Anyone who has ever posted their work online has faced criticism. Sadly, most of us more often deal with trolling and negativity than we do with constructive criticism. Dealing with online trolls and useless negative comments can be incredibly discouraging and stressful. It can even make you stop sharing your work. But before you get discouraged, watch this amazing video by Sean Tucker. It will help you distinguish between constructive and “armchair” criticism, and teach you how to successfully deal with trolls.
Types of criticism
First of all, it’s important to make a difference between different types of criticism. Sean distinguishes between artistic, constructive, and armchair criticism:
Artistic criticism comes from fellow artists who have relevant knowledge in the field they’re commenting on. In our case, let’s say this is criticism from a professional, educated photographer. It will most likely be constructive, even if it’s negative (although it doesn’t always have to be the case).
Constructive criticism doesn’t necessarily come from someone more skillful than you, but it does come from a good place. It’s meant to help you improve. Even if someone tells you what’s wrong in your work, it’s with good intention so you can learn from it. Sean notes that he tends to give constructive criticism privately, never publicly. But you will sometimes get these comments publicly, too. It’s important to distinguish them from trolling because constructive criticism will help you improve while trolling surely won’t.
Finally, while we’re at trolling, Sean refers to it as “armchair criticism.” Basically, those are negative comments from “keyboard warriors” written just to annoy you and to hurt your feelings. They don’t give any feedback to your work or anything you can learn from. If you respond to these, you’ll likely get a response like “I was just being honest,” “It’s just my opinion,” or “Wow, you can’t take criticism.”
Dealing with trolls
According to Sean, there are three ways to deal with trolls: push back, ignore them, or finally – block them.
First, you can try and push back, respond to the trolling comments. However, it’s Sean’s least favorite option, and I tend to agree. These people are usually not into a grown-up discussion, they just want to spark a reaction from you and it “feeds” them. So the best cure against them could be the next proposed method: ignoring them.
If you ignore the trolls, they’re likely to get bored and just leave you alone. If you remember high school, those who responded most fiercely to teasing were always teased the most. On the other hand, those who ignored provocations were usually left alone. At least that’s what it was like in my class. While we’re at high school, I think that internet trolls have never outgrown that age. So, it’s probably best not to argue with them if you’re older than 16.
Finally, if they really won’t give up – you can block them. The trolls can argue that you’re taking their right to say their opinion freely on the internet. But don’t fall for this. They can say whatever they want on the internet – but you have the right to not let them say it on your little chunk of the internet. The “Block” option has been given to you with a reason.
How I deal with criticism/trolls
When I was little, my mom would always say to me: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” As a grown-up, I still stick with it. I prefer giving compliments to giving criticism, especially if I’m not asked for an opinion. Even when someone asks me about my opinion, I will be honest even if it’s negative, but I won’t be rude and heartless.
Sadly, I grew up to see that the online world is the opposite of what my mother taught me. People who don’t have anything nice to say are the loudest. There is a number of factors that cause it, such as that they’re anonymous or that they’re distant from you (both physically and emotionally). The so-called trolls usually write things they would never say to your face. But alas, they can’t see you, and you can’t see them, so they allow themselves to be rude and say hurtful stuff.
Now, I’ve been a photographer and a writer/blogger for many years now. This means that I’ve publicly shared loads of photos and written work (in both English and Serbian) under my own name. And it hasn’t been easy. Of course, I’ve dealt with trolls and negativity, especially when writing in English (don’t forget, it’s not my first language). Plus, being sensitive and emotional has surely not helped at all.
However, I’ve pretty much figured out the same things as Sean. Over the years, I’ve learned to weed out the trolling comments from those that will help me learn something or fix my mistakes. That’s the first thing to learn when you start publishing your work online.
Then, when I spot a non-constructive negative comment, in most cases I’ll just ignore it. My advice to you is not to take these comments personally because they don’t tell anything about you. They tell way more about the people who write them.
I myself have never blocked anyone from my Facebook page or Instagram (at least not for the trolling comments). I did block a stalker wherever I could, but that’s another story. However, you can block persistent trolls if that will make you feel better. If you’ve learned to distinguish negative comments from constructive criticism, feel free to remove the useless negativity from your little corner of the internet.
I hope that Sean’s and my own experience will help you deal with trolls and useless negative comments. It can be especially difficult if you’re new to photography (or any other art form) and you have just started sharing your work. But malicious comments can still piss off even us “veterans” sometimes, I admit. Because of that, I’m sure that this video will be useful for everyone, so make sure to watch it.