Negative criticism and the internet

Amanda Marcotte, a writer for Raw Story and quite a popular figure on Twitter, recently asked Storify — a public archiving service which archives public tweets — if there is a way to block a user from archiving her tweets. She further suggested that people “need to lose access” “for their own good.”

I don’t believe Marcotte has the moral right to suggest that people refrain from archiving her publicly available tweets through a publicly available archiving service. If she wants to publicly share her views through a public social networking service like Twitter, she has no moral right to demand that Storify (which hosts her tweets) or individuals (who archive her tweets) refrain from archiving her public content.

The recent behavior of Marcotte provides a great springboard from which to further elaborate on my views concerning individuals publicly sharing information on the internet and the feedback they receive. This piece will explore the nature of the internet, discuss the consequences of sharing controversial views, provide tips for individuals who do not deal well with criticism, and suggest measures people can take to reduce negative feedback.

Writers who release content on public social networks should understand that favorable feedback, negative feedback, criticism, satire, parody, ridicule, and — at the very least — commenting will often follow the release of content – especially content of a controversial nature. Some will face negative criticism more than others for a variety of reasons — perhaps depending on the tone one sets with their shared content (respectful posts may garner respectful commenters while posts filled with invective may attract negative feedback and nasty commenters) — while others may not face negative criticism at all.

Individuals who do not deal well with conflict or challenge, I must note, as I had on many occasions, should consider refraining from making their opinions public. Rather than attaching a ‘real life’ face and name with publicly available information, such individuals may prefer to post anonymously, contribute to others’ work [anonymously], or completely disengage from the ‘wild world’ that is the internet.

I have little sympathy, then, for individuals who do not deal well with conflict and not only make their content public with a ‘real life’ name and face, but also continually directly or indirectly engage with their detractors. If the internet experience is really so damaging to these individuals, they should disengage or contribute in other ways. Those who continue to engage, and have seen negative outcomes in the past, seem to be behaving foolishly. They want and love the public platform which is tied to negative criticism but complain when negative criticism arrives through the public platform. One cannot , in many cases, experience all of the desired outcomes and uses of the internet will completely being shielded from the detrimental outcomes when releasing public information.

It may be nice to simply snap our fingers and soothe the emotions of all ‘mean people’ on the internet. It may be nice if writers could be immune from the ‘mean people.’ This, though, is not a reality. Those who share controversial opinions on the internet — regardless of their philosophical leanings or demographics — will often face harsh criticism. A desire to purge the internet of nastiness, then, is a futile ambition and a losing battle.

On the other hand, facing criticism — even if the persons offering it are mean-spirited — can be beneficial in many ways. Living life entirely as a ‘safe space’ in which no dissent is tolerated or is automatically viewed as intolerant, hateful, or bigoted (no matter how respectful the criticism is) provides little to no room for self-reflection, growth, or modification of beliefs. Detractors who may get ‘under our skin’ can, after all, motivate us to reconsider our ideas and improve our capacity to defend beliefs.

Failure to engage with our detractors can be an intellectual vice — and even many betray a “sign of insufficient concern for truth” — as Roberts and Wood explain in their book Intellectual Virtues: An Essay in Regulative Epistemology:

One sign of insufficient concern for truth is that when such people are given an opportunity to test their more cherished beliefs, they decline it, or apply it too casually, or offer defenses of the beliefs that are weaker than any that these people would accept in other contexts.

Of course not all offering criticism are doing so in good faith with an aim to further discussion or help others arrive at truth. Some cases, then, call for one to ignore dissent, block some individuals, and not tolerate invective. This attitude, though, should not be globally applied; not all dissenters are horrible people who ought to be blocked, ignored, and blacklisted. Individuals should avoid believing that all who dissent do so with bad intention. The block, ban, and blacklist approach, too, should be used sparingly and only in extreme situations.

How, then, ought one act in response to the nature of the internet and dissent – both good and bad?

Writers who share their opinions on the internet, I think, should not focus on bemoaning the medium by which they want to promote themselves and their ideas. Rather than rebuking the internet (or its users), one should seriously consider refraining from internet use if they have so many problems with it and others who use it.

For those who wish to remain on the internet and express their controversial opinions even though they may not handle conflict or criticism well…steps can be taken to reduce the negative feedback:

  • Do not directly or indirectly engage with dissenters.
  • Avoid commenting on websites of your ideological opponents.
  • Refrain from attacking individuals; stick to criticism of ideas rather than persons.
  • Consider how people might respond to what you write. Can something be reframed so as to not lead to undesirable criticism?
  • Avoid sharing content when experiencing heightened emotions (great anger, disgust, stress, etc)
  • Consider sharing something with friends before it becomes public. A second (or third) set of eyes might suggest helpful edits which would avoid negative feedback.

Like it or not, the internet contains individuals who will positively and negatively respond to publicly available content. Negative criticism is not likely to go away. Tactics of judicious blocking, blacklisting, vilification of dissenters, and outright censorship will — in many cases — only empower detractors to lash back with a ‘force’ even greater than that which would be originally displayed. Roll with the punches and perhaps even view criticism as an opportunity, a challenge, to engage with your most passionate dissenters and show everyone why your positions are justified and why the opposing views should be put in the dustbin of poor arguments. What should truth have to fear?

Wild efforts to gag dissidents will ever fail in the end as the Epica song “Deter the Tyrant” suggests. Enjoy your Metal Monday!

Do you have any suggestions for how people can reduce the amount of negative criticism they receive?

Have you experienced negative criticism on the internet? How did you handle it?

Agree or disagree with any of my ideas?

As always, feel free to comment below…and be civil in the process :)

For more on Marcotte’s tweet asking if Storify can block users and her assertion that people need to lose access to Storify for their own good, considering watching the following Youtube video I uploaded:

http://youtu.be/x5GMvQxNB4k