If you do anything that involves creating, making, marketing, or selling anything, there will come a time when you're going to get criticized. Sometimes it will happen via email or a DM. Other times, you'll find yourself as the main character on Twitter for the day. That can be terrifying.
I know because, over the weekend, it was my turn.
It started with a simple tweet pointing out that I had used a similar phrase in a dozen or so headlines over the past year. It went viral from there, as Twitter did what Twitter does. The original tweet had over 5 million views and a million engagements. A few hundred thousand tweets, retweets, and notifications later, I was in the middle of anyone's worst nightmare.
By the way -- and this is important -- getting dunked on on social media isn't the same as getting canceled (whatever that means). It's more like dropping your tray of food in the lunchroom in middle school and everyone points and laughs at you, which is horrifying enough to think about even now, but it's not the end of the world.
For most people, you won't ever end up in a situation like this, but you probably know what it feels like to face public criticism. It's definitely terrifying, but it doesn't have to be a nightmare. Thankfully, there are a few things you can do to keep it from becoming one.
1. Don't Panic
Before you respond -- or even think about responding -- consider this: The Twitter mob is a lot like a group of hungry sharks. It's attracted to blood in the water. If you start to thrash around, it only attracts more sharks.
Emotionally, it's overwhelming, but the less you panic, the better you'll be able to follow the next few steps on this list. Take a deep breath and remind yourself, it's just Twitter. It could absolutely be worse. By thinking clearly, the goal is to keep it from becoming just that.
2. Admit When You're Wrong
If you're being criticized, first consider whether it's justified. Let's be honest, we all do dumb stuff sometimes. Maybe you don't intend it that way, but it happens. If that's the case, admit it, fix whatever went wrong, and move on.
In my case, when you line up the articles, the phrase really stood out. It might be only a handful or so out of more than a thousand articles I've written in the past two years, but it definitely starts to look repetitive when you look at them all together. That, in and of itself, isn't wrong or unethical, but there was no point arguing about it. It was a bad look -- there's really no way around that.
It wasn't especially fun to admit it, but owning up to whatever you might have done that led to criticism goes a long way to diffusing an otherwise painful situation. It also has the side benefit of, you know, being the right thing to do.
3. Don't Be Defensive
The worst possible thing you can do is get defensive, even if the criticism is entirely unwarranted. Fighting back might feel good at the moment, but honestly, that shouldn't be your goal.
Your goal should be to identify what part of the criticism is justified and find a way to step offstage as quickly as possible. That's the only way this ends well. Arguing or getting upset doesn't accomplish anything. No one is at their best when they get angry and post on Twitter, so it's probably worth waiting to get back on Twitter until you're not angry.
4. Ignore the Trolls
Most of the people who pile on when you become the main event are there just for the entertainment. As discouraging as it may be to think that there are people who thrive on the misery or misfortune of others, welcome to social media. Your best bet is to ignore trolls entirely. If you choose to engage, do so with people who are reasonable -- which is actually more people than you think.
As for the rest, I suggest you mute the trolls -- especially the ones who keep coming back hoping to get a reaction. If you block them, you just give them the little dopamine fix that comes from thinking they got under your skin.
Muting them has the same benefit to you (they no longer exist to you) but they don't get the satisfaction. I don't know who first said that you should never let anyone live in your head rent-free, but they were clearly thinking about Twitter.
You could also choose to ignore the whole thing altogether. You could just shut off your social-media accounts. That's certainly an option that would work for a lot of people. In my case, I decided it made more sense to engage with what was happening. That's probably terrible advice if you're still working through "don't be defensive," but it does work if you're level-headed and willing to join the conversation.
5. Have a Sense of Humor
No one wants to be the butt of anyone's joke, especially not online. However, if you find yourself there, you might as well laugh. By the way, a sense of humor has a way of humanizing you to others as well. You won't believe how quickly people stop trying to make you into a joke when they see you as a person, especially one who doesn't take themselves too seriously.