How to Handle Haters in Social Media

It started innocently enough.

Someone mentioned me in a tweet about a business-related dispute.

I read the tweeter’s bio. I researched the issue. I realized there was nothing meaningful I could do in response.

Then the tweets came more frequently. Three, four and more times a day.

It became harder to ignore the notifications button on my Twitter app. I started to wonder if my non-response strategy was a good idea. In talking with some colleagues in the social space, we concluded that it was.

Still, it was painful being the subject of increasingly negative tweet after tweet. Generally I believe in responding.

This is especially true if it’s a customer, and it’s gratifying to help people solve issues. However, this particular case did not involve a customer.

The same as the schoolyard bully, the best response is often no response. Act indifferently for long enough, and the hater will eventually go away.

But the escalation of hate concerns me. With all of the positive energy surrounding this month’s Women’s Marches around the globe, I was disappointed by the level of vitriol in my Twitter feed.

It reminded me of Ashley Judd’s talk at the TEDWomen talk last fall. One of her tweets at a basketball game a few years ago incited a cyber mob of hate. Yet rather than responding to the haters themselves, she became an activist for a safe and free internet for everyone.

She had, from time to time, tried engaging people. She met with varying degrees of success. One person in particular had a refreshing response and actually apologized.

That made me think beyond the awful posts and comments themselves. What kind of pain must someone be in to post hateful and threatening material? What has happened to them to make them act that way? What are they most afraid of?

A Facebook friend posted recently that she was leaving the platform for a while. She was tired of the negativity and felt the best solution was to step back.

The outpouring of encouraging comments was heartening, including the advice to ignore the haters and focus on the connections with friends and family.

She still chose to take a break. But I hope she’ll be back.

Because we need positive voices. We need realistic optimism. We need civil dialogue.

And we need empathy. That was my takeaway from a bestselling book called Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance. It’s an up close and personal look at rural America – the challenges, the issues, the highs and the lows.

Everyone is dealing with some kind of challenge, whether it’s visible on the outside or not. So be kind. Be caring. Be curious.

This is a strategy that has worked for Gary Vaynerchuk, CEO of VaynerMedia. Like Ashley Judd, he’s engaged haters with respect for their views. He asks questions to better understand the underlying issue.

That’s where your judgment comes in. Should you ignore or engage? Every situation is different, so what might work in one instance may not work in another.

Try seeing things from another point of view. And see where that takes you.

This is also about exercising control where you can. You can’t control the behavior of others, but you can control yourself. This includes your thoughts, your attitudes and your actions.

This concept of empowerment was beautifully expressed in the Academy Award nominated film Hidden Figures. It tells the story of three brilliant African-American women who worked as mathematicians and scientists at NASA in the early 1960s.

These inspiring and accomplished women continually had to decide whether to ignore the slights and snubs of daily life or to speak out and engage others in their struggles.

And thank goodness they did, time and time again, because they changed the course of history in the Space Race.

I couldn’t be more proud that my employer is offering free screenings of the film to students in major U.S. cities. (This is where I remind readers that opinions in this blog are my own.)

The positive actions that we take individually and collectively have the power to change the world.

What are you doing to make a difference?

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Caroline Leach

Hi, I'm Caroline Leach. I help people and organizations tell their stories. I'm a Marketing VP at AT&T, a former Communications VP at DIRECTV and an alum of the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. This blog, Social Media Savvy for Corporate Professionals, shows you how to build your personal brand, advance your career and embrace your future. It helps you promote your employer and your network too. Opinions expressed in this blog are my own. Your comments are welcomed and encouraged. I'd love to hear from you!

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