Disclaimer: A clear distinction should be made between responding to, and acknowledging, online criticism. This article does not suggest you ignore truthful criticism and never attempt to improve. Rather, it aims to raise questions as to whether vocally refuting false / malicious criticism is beneficial in any way.
The current model of online social interaction is pillared by creations / submissions to be interpreted by the people those submissions reach.
Whether you post a photo, write a blog post, or upload a video; generating content for those online to absorb and interpret is bound to generate criticism from some. Critics can voice their thoughts about you and your work in comments, their own creations, or by way of sharing your work with others.
If you’re new to being a generator of online content, the way you handle criticism from others online takes some getting used to. Unlike criticism in the offline world, the rules which online interactions adhere to are different. We often find ourselves attempting to genuinely, and kindly, respond to online criticism; for it to only make things worse. Our admission of fault, apologies, and genuine attempts to understand critics never seem to be enough. Our morale to continue creating takes a hit when we witness how bloodthirsty some people online are, as compared to those in the physical world around us.
This article aims to simply explore the desire to refute/respond to online criticism, and perhaps go on to suggest that there isn’t a need to do so.
The perspective from which this article is written, is one of maintaining and growing positive influence. It is with this perspective in mind, that our rebuttals to critics online begin to seem unneeded. Below, are more thoughts as to why that may be.
You’re at a Disadvantage From the Start
The goal of attempting to refute someone’s harsh commentary of your work seems to center on discouraging others from believing the same thing that harsh critic believes. The logical process birthed from reading, and sitting on, a harsh critique entices fear to build. The fear that harsh critics of your work may be right will be difficult to not act on. Creators of online content seem to find it difficult to not act on the fear that’s birthed from a harsh critique online. Their acts commonly include responding to harsh critics with points of their own which disprove the critic’s commentary.
Prior to formulating a response to, perhaps unfair, critics of your work, understand that you’re at an inherent disadvantage in that scenario. The chance of doing more harm than good is high because the discussion is about your own content. The public’s perception, whilst reading or listening to rebuttals, will be grounded in an understanding that you’re coming from a biased perspective. You risk being seen as overly sensitive to online criticism, and may even entice more people to side with the critic in question.
The “underdog” factor is an important one at play in scenarios such as this. The critic of your online work would likely be making their criticism known publicly, on your page or profile, for others to either agree or disagree with. They’d be taking a risk in the fact that a majority of those who enjoy your work are likely to disagree with them. They would place themselves in a vulnerable position in that scenario.
Your act of refuting their criticism can be perceived as an attempt to exploit their less powerful position. As the authority on whatever work it is that is being discussed, you’ll inherently be emboldened by the power which you hold.
The public’s perception surrounding matters in which the creator of content refutes points that their critics make is a nuanced and complicated one. Content creators far too often make the mistake of believing that their fans will come to their rescue and back them up in their act of refuting critics.
However, taking the step to formulate a response to your critics will send the message that the critic in question should be taken seriously. The more you try to refute their claims with points of your own, the more biased and close minded you’d seem (since the conversation is about your own work). Adding on to that, you’d be perceived as attempting to use your authoritative voice in the situation at hand to silence critics of your work.
The factors above often result in more people taking the critic’s side than if you were to remain quiet on the issue at hand. Even if you defend yourself with factual, verifiable, points, the cosmetics of the situation at hand are inherently not in your favor. People will question why you’re so adamant to disprove the critics of your work, and would attribute ulterior motives to your act of doing so. Their attribution of ulterior motives will be confirmed, in their mind, by the factors which are in your favor surrounding the situation at hand.
Space for Others to Come to Your Defense
The train of thought surrounding online critics tends to lead to analyzing what the best case scenario is for refuting critics of our work online. Is there ever a case in which we need to enter the conversation online and say: “Well actually, I think you’ve misinterpreted what I’ve said.”
If successful, a rebuttal to a critic online seems to plays itself out in a way which successfully defends your work from the perception a critic aimed to spread. You’d protect your fans from adopting the mindset which a single critic tried to spread, and you’d reinstate just how strong your original content really was.
On the other hand, you’d risk being seen as biased, defensive, and sensitive. You’d place yourself on equal footing with the critic in question, rather than sticking to your original positions of creator and consumer. Though you may be successful in defending yourself in one instance of an unfair critic coming out for blood, by making it a habit, you’d open yourself up to people finding more chinks in your armor than there were before.
Other critics watching from the sidelines are enticed to back up one of their own when the creator begins defending themselves in the face of criticism. They’re quicker to call out your biases, your sensitivities, and your inaccuracies when you’re in a defensive state. Refuting what critics say does not seem to fail in leading to strengthened partisan debates surrounding your work down the line.
You shouldn’t forget that for every critic of your work, there is at least an equal number of others who understand what you really meant, what you really tried to do, and what you really attempted to put out online. If a critic is wrong, try your hand at leaving breathing room for others to defend your work. By ignoring the initial desires to defend yourself against unfair judgments and lies being spread, you’d entice others to step in and do so themselves. In doing that, you eliminate the possibility of placing yourself in a worse perceptive position than before.
The people defending you will be seen as holding less stake in your work. They’d be casual onlookers who’ve decided that the critic in question is wrong, and their argument will be more powerful (cosmetically) than your logical ones could ever be. The dynamics of a situation in which another person defends you against critics are much more favorable to you, than attempting to defend yourself in those scenarios.
Treat criticism of your work from an uninvolved perspective. If the critics are publicly perceived to be wrong, trust there to be someone other than yourself to point that out. You’d eliminate all pitfalls surrounding with attempting to defend yourself online. If the critics are right, a rebuttal coming from you will be perceived to be inauthentic. The best thing, next to publicly voicing that a critic is right in their analysis, is to not respond to it and simply learn. Take truthful criticisms to heart, and never try to refute them for the sake of saving your image. Your image in those scenarios is likely to worsen than to improve.