It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know how much random, toxic, hate is spewing around the internet. Many sites have even started getting rid of comment sections because trying to moderate so many putrid posts gets exhausting after a while. Photographers are often the target of completely uncalled for, targeted, hateful notes from some of the web's most vile cretin. Learning how to effectively handle these sorts of attacks is critical to maintaining your sanity and resolve.
As someone who creates a lot of content for a high traffic website, I've become pretty immune to this sort of thing at this point. I expect it, and sometimes laugh at it but never let it pull me down. I'm, however, not the norm. A lot of the internet hate finds its way towards aspiring photographers who simply aren't used to being bombarded with negativity. This post is for the people who get completely blindsided by this sort of noxious caustic vitriol and let it tear apart their motivation to continue chasing their passion.
The inspiration for this article came from a comment that I came across in a thread on Facebook responding to a young photographer who was brave enough to share his work with the world. There really isn't anything special about this particular comment other than that it is pretty representative of internet toxicity and that it inspired me to tackle this topic. I've included a screenshot of the comment below.
The photo, in question, wasn't anywhere near as bad as this wretched excuse for a human being seems to think. It was a nice photo, the photographer was probably proud of it, and rightly should have been. Is it going to win any awards? Probably not, but I'm pretty sure it was something the photographer felt very good about, at least until they posted it. I could tell the photographer was quite offended as they replied with a rather harsh and aggressive comment attacking the the commenter.
How To Respond To Internet Hate
Don't. That's really it, there isn't anything you can do about it so why waste your energy doing battle with it. Furthermore, any response most likely will reflect poorly on you because it will be polluted by a combination of anger and shame. Trolls like this seem to thrive on the validation that their nasty remarks are actually having an impact on the person they are attacking. By completely ignoring them you rob them of that validation. If you'd like, I suppose, delete the comment but don't go beyond that and certainly don't let them pull you into a pissing contest.
How To Not Feel Bad
Even when you ignore hateful comments they still have a sting to them that can weight upon our conscious. Photographers put heart and soul into their art, and all it takes is one harsh response to shatter passion. I used to always joke to people that they couldn't possibly offend me because if they say something I disagree with I just assume they must be wrong. It was always meant as joke of sorts to make it seem like my ego was unhealthily through the roof. I delivered it like a joke and made it pretty obvious. There was truth in that statement though, the opinion of trolls simply doesn't matter. They are wrong. They are not even trying to be right. Their goal is to hurt, not to help. They are no more qualified to give you a review than any other steaming wad of fecal matter that may be traveling down the sewage pipes below your feet. I can even prove it. Next time someone makes a nasty comment on one of your photos, click on their name, go find the great portfolio of amazing work that makes them think they are qualified as the harbingers of great photography. In almost all cases it doesn't exist. Trolls are too busy trolling to actually ever create any good work. They have no authority other than in their mind, unless you empower them with authority by letting them make you feel bad.
Sometimes, however, the comment that is making you feel bad doesn't come from a troll. Sometimes the comment comes from someone genuinely trying to help by offering advice without realizing that their post has a terrible draining impact on the motivation of the photographer. Unsolicited critique can often by very harsh and even harder to shake off because it feel more honest than a direct attack.
More often than not, however, those throwing out this sort of unwanted feedback really have no authority to be speaking on the topic. Start by doing what I said above, click their name, figure out if they have the experience to back up their opinion. If they don't, don't assign their comment any weight. Sometimes, however, there is something to be learned from these sort of critiques, they may reveal a weakness in your work that you may not have considered. Think strongly on them and decide if they are saying something constructive that actually is worth addressing. Never forget, though, that photography is always subjective. Just because someone has a different opinion of what makes a successful photograph doesn't mean your photograph is wrong. It just means your photography isn't for them. Not everyone likes spicy food, does that make spicy food bad?
A couple years ago Scott Kelby did a great episode of the grid covering the topic of unsolicited critique, it is worth a watch and has a powerful message.
Don't let the demons get you down. They are numerous and always rabidly snapping at your heels. By slowing down to fight them off all you do is allow more to catch up. Keep racing forwards and eventually you will get high enough that those demons will be powerless to reach you. Your photography is great. In the future your photography will be even better. Keep at it and always trust in your creative vision.