"I'm going to buy a copy just so I can burn it."

That's what one hater said of one of my recent books on Facebook. Another had a more creative use for my title, labeling it "emergency toilet paper."

"It's your fifteen bucks," I responded to the T.P. comment. "Just don't sue me when you get a papercut."

As soon as I hit ENTER, I could feel the regret already seeping in. There's nothing haters want more than your attention. By responding--even with a joke--I was giving him exactly what he wanted. No matter what you do, you're going to run into haters online. We're not talking about ordinary, disgruntled customers who should be addressed with empathy and understanding. Haters are a breed apart. 

There are many reasons they may be slinging hate your way:

  • They may simply be having a bad day. They're looking to vent some frustration, so they've turned to the Internet--and for whatever reason, they've turned to you.
  • They may be ex-customers or ex-fans with axes to grind. For these haters, it's personal. They may be holding a grudge over some trivial slight.
  • They may be trolling for fun. Trolls typically latch onto "hot-button issues" with emotional resonance: Gun control, immigration...Ghostbusters. They make outrageous, inflammatory comments in the hopes that you'll lose your cool. Unsurprisingly, multiple studies have found strong correlations between trolling and sadism.

The only way to prevent online hatred is to follow the classic advice of essayist Elbert Hubbard: Do nothing, say nothing, be nothing. You can't always predict what will make you a target, but there are some simple steps you can take to prepare for haters-regardless of their intent.

1. Don't feed the trolls

Don't respond to haters' taunts--even politely. Ignore them. If nobody takes their bait, most will grow bored and move on.

Everybody has a breaking point.  It's tough to ignore the impulse to respond with anger. In the example above, I'd reached mine.

If you have a short fuse, you might want to think about handing off social media or blogging duties to somebody else before you say something that you'll regret. If that's not an option (i.e., if you're a sole entrepreneur) take frequent breaks from social media or blogging. Unplug as often as possible. 

This past weekend, for instance, on the eve of the release of two new books, I took a pre-emptive social media break and hiked the Pacific Crest Trail on Mt. Hood. Although the "break" only lasted a couple of hours, it was better than nothing!

2. Weed your social media gardens

So if you shouldn't feed the trolls, what should you do? If haters are leaving comments on your Facebook page, YouTube page, or blog, the solution is simple: Delete hateful comments. Especially ones that advocate violence or veer into sexist, racist, or homophobic territory. 

Treat haters in your online spaces just the same as you would in the real world. If they're not respectful to you and your customers, kick them out.

While some will cry "censorship," it's your responsibility to weed your virtual gardens. 

Community management can be a real time-suck, but it's a necessity in this day and age. You owe it to your other fans.

After a barrage of hateful, off-topic, and spammy comments under one of my YouTube videos (a clip of myself on Fox News discussing atheism), I turned the comments off. Same goes for my personal blog. The haters can use their own platforms to make noise if they want.

3. Block and mute

If the chatter is taking place on social media outside of your control, all is not lost. 

You can always block and mute haters, so that whoever is running your social media accounts is spared the constant harassment. Nobody wants to be yelled at all day, which is what dealing with a constant stream of haters equates to.

I've had to deal with some persistent haters on Facebook fan pages that I manage. (Unlike YouTube, Facebook doesn't have an option to turn comments off.) If I have to delete more than one comment from somebody, I simply click "Ban From Page" and go on with my life. I might head out for a hike to clear my head. If I do, I'll be sure to bring along a copy of one of my books--in case of emergency.