I have shared many times about all of the wonderful things I have been able to experience thanks to being a part of social media and an online health community. Despite all of the perks, there have definitely been moments of frustration in dealing with negative feedback and behavior. I have been very blessed here at A New Kind of Normal not to have anything like this happen (because you all are the BEST!) but I have seen my share over the years. I have seen message board “wars” and fights within support groups over who is right. I have also seen that the “mean girl” mentality is still equally present in adulthood.
I think we can all recognize that conflict is inevitable and whenever you are dealing with a group of people with different personalities and perspectives, there are going to be moments of disagreement. I think it is in the moments of disagreement that people’s true colors shine through. I am not opposed to discussion and even healthy debate but when belittling and personal attacks begin, a line has been crossed. Don’t get me started on how my views of people changed during the election process as I watched hate and ignorance take over social media.
When faced with some of this negativity, I avoid it when possible as I don’t have spare energy it takes to get dragged into it. I am not shy about using the hide button or unfollowing if necessary. When you deal with chronic illness, you need to decide what is worth your energy and what isn’t. Negativity spewed across cyberspace is an area where I choose not to spend my energy unless two things are happening: 1) I am a leader in the community and therefore have a responsibility to manage it, or 2) there is an injustice that needs to be corrected in which taking a stand is required (such as grossly inaccurate facts about adoption) in which case I do my best to share correct information with the understanding that it may or may not change the other person’s mind or behavior.
As a community leader, I have followed a couple of guidelines to help get through some of the tougher situations. First, know the community rules and be sure those rules are posted somewhere so that you can refer members to when necessary. One group I helped lead was a closed group and as a part of being approved for membership, you had to sign off that you read and agreed to the rules of membership which outlined the type of behavior that would not be tolerated (such as personal attacks, bad language, etc). This group also had a required confidentiality agreement which prohibited contacting someone off-list without prior approval (doing so could result in legal action) so it could prevent any disagreement from being extended off-list but as a leader, it was important to be sure to reinforce these boundaries and take action when they have been violated.
I think something else to consider when dealing with negativity within the community as a leader or as a participant is that to not take it personally. I know this can be difficult (and I am preaching to the choir here because I have a lot of difficulty with this whether it be online or in the workplace or otherwise) but I have learned that in most cases the issue at hand is not about the recipient at all. Generally, the aggressor (or troll in some cases) has some sort issue with themselves and they are choosing to act it out on someone else. This person may have a mean girl complex and finds some twisted sort of high self-esteem from tearing others down and finds the internet an easy target. This person may just be a jerk and have nothing better to do than troll websites looking to start trouble for the “fun” of it. This person may live under a rock and not have a single clue what manners are. It may be a combination of all three. I think taking a moment to step back and consider that the conflict or negativity is not really about you is a great way to gain some perspective when dealing with negativity and conflict within the community.
These are just a couple of things that I have learned over the last few years being a part of the online community. Have you ever dealt with negative feedback or conflict within the community? What advice do you have to give on overcoming the negativity?