The Types of Criticism on the Internet

Photo by Hannah Wei on Unsplash

Writing content on the web attracts a lot of criticism, wanted or otherwise. After writing stuff for awhile, I’ve noticed this to be thoroughly true. However, I’ve also noticed some patterns of criticism I’ve noticed on the internet, and wanted to deep dive into each of them and describe what I believe is the best way to handle it.

I see critique in three types: The helpful, the hurtful, and the stupid. I’ll start with the stupid first, since it’s the most common type on the internet itself. The stupid is relatively easy to deal with since it really comes from nothing in particular other than someone trying to rile things up. With this criticism, it is very clear that the person has no idea what they’re talking about, and probably didn’t even view your content in the first place. The best way to handle these so-called trolls is to ignore them; while it might be tempting to reply with some funny gotcha or quip, this only serves to further stoke their fire and might open you up to more attacks in the future. If you don’t respond, it dies. Simple as that.

The helpful follows this, and it’s without a doubt the easiest to deal with. The helpful what we see as actual “correct” criticism; criticism that does do its job, but does so in a light tone of voice and equalizes itself with some praise attached as well. The best way to respond here is to happily acknowledge the person who said it (thus promoting their behavior), and implement their critique (provided, of course, that you think it is valid; if not valid, respond courteously with a rebuttal). This makes the person know that you genuinely appreciate them giving you this message, and it may cement the person as a longer-term follower.

Finally, we have the hurtful; which, in my opinion, is the hardest of all to deal with. The hurtful is very similar to the helpful, except that it’s much more direct and aggressive. There is no praise, and the criticism is heavy. The thing that truly hurts about the hurtful, however, is that unlike the stupid it can oftentimes actually be valid. The person may be making a good point, and is just being a dick about it. This causes us quite some fluster; we know that the person is right, but we also want to keep our pride and attack the person back. We don’t want to surrender to a jackass. At this point, you just have to remember what you want to be; if the criticism is valid, suck it up and concede. This, this single moment, is without a doubt the hardest thing any single content creator can do. Yet it is vital. Your action in this moment will decide what this person will think of you, and what others in their stead will think of you as well. If you attack, they attack in greater force; and the cognitive dissonance of them being right still stays. If you concede, sure, sometimes they admit they were right; but you’d be surprised to find out how many times they appreciate your response and double back on their aggression, even going so far sometimes as to become a follower themselves. It isn’t easy. It’s never easy. But it’s the way to get the job done.

As an addendum, I also want to address how we can not just take criticism, but give it as well. Growing up on the internet has given me all sorts of aggressive energy, making me prone to giving hurtful criticism. Now that I’ve received criticism of my own, I know just how far this stuff can sting. I try (sometimes failing) to give as much helpful criticism as I can; and I encourage you to do the same. Hurt responds with hurt. Anger responds with anger. These are simple facts of human psychology. If we can break from our mold and focus on genuinely helping people as opposed to telling them how stupid they are for thinking X, we can not only get them to more easily change their opinion, but make the world just a bit nicer as well. 

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One thought on “The Types of Criticism on the Internet

  1. There’s no reason as a creator to get all bent out of shape over “hurtful” criticism. Reaction is the flipside of creation. Sometimes people will hate our work. That’s okay. That’s exactly what is supposed to happen. That kind of criticism isn’t valuable to you, but is valuable to the creative community at large, to your audience, to the person giving the criticism-as creators we need to have respect for that.

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