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Sacha Greif
Sacha Greif

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So You've Been Criticized Online

There's a certain threshold you cross when you achieve a measure a success where you cease being the lovable underdog everybody's rooting for, and suddenly become The Man.

At first you don't notice it. Your supporters are still cheering you on, and the haters are few and far between. But then the mean tweets start piling on, soon joined by acerbic blog posts and even a couple snarky vlogs.

And before you know it, all the cool kids no longer get social credit from supporting your little enterprise, but instead earn it by pointing out all its flaws.

What to do?

As someone who has had to deal with criticism around my own projects before, I thought I'd share some of the lessons I've learned over the years.

Focus on the Love

First, it's worth remembering that unless you're doing something truly awful, your fans will usually still vastly outnumber your haters.

But fans are usually quieter, and even when they do manifest their love we tend to focus on the hate instead. It's just how our brains work, we're biased towards action and being antagonized by an angry tweet fires our brain's "something-needs-to-be-bashed-with-a-big-rock" caveman reflex.

So just take a second to remember that, and tell your caveman brain to chill.

Don't Shoot the Messenger

As I said, it's tempting to see a criticism – especially when perceived as unfair – and want to go all out on its author.

Twitter makes this especially tempting, as its culture glorifies "dunking" on people. But here's a protip: while dunking on Mitch McConnell's weird turtle neck will get you tons of likes, dunking on that junior web developer with 67 followers will not.

Also remember that while you're sitting here stewing in your own juices, that tweet's author has probably long moved on to the next thing. As much as you want @FlexboxFan2003 to be your lifelong nemesis, and use your eloquence and sheer logical talent to finally best them in a hard-fought battle of quote-tweets, it's probably not going to happen.

Get In Touch Privately

If you really feel the need to respond though, do so privately. This is especially important if the original criticism didn't directly mention you. Just because someone expressed an opinion about something you're involved in doesn't necessarily mean they want to engage in public debate.

What's more, by publicly quote-tweeting the person, you're now exposing them to the wrath of your own following. Which, as you might expect, is probably favorably disposed towards you, and unfavorably disposed towards any critics.

So send out a DM or email instead. Here's an example:

Hi! I hope it's ok to contact you. I came across your tweet about XYZ, and to be honest I was a bit disappointed because I feel that tweet wasn't quite fair to the project. In fact, I wrote a blog post to address this exact issue: link

Thanks for taking the time to read this, and let me know if I can answer any questions!

From my own experience, people won't always respond to this kind of outreach, probably because they've long since moved on. But at least you know that if they're interested in learning more, you've provided resources for them to do so without making anybody feel bad.

Address the Criticism

One thing that really helps is actually taking the time to write a proper blog post to explain your stance. As I said, Twitter promotes very toxic online behaviors and a blog post is a much healthier way to discuss any remotely complex or sensitive topic.

So write a detailed explanation that presents both sides of the issue and gives readers the context to understand your own choices, and then just refer people to it from now on.

Fix the Issue

Finally, if the criticism has a grain of truth, then the insecurity and vulnerability you feel about it will often be the very things that push you to be overly defensive. The best way to correct that is to just fix the issue.

Of course if fixing the issue was easy you'd have already done it. But even if fixing the issue is not possible, it might be worth letting people know that you're aware of it.

Let People Know You're Only Human

The tech companies we deal with on a daily basis online have unlimited resources at their disposal, and so any failings on their part must certainly come from a lack of goodwill to change thing.

But for individuals it can often be the opposite: we want to improve things, but we just don't have the time, knowledge or resources.

We often forget this in our online interactions, and that can lead to a lack of empathy. So let people know that you appreciate their feedback, even if you might not always be great at dealing with criticism.

You're only human after all… but remember, so are they!

Top comments (7)

rangercoder99 profile image

"Get In Touch Privately" No please don't, if someone makes public criticism on social media, you got the right to make one public response "respectfully"! Ask your followers to behave or block them, if you can't have one normal conversation on your social media because you fear your followers actions something is really wrong!

sachagreif profile image
Sacha Greif

I would agree with you when it comes to a platform like Reddit which encourages debate, but Twitter really does not lend itself to respectful disagreement in my opinion. That’s why I feel that if you’re really interested in resolving your differences with someone, sending an email is a far better solution.

cher profile image

Really appreciate this commentary, but with caution:

First, it's worth remembering that unless you're doing something truly awful, your fans will usually still vastly outnumber your haters.

There's so many people in between "haters" and "fans", and "fans" can be critical of a creator's behavior or the project itself, or parts of the project, and simply be wanting to see improvement because they enjoy the tool.

And of course, there's so many people who use tools and they don't particularly love or hate them, they just appreciate that they get their work done.

sachagreif profile image
Sacha Greif

That’s a great point. I admit I did play into a bit of a simplification by using the “fans” and “haters” labels.

vince_bighire_tools profile image
Vince Fulco (It / It's)

This was extraordinary, mature wisdom which will stand the test of time. Kudos on such a great piece.

theowlsden profile image
Shaquil Maria

Quality content here! Great post, I hope that more people read this and apply it in their lives.