Haters are only as powerful as you allow them to be

In a time where everyone who wants to communicate with the world at large can do so without needing to give a name or photo that accurately depicts who they really are, life can be strange. Just this morning a friend notified me of a message they received from a since deleted anonymous Facebook account urging them to consider a career change. Other friends have shown me similar screenshots from Twitter, Instagram, and similar platforms with similar interactions. Some of these engagements contain word usage that is downright mean, while others are filled with lies so cleverly pieced together the individual receiving them begins to question themselves.

The same thing happens to me. Just last week I received an email from an anonymous account insulting me for a review I wrote in the summer of 2013. I’ve also received countless messages telling me to kill myself or quit my career. They have become commonplace, or at least as commonplace as anonymous hate and rage can be, but I would be lying if I said it ever gets easier to see.

In fact, it is increasingly hard for me to not reply to these anonymous people and enter into what I know to be an argument I cannot win. I want so very badly to tell them that they are wrong about me, my work, my friends, and whatever else they choose to sling hate upon. If I could find their true identities I imagine my response would be very similar to that of Jay and Silent Bob at the end of Kevin Smith’s classic comedy Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back. If you’ve never seen the film in question, watch the clip below to see what I mean:

Wouldn’t that feel great? To confront the anonymous commenters of the internet and give them a taste of their medicine? The sweet relief that one might feel from unleashing a firestorm of rage upon someone who has made them feel small would probably incredibly refreshing.

But then again, maybe not.

The older I get the more I realize how closed off we become with age. Children are often able to welcome any new person with open arms and minds, as if everyone they encounter might be their next best friend. Adults don’t do that. We’ve all been through our fair share of ups and downs, which have inevitably given us a view of people that is vastly different from the perspective we had in our youth. This is often for better and worse, as it makes us cautious in a way we never thought we would be. The internet, or rather the ability to remain anonymous online, only makes this worse because we often rack our brains trying to understand who could possibly be so mean to us. Even if we don’t actually know the person we often cannot shake the idea it might be our friend, or lover, or neighbor, or maybe even a parent. As the hate continues, paranoia starts to mount, and the cycle of worry and fear continues in perpetuity until we snap or stop what we’re doing altogether.

I have had more than my fair share of blowouts with anonymous internet personalities and in my experience nothing beneficial ever comes from such efforts. You exhaust yourself defending something you don’t feel should need defending while the person the other end does nothing. If they do respond, which is not entirely unusual, it is to double down on what they have told you before. They don’t like you or something you do for reasons that only make sense to them. Maybe they like you too much, which again is something that happens without proper explanation or rationale. This is because their behavior is not rational, and nothing you – a rational person – can say will change that fact.

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.