Master The Sting: Bulletproofing Against Online Criticism & Vitriol
Dipping My Toe into the Twitter Pond... then Running Away
All Hail: “The Twitter Twat Elon Musk Dick Rider” … apparently that’s me? 🤣
The title will make sense soon folks. Welcome to another issue. Glad to be with you. This one is… a bit different.
It’s been 2 months since I took my first step on the very lonely and uncertain path of ‘Solopreneurship’. For several weeks I’ve been building 2 websites, a community, this newsletter & various social channels necessary to continue to build an audience. Part of the journey is building my presence on LinkedIn and Twitter. An unfortunate, but necessary road in many ways. I have had a LinkedIn for many years, but I was never super active on it. I made my Twitter profile a few weeks ago.
I’m quite literally a ‘former professional’ in Social Media toxicity, language and behavior. I spent 2 years working for a prominent AI content moderation firm. We worked with some very large platforms to help solve instances of online abuse like racism, CSAM (child sexual abuse material), sex trafficking, and many more awful things. So I’m not ‘new’ to the scene of online toxicity. In fact, I’m still recovering from seeing the levels of horridness our species is capable of.
I am new to being active on the platform for my own personal use. Previous to this, I didn’t actively engage on Twitter outside of my work account/searching for leads. Unfortunately (or fortunately), I decided to comment - with a fairly neutral opinion I might add - on the whole Elon Musk affair. A Twitter-employed engineer recently engaged in a public feud with the enigmatic technocrat and was fired as a result. I do not directly support either side, despite the angle of the Tweet below. Full disclosure: I am not someone who engages in character assassination against Elon Musk. Elon was being purposefully provocative (per usual) and the engineer decided to respond. Here was my take:
I stand by that statement. While intent is hard when reading text, my point was: no matter who you are, who you are responding to, or what company you work for - arguing with your CEO in any venue, private or public will have consequences. Those consequences might be good, bad or neutral. And as a leader, calling out your staff publicly or privately will also have consequences. If you’ve ever spent any time in Corporate America and you like your paycheck/benefits, and you are not clinically insane - would you ever dream telling your buddy, “yeah, call the CEO out on social media. You’ll be fine”? That engineer was bold. I didn’t say he was wrong. I didn’t say he was right. Just bold.
To deny any level of culpability on either side is... shortsighted. And by golly, my statement was pretty tame, all things considered. By Twitter standards, it was rated-Nickelodeon.
Well, after reading multiple responses claiming I was indeed “crazy” or an “Elon Dick Rider” … I chose to digitally leave the conversation. This is a nice feature Twitter has. You can keep your notifications on, but anything related to the thread is muted.
Needless to say, I was a bit rattled. I thought I might have some friendly back and forth with some folks when I initially responded to the tweet. In fact, the tweet I was responding to was from, who writes and is someone who's work I respect. I currently have 12 followers, so I’m not used to lots of engagement 😅.
When the vitriol came, my heart rate spiked, along with my confusion. Then someone decided to screenshot pictures of my consulting rates from my personal website and share them in the thread… that also surprised me. Not because I’m embarrassed of my coaching fees, but more that this individual thought it was a good move for him to share details from my business. Why?
Things felt very close and personal, yet I have no idea who these people are. The joy of being insulted by Internet strangers.
The reality is, I became sad reading some of the comments. I didn’t want to offend anyone or stir the pot purely for the sake of drama. I’m a sensitive fellow. You would think I was an election denier or something with some of the responses I received. I was a bit shaken. You could feel the rage in some of the responses.
Owning Your Mind
As quickly as the sadness, frustration and anger came, it subsided. Not because I have an innate ability to push away criticism, but because in the last few months I’ve learned some powerful lessons, particularly from Stoicism.
Epictetus tells us:
When therefore we are hindered, or disturbed, or grieved, let us never attribute it to others, but to ourselves; that is, to our own principles. An uninstructed person will lay the fault of his own bad condition upon others. Someone just starting instruction will lay the fault on himself. Someone who is perfectly instructed will place blame neither on others nor on himself
Remember, that not he who gives ill language or a blow insults, but the principle which represents these things as insulting. When, therefore, anyone provokes you, be assured that it is your own opinion which provokes you. Try, therefore, in the first place, not to be hurried away with the appearance. For if you once gain time and respite, you will more easily command yourself.
There’s a lot of comfort and meaning in these words. I could sit here and find all sorts of ways to be angry, resentful or bitter towards all those lovely Internet strangers. Or, I could use the opportunity to look inward.
Why am I frustrated? Perhaps it’s because my ego didn’t like the sharp edge of negativity towards one of my ‘opinions’.
Why am I sad? Perhaps my ‘strong mental disposition’ isn’t so strong.
Why do I feel anger towards the particularly nasty comments? Perhaps I should go back to Jiu Jitsu and let off some steam 😅.
I think the main lesson is: we control ourselves. We can’t control the actions and words of strangers. And by golly, this has never been more true or important than in the digital age. We control how we react to those words & actions.
If we choose to be enflamed by the hate, then we choose to burn. If we choose to engulf ourselves in the sea of negativity, vitriol and nastiness, then we will drown in our own sorrow.
I responded to one of the comments in the thread. It was one of the particularly nasty ones. I should have just left it. I didn’t swear or try to match his negativity, but I was definitely in defense mode. I couldn’t believe the comments. I stopped, closed my laptop and walked away. It was the best decision I made.
While much of this might seem trivial, I think some of the most important lessons come from these small moments. I’d rather think about this one at length vs ignore my feelings and continually engage in such behavior. Imagine how bad things could get without engaging in some level of mindfulness over your words and actions.
I am not mad at you, Internet Stranger. Some of you went all the way to my personal website to try and hurt me. So there’s a good chance you’re reading this too. Hello. You are loved by someone, somewhere. If you don’t think you are, then do your best to put love out into the Universe, and it will inevitably come back to you. Thank you for teaching me these lessons and may your journey be blessed 🙏🏻.