When The Internet Gives You Lemons
“You will always be too much of something for someone: too big, too loud, too soft, too edgy. If you round out your edges, you lose your edge. Apologise for mistakes. Apologise for unintentionally hurting someone — profusely. But don’t apologise for being who you are” — Danielle Laporte
For me the internet has always been a blissful world of connecting and communicating with like-minded individuals. Every day I stumble across something that adds a spark, big or small, to my everyday life. A song, a joke, a new book recommendation, a column or a blog post that makes me pause and look out of the window for a few minutes. I find myself chatting to familiar faces and discovering new creative individuals every day who want to share their life aspirations, ideas, advice and knowledge with the world.
My kind of people.
I use Twitter for recommendations all the time: city break recommendations, restaurants, hotels, bars, markets, shops. Stick me in a cafe with a good book, my Twitter feed, and a little side-project and I’m happy. I’m also lucky enough to love my job. It’s an “internet job” (aka the kind of job that is hard to explain to people at dinner parties, especially grandparents). No day is ever the same. It’s all about learning, reading and researching. It’s funny to think I just need WIFI and a coffee. This week I wrote a piece for the Independent all the way from Australia in sticky humidity.
But. There’s a “but”.
What happens when the same WIFI connection that brings you hundreds of inspiring conversations suddenly turns sour? What if, above your laptop, black clouds start to hover over your happy den, like JK Rowling’s famous dementors, sucking away at your optimistic and rainbow-coloured lens on the world and shitting all over your parade?
Basically: the moment you discover the people who aggressively dislike you? Then what?
I’ve been debating writing this particular post for a while now. I wanted to write about it once I had some solutions. I didn’t look forward to writing it: I guess because it’s hard to admit that I deal with bad stuff because this blog is normally a space for things that are positive and inspiring to me. The fact that sometimes I want to switch it off all together when things get tricky. But who am I kidding? I’ve made it my life’s work to over-share and sometimes I don’t feel it’s a conscious choice: writing to me is like a mix between breathing and therapy. Therapy with typos.
This blog is also here for me to share the not-so-fun sides of things, that’s always been the point is having a blog. Even if it’s sometimes uncomfortable. Because it’s unavoidable: some people will always have a bone to pick with you. They’ll make something up and believe it so hard that you’re dangerously close to believing it yourself. Having a platform means having an audience but that audience will never been 100% in favour of you.
So I thought I’d write about these darker moments, just like I share all the other happier parts of life. I’ve now reached a point when I feel OK and can happily talk about it.
I’m talking about negative comments. On articles, on blog posts, on Twitter, on Facebook, on forums, on websites. The ones that sting you. The ones where people outwardly let you know they hate your work. The venom that swirls around behind your back. Passive aggressive behaviour. Anonymous haters. This is part and parcel of being a young writer/journalist.
A writer/journalist in general. But I’m not old enough or wise enough to shrug it off yet. I’m not a “yeah whatever!” person. Sometimes I really struggle to digest it. Sometimes a comment will hit me on a bruise that already hurts and I will think about it for weeks on end. I’ll be going about my regular day and bouncing a long happily and then boom: I’ll hear that comment in my ear. Give me 500 nice comments I will remember the one that hates me.
But I feel like I have the power to turn these experiences into a positive learning experience. But that’s not to say I didn’t wallow first.
Because I’m sensitive. But I’m also not a victim, my life is great and I’m the sort of person who will take a shit situation, call a friend and buy crisp glass of white wine for us both and talk it out until it’s not even a silver lining anymore, it’s a huge booming silver cloud. There are friends I have around me who make me feel bullet proof. Often I think that’s my biggest achievement. My tribe.
I don’t have answers. I don’t know why some people use the internet is fuel negativity instead of spreading joy. But, the truth is: some people find happy people really f*cking annoying. And they find it within their power to drag it all away and tear them down like a burning city in an action film that used to hold happy memories. Happy people are the worst thing in the world when you’re not feeling too good about yourself.
People have different motives, but there are days where you get groups of keyboard bashers that make you feel attacked, under threat, like you are an awful person for putting your opinion out there into the world and deserve to be virtually punched.
Even though I haven’t had anything too atrocious I’ve had enough to make me learn to deal with it.
Because: (wo)man up!
Part of the process is I’ve had advice from people I admired most in the world. I had an advice emails from my biggest hero (I bet you can guess who I mean); I’m lucky enough to know a talented bunch who put their work out into the world everyday and deal with these things daily. Every person I reached out to had their own story to tell. They all have different ways of turning off that voice in their head that listens to the negativity. Despite these people sharing there own stories, their own hurt, their own similar (if not worse) situations I could not budge my unhappiness upon reading a trail of negative comments aimed at me. I felt terrible and I felt weak for letting it get to me. I even went so far as feeling like I should stop writing altogether. Sitting here now I can’t believe that ever crossed my mind. I would go to dinner with my family and turn the entire night into a counselling session, or sit in the bath with my boyfriend and tell him how low I felt. I felt stupid and silly for caring but that my greatest joy could also be my greatest anxiety.
The crux of the truth is this: people say shit about you every day, it’s just that most of the time you don’t hear it. And sometimes, it’s found on the internet making it seem more poignant and more permanent. It’s there for people to read. It doesn’t get deleted. Sometimes I see a negative comment about me by someone and I think “funny, because if we met I think we’d get on really well” but that’s the tough bit, you can’t change someone’s opinion of you. I’m sure some people reading this right now are thinking “yeah you suck. You suck suck suck.”
But seriously. This is not woe is me or a retaliation game of hating on them back. This is just another step of the journey of self-affirmation. This IS what Taylor Swift was talking about. Shake. It. Off. This is me saying it’s OK that I feel this way. Being a young writer tests you. Not everyone will agree with you and THATS OK. Sometimes you’ll get it right and everyone will think you’re walking on water, sometimes you’ll get it so so deeply wrong and you will go through weeks of Twitter hell and realise you fucked up in a big way and want to be like LOL JK SORRY *hides for a week*.
Either way it doesn’t actually matter, as long as you are telling your truth and you are in control of your actions.
Life is short and I don’t want to spend any of it being angry; we just need to do what feels right for us. Some people will never ever like me, even if I swung by their house with a hamper of Lindt chocolate bunnies, because they already have a perception of me that is totally out of my control. It’s like me trying to change the direction of a car using only my mind. But that’s OK, I don’t need to do last minute karaoke and drink a bottle of red wine with everyone on the internet. The important thing is I have a healthy relationship with myself and take advice from those who I love, and that simple equation means I’ll always be a happy fish swimming in the sea.
I’ve also learnt, which is perhaps a contradiction, that I won’t play it safe. If I “bring on” any animosity then I will respect others but I won’t apologise for my opinions. I will always say what I think. I will always be honest. And ALWAYS be open to a two-way conversation. I don’t want “haters” but I do want peers who challenge me and readers who healthily disagree with me.
I guess the point of this post is to say comments and words matter. It’s normally the fly away tweets or comments that people probably don’t really mean. The bitchy ones to their mates. The “funny” hate-follow. The ones that they think are just a joke. A “fat” comment under an Instagram photo could impact someone’s whole outlook on themselves. And I’m not just talking about anonymous trolls with egg profile pictures on Twitter, I’m talking about people who I’m sure are actually quite decent in real life but choose to splash negativity around on the internet. Disagreeing with someone is fine; it’s just how you go about it. I know that I’ve learned the hard way on that one.
If you make something and put it out there into the world, you will always get feedback whether it’s healthy criticism or unnecessary spitefulness. For us writers, it was our choice to live this way. I will do this (write and converse and debate and run my mouth) until I am on my death bed. It would be so much easier to live behind the scenes. The pockets of negativity that float ominously around the web aren’t going to go away anytime soon so now’s the time to learn to deal with it.
I’ve got this. We’ve got this.
How I Grew Up Online
“In love with Emma Gannon’s Ctrl Alt Delete. So funny & smart, and reminding me of some of my own cringe teen Internet exploits!”– Anna James, former literary editor of ELLE
"Funny, honest, and nostalgic!"– The Debrief
“Emma Gannon is a bright spark of light in the world. I seriously dig everything she makes”– Elizabeth Gilbert, bestselling author of Big Magic