I would like the reader of this piece to consider it a quaint guide on how to take it easy when receiving harsh and hateful criticism online. There will be much carnage described in the beginning. However, if you persevere and keep reading there’s a positive twist. Then I will summarize my key message in two points. And then the article will end.
My starting premise is this: There’s a lot of hate floating around online discourse and that may frustrate the living Jesus out of you. But it shouldn’t. Online hate is fragile, based on crowd psychology and easily changeable.
Here’s the classic prelude to such articles. Our new reality bla-bla-bla— social media, bla-bla-bla – has become a battleground for a clash of ideas and most importantly emotions.
In the online world there are no solid rules so emotions tend to take over. And when I say emotions it rarely refers to good ones. Well, sometimes good, but in a highly politicized society things tend to be black and white. People tend to derive pleasure from disparaging or criticizing those who don’t live up to their mysteriously rigid standards.
I used to be very sensitive to criticism coming from Facebook, YouTube, etc. I would read comments like “Total idiot” or “Brainless puppet” and would get upset. There were also outright insults with cursing and hardcore smear. The whole experience of criticizing content you don’t like (especially when it’s political and satiric) is like sitting in front of the TV and calling the moving figurines “assholes.” Except – with Facebook, unlike TV – that guy can ‘hear’ you.
I’m pretty sure when Nixon was at the peak of the Watergate scandal people would watch him on TV and curse their asses off. He couldn’t hear it. Not a thing. Nothing. That was the beauty of being on the screen in the 70s – you got low ratings, bad polls, reports on public opinion, but you didn’t get an angry teenager calling you a douchebag on your page, right in your face.
Today, anyone who fails to get in the good graces with any individual online viewer is doomed to receive the full Nixon share of a shit-storm directly aimed at him (or her). It’s right there – on your page, in comments, in “tags” and “mentions.” Sometimes it hurts like a bitch. Sometimes you want to hit back.
My receptors of criticism were still fresh and gentle five years ago when every ‘punch’ would cause me days of being in a bad mood and low self-esteem. And then one day I met all these people. Not at once. But you know, this is Armenia – you literally meet everyone within a matter of a few years.
I met this guy who had called me a “traitor” and a “pinhead” in a bar. The sweetest guy ever. Very humble and friendly. At the end of the day (there were a few of us having beer through a mutual friend) he carefully mentioned he may have voiced “skepticism” over my ideas online. I deliberately said I remembered him very well. I savored every word. It was my little revenge. He blushed and insisted on paying for the beer.
Then there was this other dude who was ruthlessly trashing my videos and articles on Facebook for over a year. I bumped into him at a wedding. Another sweet and totally nice guy. We had a great time sharing jokes and discovering common friends and interests in comedy.
This lady that had called me a “sad clown of the regime” approached me at one of the British Embassy receptions (well, it was actually the U.S. Embassy but I’m trying to cover up identities) and guess what? It turned out we love the same movies and both adore Woody Allen.
Over a period of a few years, I socialized with most of the folks who had spewed so much hate, which ended up turning into love vibes.
I asked one of them, “What made you write such mean stuff with so much hatred instead of just ignoring or disliking?” He said it was not personal. He did not feel he was insulting someone and he simply was “momentarily annoyed” and lashed out – it was merely a brief click on the keyboard.
This is how I figured out that most hate speech floating around is so neatly superficial and is not meant as a fundamentally hateful attitude to you, but is just a way to blow off steam.
No matter what you do, there is always that one person (or people) who is happy to write directly on your page saying that he/she believes you ought to be put to sleep.
The other important thing I understood is that there are intellectuals – actually a minority – who are constantly attacking each other and accusing one another of ruining the world as we know it. In the meantime, these folks coming at each other so hard are actually shipwrecked on an island of intellectualism and shared values, separating them from the majority who simply don’t understand what “discourse” means.
It’s truly ironic to see how people with similar backgrounds are ripping each other apart on historical topics like the French Revolution; the Jacobin Club neglecting the fun fact that they are actually on the same team – the team of people who actually know who the hell the Jacobins were.
The Unexpected Twist
Just keep in mind that at any given moment in time there is always, ALWAYS someone who thinks you’re an asshole. No matter what you do. There is always that one person (or people) who is happy to write directly on your page or any online venue you happen to appear on saying that he/she believes you ought to be put to sleep.
Trust me, as you read this article there’s a good chance someone is pondering over what a lowlife you are. Hell, there are people who think Mother Theresa was a schmuck, not to mention you. Well, I happen to be among them. Very hard to like Mother Theresa after reading Hitchens’ report on how she deprived folks of drugs and contraceptives preferring to consider their suffering as a natural cleanser. Plus, her recent letter unveiled that she did not really believe in God. Horrible bigot that lady. (Did not expect this twist, huh?)
So basically, over the past 5-6 years, I discovered two very important truisms: 1. People who seemingly hate you don’t really hate you. It’s just incredibly easy and sometimes fun to write mean stuff and not feel immediate responsibility. You are bound to discover some really good friends among them later. 2. People fighting each other online are usually people with very similar fundamental values, intellectual level and general aspirations.
So just take it easy and don’t go buying antidepressant chocolate after somebody sends you an angry emoji. Just bide your time till they treat you to some beer later.