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How to Deal with All the Negativity on Twitter

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How to Deal with All the Negativity on Twitter
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A couple of months ago, one actress compared Twitter to a cesspool full of “evil 15-year-olds who don’t know what the hell they’re talking about and have nothing better to do.”

Do the people on Twitter ever get tired of being negative and disrespectful, she wondered. Are they really that miserable?

Well, no they don’t. And yes, they seem to be.

And I get it. Twitter can be a very dark place where the ugliest voices are often the loudest. Some people on Twitter really don’t care at all about who they hurt, whether that person is you or someone else.

I was reminded of this yet again this week, and I ended up tweeting this on Wednesday:

Here’s the thing: It’s very easy to find yourself falling into the river of slime that is Twitter if you aren’t careful.

Every second, people are tweeting out rude, wrong, and racist things. The vast majority of which are nothing but lies. Not to mention the gaslighting.

And not all of it happens right out in the open, though much of it does. Sometimes the deplorable behavior happens behind the scenes in DM as well.

I’ve heard absolute horror stories from women about how badly they get harassed on the platform both publicly and privately with unsolicited dick pics, marriage proposals, and other forms of abusive behavior.

Does it have to be that way?

No.

If you’re thinking it’s time to sign out of Twitter and delete the app from your phone forever, hold on just a second.

As someone who’s profession brings him to spend a lot of time on this platform, I have had to find ways to let Twitter exist in my day to day life, but within a set of rules that keeps it manageable.

In this edition of Friday Focus, I want to share five ways that I have found helps me to deal with negativity on Twitter that hopefully will help you, too.

1. Respond with Kindness

Negative people are sometimes just broken people. It could be they are having a bad day, week, month, year, or life.

There are some feel-good stories about how celebrities like Patton Oswalt and Sarah Silverman turned the tables on trolls by using an unexpected tactic: kindness.

Though these are the edge cases and not the norm. It’s unlikely that this would be everyone’s experience. So bear that in mind before walking into any engagement.

I don’t mean to be pessimistic, just realistic.

You can’t save everyone. If you try, you’ll end up losing yourself.

Engaging with negativity is often more likely to attract more negativity toward you. Which you don’t want.

So if responding with kindness doesn’t work or you aren’t sure if you’re up for the challenge, what’s your next option?

2. Don’t Allow Others to Dictate Your Emotions

Social media is all about right now!

But that doesn’t mean you have to let your immediate emotional response rule you.

Here are a few things that I have done to keep myself in check and be sure I’m not adding fuel to the fire:

Take a Break

I walk away from my computer or put down my phone. It can be extremely hard to not react instantly. But I’ve learned to take a breath and take some time.

I think carefully and logically about what I want to say if I feel I must respond. I always try to be intentional, rather than emotional, with my written words.

I never tweet angry (or whatever emotion I’m feeling). I want to be the adult in the conversation.

As the great prophet Jay-Z once put it: “A wise man told me don’t argue with fools. ‘Cause people from a distance can’t tell who is who.”

Vent Privately

Even if it’s just to myself. Here’s what I do sometimes:

  • Write a tweet, full of all the anger (or insert emotion here) I’m feeling.
  • Read it.
  • Re-read it.
  • Breathe.
  • Realize it likely won’t accomplish what I really want.
  • Delete it.

Expressing my feelings and giving myself the opportunity to respond (though not in real life) can be very cathartic and lets me feel the sense of satisfaction of putting the troll in their place without actually engaging.

Think About the Other Person

It can be dangerous to assume I know what’s going on – in reality, I probably have no idea what the other person is dealing with.

I try to remember that they may be having an off day or off moment. And it is another human (although, we are talking about Twitter, so it could be a robot – and who wants to endlessly argue with robots?)

I find it can be helpful to try to understand that the person is likely reacting to a situation in their own life.

(Though it is important to note, in the case that you decide to try some of these approaches that I use, aggressive/abusive behavior is never OK and should not be dismissed. Taking care of yourself and being sure that you are safe is goal number one.)

Handle it Privately

If I know the person who made me feel bad and I feel that it is safe and comfortable engaging with them, I may send an email or private message to the person, rather than arguing over the issue in a public space.

I’ll provide my facts. Ask questions – never accusing. And I’ll listen to them as well.

People misread intent all the time. Sometimes people forget the power of their 280 characters.

And, if I find that I’m still dealing with negativity, I move on to my next best tactic to shut it down, at least on my end.

3. Don’t Respond to Negativity

These four simple words can be a game-changer.

People have the right to tweet whatever crap they want.

And I have the right to ignore whatever crap they’re tweeting my way.

By not responding to negativity, I am taking power away from someone who wants conflict or to get any kind of reaction or attention.

Trolls don’t want to solve problems. They only want to destroy.

I don’t want to add more negativity to the world – after all, we’re hardly in short supply of that at the moment.

In short, I can choose not to get sucked in by Twitter vampires whose lifeblood is negativity.

Remember that great old jingle from Paul Anka, via “The Simpsons”: Just don’t look.

Now, in some more extreme instances, this still isn’t enough to deal with all the negativity. So then it becomes time for me to get more extreme as well.

How do I go about that?

4. Mute People

Twitter lets you mute notifications from people who:

  • You don’t follow.
  • Who don’t follow you.
  • Have a new account.
  • Have a default profile photo.
  • Haven’t confirmed their email.
  • Haven’t confirmed their phone number.

I’ve definitely noticed that most trolls never use their real name on Twitter. They also don’t use their real face as their profile pic.

While it should be obvious, it’s also so easy to forget: I try to always beware of anyone who hides behind an anonymous handle. Their favorite weapon tends to be their keyboard.

Also, I have learned to watch out for any accounts that feature a villain as their profile pic, as odd as that may sound. If someone is using Emperor Palpatine as their persona, well, you can be pretty safe in assuming the persona is not one who walks on the light side of the Force.

5. Block People

If muting isn’t enough, then I just block.

If blocking isn’t enough, then I report them for abusive behavior.

Freedom of (hate) speech isn’t a right on Twitter. We should never accept it.

So I choose to poof them out of existence and fight back with the tools Twitter has given me.

When It Comes Down to It, Negativity Is a Waste of Time

Twitter is a lot like life. It’s messy and it’s imperfect. But it’s also filled with a lot of amazing people who make all the bad stuff worthwhile (or at least tolerable).

I’ve come to the realization that I get to decide who I interact with and that I am in control of my conversations (for the most part, though as many of you will understand, sometimes professionally we do need to step up to the plate at times we may not really want to).

Quite simply, if some random person came up to me at a party and the first thing he said to me was how much I (or the work I do) sucked, would I engage him? Or would I walk away and ignore him the rest of the time I were there?

For me, the answer is quite clear: I’d walk away. Because, frankly, I’m just done with @ssholes.

They aren’t worth my time. And they shouldn’t be worth yours, either.

I know I’ve got far more important things I should be doing with my time.

So, in closing, and in the spirit of positivity, I hope to see more good and less bad on Twitter in the days ahead. It’s a space I need to participate in. It sure would be nice to have a few less trolls and a lot more cheerleaders and positivity there.

Hope to see you tweeting your positivity out there in the wild soon!


Featured Image Credit: Paulo Bobita

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Danny Goodwin

Executive Editor at Search Engine Journal

Danny Goodwin is Executive Editor of Search Engine Journal. In addition to overseeing SEJ's editorial strategy and managing contributions from ... [Read full bio]

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