Dealing With Negative Feedback In An Online Community

Dear Audy,

Living with chronic pain or illness can be confronting, consuming and most of all confusing. The internet allows people to connect without needing to leave their homes and this has been a great asset for those who can’t get out during the majority of their time. Online support groups run wild and free here, in the world beside the real one.

Sharing creates vulnerability and sharing publicly opens a person up to the opinions of everybody who comes across what they’ve said. Being a blogger, I am no stranger to receiving negative feedback and in the spirit of continued sharing, here’s a story about how I choose to deal with it.

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I’ve been blogging and involved with with online support groups for Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (previously known as Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy) for several years now. I’ve experience both positive and negative interactions and people during my time as a part of this cyber community. Some of these have been firsthand and others have just been me, watching wide-eyed as others publicly rip shreds off of one another.

The first thing that you need to remember about interacting on the internet is that it’s mostly public and everybody loves to watch a metaphorical car crash.

I’ve written before about the things to consider when stepping out into the open plains of cyberspace. Interacting Online: The Joys, The Struggles & Surviving Unharmed has been one of the most popular posts that Rellacafa has borne witness to.

If you’re looking for my advice about how to conduct yourself within online support groups, please check out the forum guidelines over at Chronic Pain Australia.

Communicating online is a massive topic, mostly opinion based and perceivable in millions of slightly different ways. Occasionally, I will conduct myself with what I consider to be reasonable humour and integrity and yet still find that I’ve sent somebody into a rage.

It happens. Nobody ever claimed that this world is lacking in different opinions.

Responding to negative feedback is a learning curve, both in terms of actual experience and experience with social media. Newly blogging Caf was of the mind frame that one should always engage a debate if one has something intelligent to say, however currently blogging Caf has evolved in her ways of thinking since then.

Sometimes, the best reaction to an online attack is to do and say nothing. This can be a difficult course of action for some and an easy, water-off-the-back situation for others. In my personal experience, the level of inflamed that I get by another person’s comments and how I subsequently respond depend on a few things.

Firstly, there’s how I am feeling at the time. When sore and weak, or fatigued, or depressed, my defences are down and it’s a little bit easier for nasty words to stab through to my feelings.

Not responding, or waiting until later to consider a response is usually the least regrettable thing to do in these instances. Sometimes I don’t wait long enough and sometimes I wait so long that I feel silly sending a response after so much internet time has passed. Sometimes, my responses are delayed due to poor health or busyness, rather than a difficulty in deciding how to reply. I’m still learning, I don’t think I’m ever going to stop doing that.

I like to pay regret a little bit of measured attention because that helps me to make better decisions in the future. This is different to anxiously regretting things that no longer have any lessons to teach.

Secondly, there’s the ridiculousness factor. A well thought out, but differing opinion to my own is always appreciated in the comments section of this blog, those writers deserve responses and I enjoy considering their point of view in light of my own.

I’m not going to fault people for disagreeing with me, but I am probably going to laugh if they launch a nonsensical or personal attack. Provided, of course, that I’m not wading about in a weakened state. Somebody recently commented on one of my vlogs that I talk too much and explained that the accompanying emoticon was them spitting in my food. Hilarious, but not worth the time or effort of a response.

Thirdly, once I’m past my initial reaction or instinctive emotional response, I thoroughly consider both the content and the source.

Who is the comment from?

How much do I respect their opinion?

Have they understood my post or are they responding to a skimmed misinterpretation?

How well balanced is their argument?

How well balanced does their mind seem to be?

Are they offering a different opinion or just seeking to find faults with mine?

That last one is a big one, you’d be surprised how many fanciful little contrarians populate the internet, or not, since you’re reading this and, thus, have actually been on the internet.

Lastly, I consider whether or not responding to the negative feedback will add something useful for other readers who stumble upon the comment conversation.

I let the answers to these questions gurgle away in my mind and then decide whether or not to walk away and let it go, walk away and bitch about it to a good friend (we’ve all got to let the steam out sometimes), or to engage with the commenter.

If I do decide to respond, I attempt to do so with an attitude open to learning and after letting go of any emotional response I’ve attached to the feedback.

Negative feedback is only that because it’s interpreted so. Even a blatant insult can be interpreted in ways that allow for empathy and compassion toward the abuser.

I try to keep my responses well-reasoned and well-intentioned. If somebody is genuinely wanting to teach me about a perspective on a topic that I had not recognised or considered, then I am most happy to hear about it.

I often seek to clarify the commenter’s intention when initially responding. Sometimes a veiled insult is just that person expressing the anger that they are feeling about what I’ve written. It’s not necessarily personal, just like my blogging about my opinion was not a personal attack on theirs.

I write about controversial topics sometimes and, even when a topic seems light, there are going to be people who agree and people who don’t. If a blog post that I’ve written elicits a response from somebody in either camp, then I view that as a good thing.

Discussion isn’t always about agreeing and I see blogging as both a method of broadcasting and as a conversation starter.

I’ve experienced situations that began as negative feedback and then became fruitful discussions. I’ve also experienced situations that began as negative feedback and just spiralled into something akin to name-calling. I’ve responded badly and I’ve responded well, doing both is a part of learning how to respond to anything.

The most important thing to remember about interacting in an online community is that it should be of benefit to you. It should make you feel a little bit better about something, or a little bit more informed, or a little bit helpfully challenged. Your role in your life is to make the best decisions for you. If participating in an online support group starts to leave you feeling saddened, depressed or unmotivated, it can be an indication that it’s time to move on.

Carly Findlay wrote a wonderful blog post about a time that she decided to leave an online support group. Please follow this link and read her eloquent reasoning for doing so. Sometimes support groups don’t work out and that’s OK, it’s important to recognise if the online community that you’ve found yourself involved in is no longer making your life better.

Ultimately, your online world is yours to create. If you decide to interact publicly then that comes with some personal responsibility about how you conduct yourself and how this affects your emotions or anxiety levels. However, never forget that sometimes there are just going to be people and behaviours that appear crazy or hurtful.

We can’t please everybody, but we can usually learn something from them.

How do you deal with negative feedback to your blogging efforts or social media presence?

Thanks so much to everybody that has been supporting me in the NHBPM challenge! If you like what I am doing, please share these posts with the people that you share things with or click that little thumbs up. It’s CRPS Awareness Month, which is why I’m choosing to disclose a little more about my health on a daily basis. The more awareness that we can raise, the easier it will get for people who are navigating the choppy waters of chronic pain.

Love & Oh No You Di’n’ts,

WEGO, CRPS Awareness Month, #NHBPM

This post written as a part of National Health Blog Post Month, run by WEGO health. Check out what people have been contributing via #NHBPM on Twitter, or joining the NHBPM Facebook Event.

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  • 2 thoughts on “Dealing With Negative Feedback In An Online Community

    1. Nikki @ Styling You

      This is a well thought out and consider post – it’s something we have to consider every day. I actually live by the adage of my late Gran, “If you haven’t got anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all”.

    2. Née Say

      This is a very timely post for my to come across (via Styling You FYI). I’m currently writing an essay on virtual communities & I hope you don’t mind me quoting you because your reference to a metaphorical car crash is pure gold!

    Comments are closed.