It was 2005 and Werker was collaborating with several designers for Crochet Me, her online crochet magazine, when one designer turned into an online bully — publicly turning on Werker, calling her the worst person, ever, and “using flagrant, bigoted, and sexually explicit language.”
The experience left Werker feeling undone. She says she paced, panicked and cried after the initial cyberbullying incident.
“I sank to the floor by my desk and ugly cried uncontrollably,” Werker recalls. After the crying jag, Werker insisted that the designer give her a phone number, so they could talk in person instead of online.
Werker later wrote about the incident years later, in her blog. She says her online nemesis never did engage with her in a more mature way, and that there was nothing she could do to fix the situation.
“My nemesis managed to tweak every single insecurity I had, and I almost believed her about all of them,” Werker says. “I almost believed I was unworthy to do my own work. I almost believed I was a naive idiot. I almost believed I had no business striving for what I wanted to achieve.”
Looking back on the experience, however, Werker says that, as much as the online bullying tweaked her own insecurities and made her — almost — feel like giving up on her dream, she is, in a way, grateful for the experience. In her blog about the cyberbullying, Werker writes:
As many makers may have noticed, once you’ve reached any degree of success with your creative business, it’s more likely you’ve encountered — or will soon encounter — the gut-wrenching experience of cyberbullying. Your heart sinks, your palms sweat, and you’re frantic, devastated and angry all at the same time. You want to fight back, but should you? How do you get over this mountain of negativity and move on?
Jenny Rushmore, sewing blogger and pattern designer for Cashmerette (www.cashmerette.com) understands cyberbullying better than most people.
Rushmore has long been fodder for a website that was created to anonymously criticize bloggers. Over time, Rushmore says, she learned how to deal with the online bullying and move on.
But when one Internet troll took it too far — criticizing a bathing suit sketch Rushmore had posted on Instagram and telling Rushmore that she should “eat less cake,” the Cashmerette founder fought back.
In response to the cyberbully, Rushmore posted a happy photo of herself, mentioned the troll’s comment, and used the hashtag #CakewithCashmerette. The post went viral. Soon, women from around the world posted photos of themselves eating cake and other treats.
Finally, a troll had been slain by positivity. The creative community cheered and even the national press caught wind of Rushmore’s achievement — when People magazine printed Rushmore’s story in an article titled “Fat-shamed Blogger Had the Perfect Response When a Troll Said She Should ‘Eat Less Cake’” more than 2,000 readers shared the article with their online communities.
Even if you’ve never experience cyberbullying to the extent that Werker and Rushmore have, chances are good that you have encountered negative people and trolls in your online blogging and creative businesses.
Following is a guide for to help you deal with cyberbullies, safely maneuver through the incident and emerge a better, wiser creative professional.
In almost all cases, don’t engage the person.
“You literally can’t win,” Rushmore says. “There’s only been one or two occasions where people made a statement and it calmed down. (The bullies) will find comments on blog posts you wrote years earlier to justify their statements, no matter what you say.”
Werker agrees. If you try to talk with the perpetrator, she says, “what you do is fuel the flame war.”
“Fueling the flame war just keeps it going,” Werker explains. “Longer. Harder. It gains more attention from people who may not have even noticed it otherwise. Other people join in. It becomes a hot mess — a hot mess that still will never result in resolution.”
If others publicly stick up for you, it’s OK — but if they keep the issue going, it’s fine to respectfully ask them to stop engaging.
Rushmore’s viral #CakewithCashmerette comment sparked a positive movement. Everyone could rally behind the obvious insensitivity of body-shaming.
But, sometimes, the topic of the cyberbullying isn’t as cut and dry, and keeping it alive through everlasting arguments online prevents the incident from fading away. If one of your friends continues sticking up for you, her loyalty is wonderful! Just know that, if and when you want the issue to fade away, it’s OK to (respectfully) ask your friends to cool it.
Step back and consider how many people are actually paying attention to the drama.
“Ninety percent of (negative posts on certain websites) are written by about 10 people,” Rushmore says.
It’s easy to prove how little impact trolls or cyberbullies have on your business. Turn to Google Analytics to track how many people have visited from the source of the drama. No doubt you’ll be surprised to find out that, just when you think “everyone” hates you, the percentage of people visiting from the source is probably less than one percent of your total page views.
Don’t feel the need to immediately write your own blog post outlining the problems you’re having with your troll — at least not while your emotions are raw.
Some will write blog posts refuting what was said about them on public sites, but there’s really no need, Rushmore says. This is because most readers won’t even know what the blogger is talking about. And, if the troll is reading, you’ll continue to fuel the flame.
Step away from your computer, tablet and phone.
One truth about cyberbullying in the crafting/sewing/art world is that you most likely don’t know the offender in real life.
Though the pain is palpable, remember that the source is coming from an electronic rectangle on your desk and, more importantly, that you can walk away from it.
Call a friend, go out to lunch with your spouse, hash out the problem and then spend time listening to the other person and their concerns and joys. Watch a comedy in a movie theater. Once you’ve stepped outside of your situation, it’s easier to gain perspective.
Stay off websites that promote anonymous criticism.
Legitimate and open critique is helpful. Anonymous barbs are not. Why hang out on a negative website and give someone pennies for page views?
In real life, people don’t say nasty things about you from behind a curtain to hide their identity. It would be cruel and almost laughable.
“It’s so much easier to be a critic when you’re anonymous,” Rushmore says.
Have you already let a troll get to you? Find one bogus statement that makes you realize how wrong that troll really is, then begin your healing there.
“At some point in her hurling of hatred toward me, she accused me of being a prudish super-conservative Christian,” Werker says of her cyberbully. “I’m Jewish.”
“For whatever reason, when that one bit managed to float to the surface of my mind when I was ready to stop ugly crying, I felt at peace,” Werker adds. “First, because I could feel insulted on behalf of Christians … because — seriously? And second, because this woman didn’t know me. If she didn’t know that I’m a lefty, feminist Jew, then everything else she said about me I could take with a grain of salt.”
Remember the Golden Rule.
Werker says she hated the bully who attacked her, and this fact bothered her immensely.
“Never before had I ever truly hated another person, and I didn’t like myself for it,” Werker recalls. “I really hated her; I wished her ill. But I would not, under any circumstances, treat her in a manner in which I would not wish to be treated myself.”
On the other hand, it’s fair to say that some people bring the drama upon themselves and later wind up the victim of cyberbullying. Lying, picking fights with others and writing negative comments will eventually catch up with anyone, and they’ll become a target. Even sharing too many good-news posts can come across as boastful and insensitive.
Think about what you put out into the world and try to follow the “Golden Rule,” which basically says you should treat others in the same manner as you, yourself, wish to be treated.
Take some time after the incident to review it. Then, try to learn and grow from the experience.
Rushmore admits that she occasionally does learn something from what’s said about her online. Her advice?
“Think ‘Is there something I should take away from this?’ Then, let things go,” Rushmore says.
Finally, if you’ve started to build momentum in your business, prepare for inevitable criticism with a “Sunshine” folder.
You’ve probably received many compliments from people who took the time to share their thoughts with you. And yet, as soon as you receive a harsh critique — BAM! — it’s all you can think about. Why continue to beat yourself up over negative remarks?
From this day forward, start collecting positive comments and move them into an email folder (or a physical file) and mark it “Sunshine.”
When an Internet troll or cyberbully rears its ugly head, go to your Sunshine folder and remember how much good you’ve done. Hold onto the positive — and let go of the negative!