Social media is a great place to find inspiration, make connections, and kill time when you’re bored. But as much as you try to foster a positive environment online, it’s unavoidable that you might come across a couple of haters from time to time—especially if you’ve garnered a big following. Dealing with bullies has come a long way since our days on the playground; the Internet makes it a lot more difficult to figure out where they came from, what their problem is, and why they’re so damn angry.
According to psychologist Leah Klungness, PhD, (find her on Twitter as @Dr_Leah), it’s important to differentiate between hate and constructive criticism. But when showing compassion doesn’t work—if a person is really just trying to bring you down and not offer any words of wisdom—then give yourself some distance from the situation. “Take a step back and realize that you’re reacting to people that if you walked by them in the street, you wouldn’t even know who they were…These are not people that are real to you,” she told me. “And if you find that it’s overwhelming to you, then maybe it’s time to take a break. Go offline for a while, get outside, do something that feeds your soul.”
Online followers can never make up for real-life relationships with people who will support you and be there for you, she reminded me. But since social media does have a very real place in our lives, it’s important we learn how to use it as a tool to help rather than hurt us. To get to the bottom of how social media pros navigate negative comments, I spoke to five ladies who are killing it with their online content about what they do to ward off critics.
Jeanne Grey Practices Daily Dose of Self-Love
Jeanne Grey wears many hats—literally. She’s a style guru, world traveler, and online trailblazer. Although none of her glam vacation shots or beautiful blog posts tend to receive backlash per-say, she says she has gotten mean comments in the past about her size (i.e. being “too tiny or skinny”). For her, kicking negativity to the curb online means going in the opposite direction altogether and building a positive community to rally around her.
“I’ve used the prevention method. Meaning creating really strong defenses like building my confidence on the daily, practicing daily doses of self-love and throwing uplifting content around my platforms like confetti,” she told me. “You get on a level so high up that all you can do is try to invite those negative ones to your level. Otherwise, there’s no way to come down to theirs.”
Rachel Sullivan Spends Time With People She Loves
If you’ve never seen Rachel‘s hula-hooping videos, get ready go deep into binge-mode on her whimsical moves. The Chicago-based artist, dancer, and all-around cool human is known for her fantastic flow, but that doesn’t mean she hasn’t dealt with her fair share of critics in the past (thankfully, they’ve gone away!). She told me she’s been harassed for having short hair (some people attacked her at the possibility that she was a boy or transgender), not shaving her armpits, talking about politics, and posting videos in her underwear.
“As soon as I started stepping back and seeing them not hating on me but hating on women in general—as an expression of misogyny, an expression of transphobia—I was able to step away and approach it from a more analytical place,” she told me. She says it’s always helped her to not respond defensively, turn off her phone for awhile, and spend time with the people she loves. Oh, and above all else, she makes sure to remember that she’s a boss ass bitch.
“You know you’re doing something awesome when people hate on it. If you’re doing something that’s really gonna make a change and really revolutionary and really new and different, people are going to hate you,” she continues.
Brigette Muller Figures Out Where the Criticism Comes From
There will be times when you can’t see the light; when it is completely encompassed by darkness. Know, though, that it will come again. That it’s there somewhere, hiding, waiting for conditions to be just right. And when that light comes; when you see it clear as day, jump right in and soak it right up. For it, too, you know, is temporary. 〰️ Life lessons with hummus b, captured by jonny k.
Scrolling through Brigette‘s Instagram is like going on a lakeside picnic during golden hour, so it’s not surprising to know she’s also one of the rock stars behind Etsy’s killer social media account. When it comes to managing online bullies, our favorite birdie told me that she’s made it her mission to attract like-minded people who are open to all kinds of ideas and world experiences. But in those cases that a Negative Nelly does make it onto her page, she thinks it can sometimes be beneficial to figure out where the criticism is coming from.
“I think it’s important to hear out your haters in order to get to the bottom of their message. Does what they’re saying ring true to you? Is it coming from a place of their own insecurity? Are they just a troll? Are they misinterpreting you? Is it possible that you’ve unintentionally done or said something offensive?” she says. “I’m a peacemaker by nature, and to be quite honest, I do truly care about what people think of me—possibly to a fault. I don’t want bad blood. I want everyone to get along, and I want to be an example of how we can all co-exist, different opinions and all.”
Eileen Kelly Believes Her Life is None of Their Business
Eileen Kelly is doing something Millenials have needed forever: bringing comprehensive sex ed to social media. The sex and identity site she founded, Killer And A Sweet Thang, is filled with pieces from a wide range of writers about all things love, health, and body-related topics that we’re tired of keeping quiet about. “As someone who posts more ‘controversial’ content, I don’t get political backlash. I would say it’s more slut-shaming and that sort of thing, but also as someone who’s been on the internet for so long, it feels second-nature to me,” she says.
She doesn’t let the critics or their derogatory comments bother her because she knows her life is none of their business in the first place, but she does have words of wisdom for how to make sure you’re using social media to benefit rather than hurt you—especially when it comes to making sure you’re posting things because you genuinely want to rather than because it’s what gets likes on other people’s feeds. “Don’t post anything you don’t want your parents to see or your teachers or your boss…you have to be comfortable with it yourself, bottom line,” Kelly continues.
Larissa May Takes the High Road
Larissa May is an expert when it comes to the intersection of social media and mental health. Inspired by her own experience juggling college and a successful fashion blog, she founded Half The Story, her senior year as a community for people to open up about the parts of our lives that may not always be comfortable to talk about on our feeds. As her organization goes deeper into exploring how social media affects our health and how we can learn to live more open and honest lives both on and offline, May’s focus is to eliminate negativity.
“The best thing to do is always take the high road, so personally, when someone makes a comment, a lot of people are quick to delete the comment or comment back. I comment and say ‘Hey, look, this is the stance I’m taking,'” May states. “Everyone has their own opinion and social media is a place where people can share and battle and debate, but I think we have to let everyone’s voices be heard.”
She tries to approach people with empathy and compassion in order to understand their side of things. If someone goes too far, however, as has happened to her in the past, she reminds me that the block button is always an option.
Feature image via Olivia Perez/Graphic via Madison Terry