact that they’re completely anonymous, they’re likely someone who is brand new to your content, and their tone has a subtle or blatant tone of “I hate the world/my life/this, so I’m going to lash out at you.” Avoid trying to reason with them. I learned this the hard way. It turns into a situation where you’re arguing with a wall and gives them more ammo to hurl personal insults.
Two recent examples include an anonymous Instagram comment who didn’t like my repost of a viral video of what going to school in China is like. He clearly never followed my content and began to hurl insults about how I was a communist. Reasoning with him to tell him that I wasn’t the actual creator of this content and that it was a repost didn’t penetrate his mind. After several back and forth that got increasingly vicious, I blocked him.
The second example is an anonymous YouTube subscriber who was dealing with his own dark cloud. He kept hurling vicious personal insults about how I will never amount to anything in my videos, even though I got barely any views (17 views a video). I kept blocking him but he’d create new accounts. I could sometimes guess it was him because he had the same negative energy in his comments. This went on for years, and it made my YouTube journey and passion more difficult to follow, but I eventually realized this was some own issue of his he was dealing with in an unhealthy way. I shouldn’t let this random stranger let his thoughts affect me. When the comments got increasingly unrelated to the topic of my personal development videos and other commentors started sticking up for me, he vanished. Maybe he got bored of it.
According to Ryan Holiday’s book, Confessions of a Media Manipulator, studies have shown that the most virally-evoking emotion is anger. Some people will intentionally evoke controversy for engagement. While Ryan concludes his book in a negative, pessimistic way, I don’t think that means all social media is bad. The book Contagious brings up studies that show that positive emotions like awe can create just as much, if not more, viral content than negative emotions.
The best response is to identify it, don’t let them tempt you, and don’t respond so that they can even start the cycle to begin with. But what about when you need to or should respond? Social media gurus like Gary Vaynerchuk often say you should respond to every comment.
My rule of thumb, from years of experience, is that if you’re sensing signs of ignorance, negativity, narrow-mindedness, toxic mindsets, anonymity early on, stop engaging. If you keep trying to argue or talk to them, they’re not going to change their opinion, they’ll get more negative and personal, which will bring you down a negative cycle that can ruin how you feel the rest of the day, and the person is often willing to go off because they’re anonymous. Just let it go and stop engaging early on. Block them.
There’s various forms of “cyber fighting.” As you can see from the example, ego, protecting your own worth, thinking your dignity or reputation is being assaulted, thinking you are impressive, and defending yourself while throwing your own personal jabs is one trigger. But there are other flavors. For my content, it’s usually someone who has a very negative attitude and narrow-minded beliefs about personal development or the world who wants to lash out at others. Their skepticism or negativity comes out from the first comment they make, which tends to be very toxic or hurtful. Recognize the signs and don’t engage. Avoid drama.