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How I deal with haters online
Five rules for when trolls come a-calling
Subscriber Keith Boyd recently emailed me with the following question:
“How do you deal with hate online?
Well, Keith, that’s a hot topic and one I’m happy to answer if my tactics are helpful for others, but with the one caveat that I’m no expert. My experience is also limited. Yes, trolls come after me occasionally, but I’m not their usual target for one simple reason: I’m a white, middle-class, middle-aged guy. The sad truth is that I don’t provide them with much sport. When I’m targeted as a member of a team, my friends and colleagues who are female or non-white bear the brunt of the abuse, which makes my blood boil. When it comes to me, the worst I ever received was someone hoping I got cancer because I’d been commissioned to write a series of children’s books. Usually, the stuff I receive is minor compared to my teammates. Recent videos have dubbed me ‘dull’ (which is most probably true if you’ve ever heard me get into a discussion of the minutia of Doctor Who or the Archers) or ‘arrogant’ (which I try not to be, but as someone who is constantly trying to counter the fact I’m a bag of nerves ninety-nine percent of the time, I can see how my attempts to compensate may come across as a rampaging ego. If I’ve ever appeared arrogant to you, then I apologise. It wasn’t my intention.)
Actually, there was another insult the other day that stood out, a rant that dismissed me as being ‘as masculine as Marilyn Monroe’s little fingernail.’ That one made me hoot. I do hope the fingernail was painted a fabulous shade of red.
So, all that said, how do I handle days when trolls come a-calling?
Nothing anyone says online is any worse than the lies I’ve already told myself.
The first thing to realise is that compared to my inner critic, every troll or hater I’ve met online is a rank amateur. I’ve talked about my imposter syndrome before and let me tell you, it’s a wild beast that is rarely tamed. Nothing anyone says online is any worse than the lies I’ve already told myself. Get in line, my friends. When it comes to knocking my work, I’m waaaaay ahead of you.
Rule One - Stay out of trollville!
My first tactic is to avoid going to places where trolls dwell. I used to love Twitter, but sadly that’s where most vitriol is spewed these days, so I’ve limited my time there. A shame, but why would you go to a place where people randomly shout at you? You wouldn’t do it in real life, so why head there in the virtual world?
There’s also YouTube, of course, but I only really use that to watch tech reviews, decide which action figures will be collecting dust on my shelves, or learn how to fix the washing machine. (My wife is no doubt now reading that last statement and saying: ‘When did that happen?!) I largely avoid the comment sections and have trained the algorithm to wave away angry diatribes whenever possible.
Rule Two - Don’t engage!
If I do stumble upon abuse, I try not to engage with it. In all honesty, there isn’t any point. Most of these folk have already made up their mind about me and, on the whole, aren’t interested in changing their views. Their narrative is set, based largely on personal agenda, politics, or assumptions they’ve already made or heard. A case in point is a YouTuber who regularly makes videos about my comics, stating as fact that I am a ‘far-left Marxist activist.’ They don’t know me, nor do they know my politics. In all honesty, I doubt they even care. The Cavan Scott they’ve created fits their message and I suspect that will never change.
For the record, I class myself as slightly left of centre and only ever identified as Marxist for the short period when I was a 16-year-old who fancied the girl who sold the Socialist Worker at college.
Yes, I believe in a fair world, want politics to be decent on both sides of the house and dream of a future free of bigotry and discrimination. Does that make me an activist? I honestly don’t believe I do enough; my activism is currently limited to posting Labour Party leaflets through doors in local elections. That’s certainly not the impression you get from watching those videos, but that’s because they aren’t actually about me. They’re about the views of the person making the film.
Rule Three - Mash that mute button!
As for other trolls or haters — the kind who turn up in my feed to post ‘TRASH” or the 🤮 emoji — again they don’t know me from Adam. They’ve seen my credits and made assumptions about the projects I work on, usually based on what they’ve been told elsewhere. You know the kind of thing: “Everyone working on this project thinks this… Something, something woke… They all hate X, Y or Z and are part of a massive liberal / far right / secret reptillian conspiracy!” (Delete as applicable.)
Sometimes they don’t really think or care that another human being is reading these posts. They’re just lashing out, wanting a reaction that I don’t have to give them.
In the past, I blocked people who came spoiling for a fight, but these days I just mute. The reason is that it sometimes the block gives them more ammo.
In the early days of The High Republic, there was a lot of online noise. I found myself watching a shedload of videos jam-packed with endless negativity. It certainly wasn’t good for me, but I couldn’t stop. It was like not being able to stop myself from picking a scab even though it hurt. And the more I watched, the more I obsessed about what was said, and the less I worked. So, in a last-ditch act of self-preservation, I blocked a whole host of YouTubers on my social networks. As the cliché goes, it wasn’t actually about them; it was about me. My theory was that if I made it more difficult to stumble upon — or even track down — their videos, I would break the cycle and get back to the job at hand. And it worked. Hurrah!
Sometimes something slips through the net, and, depending on how thick my skin is that day, it either hurts or I brush it off.
And then one of the YouTubers noticed I’d blocked them and made a video about the injustice of the blocking, sending their followers after me. Sigh number one! There were even later claims that I had blocked them before they even knew who I was, which was odd as I only became aware of their work when they posted a video about something I’d said in a press release! Sigh number two!
So these days, I mutey-mute-mute, meaning that they can still say what they want about me; I just won’t see it. Sometimes something slips through the net, and, depending on how thick my skin is that day, it either hurts or I brush it off. And if a message is particularly abusive or threatening (and again, I have to stress this is a rare occurrence these days) I report it to both the social network and also my editors so they’re aware of what’s happening.
Rule Four - Spread the love
So far, most of these tactics are pretty defensive, so what positive steps do I take?
First of all, if I’m caught in a spate of hate, I get offline and go for a walk, play music, or spend time with friends, family and my guinea pigs. Even a nice cup of tea helps. It puts everything back in context. Social media is just a tiny part of my life and, if I’m honest, the least important bit at that.
When I do venture back online, I boost as much positivity as I can, filling my feeds with things I love, the creativity of fans and the accomplishments of my friends and heroes. Hate may be loud, but love always shines brighter.
No amount of angry tweets or abusive videos can stop me from doing what I love. In fact, they only make me want to tell more stories.
Rule Five - Get back to work
And the last tactic is actually my favourite - I create. It’s true what I said; I am a bag of nerves, but I’m also a stubborn old ox. The moment I feel the world is against me, I throw myself into something new or dive back into an existing project, using those doubts and fears to energise my work. No one, from the loudest troll to the most insidious hater, can stop me from doing what gives me joy.
From telling stories.
In a recent interview on the official Succession podcast, actor Brian Cox talked about how acting — the actual day-to-day work — is for him and him alone. The experience of watching the show, of discussing it, of even pulling it apart? That was for the viewers. For the audience. I feel the same. No amount of angry tweets or abusive videos can stop me doing what I love. In fact, they only make me want to tell more stories. Their hate gives me fuel.
I hope that’s been helpful! As always, the comment section is open if you want to share your own experiences and how you deal with online life!
Stay safe out there!