How to Respond to Online Aggressiveness

by Vered DeLeeuw

I love the Internet. I love blogs and social media. I can’t imagine life without these extremely powerful tools. I blog for money; I blog for fun; I use social media every day.

What I haven’t gotten used to is the way online anonymity and lack of face-to-face accountability allow some people to release their aggression and negativity online, in ways they would never do in person. This is not the majority of users. Most of us remember the basic rule of online behavior that says you should always act online the same way you would act offline. But the small percentage of users that becomes hostile and aggressive on the Internet can be a problem for the rest of us.

On a personal level, the best thing to do when faced with personal insults is to delete them if you can, and to devalue the feedback. Any feedback that is given anonymously is not real feedback and should not be taken at face value. Harsh anonymous feedback is cowardly. It would be a mistake to take it personally.

But what if you’re faced with aggressive online behavior as a company? First of all, you need to make sure that your social media manager never loses their cool online. It’s not always easy, because even when you represent a company, online haters can find a way to insult you personally, and it’s never pleasant to deal with scorching criticism, even when it’s directed at your company and not at you personally. So it’s very important to instruct your social media manager to always breathe deeply and count to ten when faced with aggressive or hurtful behavior online, and to always respond politely.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with simply deleting hateful comments and posts, as long as they are just that – hateful and spiteful. This is very different than a legitimate complaint, which should always be taken seriously and addressed promptly.

Sometimes there’s a fine line between a legitimate complaint voiced loudly, and a spiteful comment. To illustrate, here’s an example from the Facebook page of a client of mine, a yogurt maker. When a user complains that she opened a container of yogurt to find a “runny, disgusting mess,” that’s unpleasant, but it’s a legitimate complaint that should be addressed right away. However, if a user says that “your competitor’s yogurt is divine; yours tastes like making out with a Mastiff w/ a sinus infection” (real post by a real user) – well, feel free to delete this one. It offers no real feedback, does not seek a solution from you, and is just nasty and spiteful.

Blogs and social media are wonderful. They allow us to connect on a whole new level, with a huge number of people. Let’s not allow the few that use them as a weapon to spoil them for the rest of us.

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