How to Handle Online Bullying Like a Lady

stop bullying

EDITOR'S NOTE:  As per request of the author this post has been restored to its original form. This is Hilary Rushford's opinion on online bullying and does not reflect IFB's beliefs or opinions on the topic. Please note that she is speaking on behalf of her blog, Dean Street Society, and it's policies, not IFB.
As a blogger & business owner, online bullying is something that can be experienced in blog comments, on social media profiles or even in your email inbox. My personal definition of it is thus:

Online bullying is when you say something through the veil of a computer screen you wouldn’t have the courage to, or would have the wisdom not to, say face-to-face.

We’ve all been guilty of this. Your temperature rises & you wouldn’t have to look anyone in the eye while you say what’s really on your mind dashing off that text or tweet. {Though hopefully you refrain!} So what do we do if this starts to creep onto our websites, profiles, inboxes — our places of work?

Here’s my tips for handling it like a lady:

1. You set the tone.

Dean Street Society is “a negativity free zone”. I don’t talk about how anyone else has poor style, so if for example someone left a comment about how they didn’t like my outfit, that wouldn’t be allowed. I don’t dish it out, so I don’t have to take it. If I invited you to a party in my home & you started being rude, I would politely ask you to leave. Welcoming you to the party at Dean Street Society, is no different.

Granted, if you threw a party, got tipsy & started making cheeky comments … well, you’d have to be willing to take them as well. If your blog has a bit of sass to it, acknowledge that you’re setting the tone to get a bit of that back, within reason.

 

2. Nip it in the bud, once.

I got a tweet from someone I’d never interacted with who misinterpreted something & replied to me with expletives. I replied that if they followed me with any regularity they’d know I never speak to someone in those words & therefore don’t accept them being spoken to me. And then I blocked them.

Sometimes I see conversations go back & forth in blog comments or Twitter, & if you enjoy engaging then go for it! But if you’ve got an unwelcome unruly guest at your party, just quietly ask them to leave & if they don’t then block/decline/delete.

 

3. Remember that you’re an example.

Not just that you don’t engage in online bullying, but that you don’t allow yourself to be bullied.

With my small business mentoring clients I hear a lot of fears from new bloggers about negativity & criticism on their sites. Because of my choices with Dean Street Society I’m able to confidently tell them that they don’t need to worry about that.

It’s a vulnerable thing to put yourself out there. And once you get to the level of a New York Times journalist or a Kardashian, you can’t control every comment. But while you have a small to medium sized following, set the example for your readers that it can be a safe space. Have the gumption to stand up for yourself when necessary, but always do it with grace.

 

Have you experienced online bullying? How have you handled it? What steps do you take to make sure you don’t encourage or allow in on your blog & in your business?

[Image credit: Shutterstock.com]

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30 Responses

  1. Bare Faced Chic

    I think there is a fine line between criticism and bullying. One of the things that I noticed in your article is that you don’t post negative comments. Whilst it’s your blog and you can publish whatever you want, I think that if a comment is constructively critical rather than just plain rude, it would be worth publishing. If for no other reason it might spark some debate and encourage reader interaction. I won’t publish anything that attacks me personally but if it is a comment disagreeing with my review of a product then I will. It’s not bullying, it’s just an opinion and by putting your style out there you are inviting people to have an opinion so as long as they do it in a respectful way, negative comments might actually be a useful thing to have on your blog.

    Reply
    • Hilary Rushford | Dean Street Society

      Bare Faced Chic, awesome point. If someone has a different opinion about a product {I don’t do product reviews but I hear where you’re coming from} that’s great. I do posts on blogging like I write here on IFB & yes, if you have a differing opinion, just like the comment you left here, that’s awesome.

      What I’m concerned with is when it comes to style posts & I see comments like “That’s not flattering” or “Those shoes look weird with that dress”. They’re not something you’d walk up to a stranger on the street & say. You’d know that’s just mean. But it’s become alright saying online. And we almost feel like it’s our right to say it, not caring that it’s mean.

      If you read the comments on this post: http://heartifb.com/2013/01/03/what-no-ones-talking-about-on-social-media/ note how many of them are about weight. How we look is something that’s sensitive for all women & especially bloggers who put themselves out there. It’s that delicate confidence as women & the belief that we should affirm one another, that I’m talking about here.

      Thanks again for asking so I could clarify! What are your thoughts on that?

      with grace & gumption, Hilary

      Reply
  2. Cora Harrington

    You know I love IFB, but I disagree with equating negative comments and bullying here. Bullying to me brings to mind harassment, stalking, and personal insults…not someone saying they dislike one of my outfits or one of my posts.

    In my personal life, I’ve spoken to a lot of bloggers that have been victims of bullying, and it’s such a serious issue, that I think this post does it a disservice by watering it down into “comments you dislike.”

    Reply
    • Hilary Rushford | Dean Street Society

      Hi Cora, thanks for this perspective. Personally, I’ve seen friends wounded just by a comment that says, “You look heavy in that”. It might not be vicious. But it’s not kind. And personally I would much rather broaden the definition of “bullying” to affirm more hurt & give more people the power to say, “I don’t think I have to accept being spoken to like that just because I’m a blogger”, rather that focus on keeping the definition narrow & feeling like some hurts are too small & should just be accepted & brushed under the rug.

      I don’t mean to discount anyone’s pain. Not your friends & colleagues who’ve experienced big pain from extreme bullying, or anyone who experiences small jibs & jabs that eat away at them & their confidence slowly over time. 🙂

      with grace & gumption,
      Hilary

      Reply
      • Cora Harrington

        “You look heavy in that” isn’t a comment on someone’s outfit though. It’s a comment on someone’s body. And body snark is NEVER okay. In fact, I firmly believe that making people feel small or inferior or “less-than” over things they have no control over (like their shape or size or skin color or sexual orientation, etc. etc.) is bullying. However, you didn’t mention body snark in your article. You mentioned someone making a comment on outfits.

        I believe words have power, and that the definitions we give words should have well-understood meanings. While watering down the definition of bullying to include any negative comments at all may make you feel better, it may also make other people – people who are dealing with the gross after-effects of bullying – feel worse. It also weakens the arguments against bullying when literally everything a blogger doesn’t like falls under that umbrella.

        Your blog is your blog and you can do whatever you want on it. But this is a post you made on the public forum that is IFB. And I believe it’s important to emphasize that there are multiple perspectives on this conversation.

  3. DivaDebbi (Beauty and Fashion Blog)

    I will post comments from people who disagree with me constructively, even if it does get my back up for a half a second, and respond with my point of view. I don’t bully, so I’ve never been bullied…It was not even on my radar that this is a problem until now…

    Reply
    • Hilary Rushford | Dean Street Society

      DivaDebbi, that’s a great point that you would hope because you don’t bully, that others won’t bully you. This issue first came onto my radar as an on-camera host for the Hello Style Channel. We could be doing a lighthearted episode on bridesmaid style, yet I’d find really ugly comments about my appearance, etc. And so I decided that I would reply to each one. Knowing that 90% of the time it wouldn’t make a different. But it was worth it to me for those times when someone replied & said, “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize you guys read the comments on here. That was a little mean.”

      It’s when I set up my own community guidelines for Dean Street Society: http://www.deanstreetsociety.com/community/

      As you said, thankfully I have never ever had even one unkind comment there! And that’s how I’d like to keep it. But as I noted in the column I hear from a lot of new bloggers who are afraid of this & because of Hello Style I know it can happen & it can hurt, so I’m hoping to empower others to nip it in the bud & know that while I couldn’t remove a comment on Hello Style, I do have that power over my own personal style blog. 🙂

      with grace & gumption, Hilary

      Reply
  4. Fran

    I think another thing to think about is maybe why you may be receiving a negative comment. Is it possible that you are doing something that others are misunderstanding? Are you giving others a reason to really dislike you enough to write an email stating as much? Sometimes it takes a comment to get us to snap out of our “la la blogging yay fun rainbows!” trance to take a look at ourselves and our blogging behavior. Maybe we wouldn’t recognize it until someone opens our eyes that constantly talking about all the expensive things we bought, or how great we look in our jeans or whatever can put your readers on edge or give them a reason to no longer like you and your blog.

    Also, like the ladies above, I think there is a very very big difference between negative comments and bullying. Bullying is when you actively go after someone to hurt them. Bullying is consistently confronting someone even after they try to stay away. I think throwing the word bullying on anything that isn’t OMGLUVTHISSOMUCH comments is dangerous as there is real bullying going on in the world…that isn’t on blogs that we create and upkeep ourselves.

    Reply
    • Hilary Rushford | Dean Street Society

      Fran, great point that “negativity” could be a truth we need to hear. And I’m grateful to say thus far I’ve never experienced negative comments directly on Dean Street Society.

      The newest example I give in the Community Guidelines on my site (http://www.deanstreetsociety.com/community) is the recent blog post written about how NBA cheerleader Kelsey Williams was “too fat” to be a cheerleader. Clearly Kelsey did nothing wrong & nothing to bring that on. And while the blogger’s comments weren’t repetitive or stalking, they fit my definition online bullying. We can all agree that article was wrong. But I find sometimes bloggers feel they have to accept it when a reader leaves a comment saying they too don’t look great or skinny enough in what they’re wearing. And I feel they aren’t opening themselves up for than any more than Kelsey was.

      I think the best way to handle the scenario you’re describing is to make sure you have good friends around you. If you show them a comment & they say, “That’s just mean”, then you know it wasn’t a tough love moment, it was just unkindness & it can, in my personal opinion, be removed. 🙂

      with grace & gumption, Hilary

      Reply
  5. Ally

    Online bullying is really becoming a problem for bloggers and I just think that, as it’s easy to bully online, it’s also easy to make yourself a victim online. I see people on sites give constructive crits for bloggers and then these bloggers cry “BULLY!” because they can’t handle it. Their blog is out for everyone to see and not everyone is going to like them.

    I run a pretty sassy blog and I expect to get sass answers. I’ve gotten some crits from friends and I take them to heart. I feel that we are all nice to each other in comments so we can get pageviews back that when there is actually discussion and crits it’s just so scary and foreign we overreact. Of COURSE, there is bullying. And you gave great tips to combat to bullies, Jennine. But I really think an article about taking crit would be great on this site. Unless you already have one and I’ve missed it!

    Reply
    • Ally

      I also saw your note. I’m just saying this for other bloggers because I think there needs to be a whole debate/article about bullying vs negative comments.

      Reply
    • Jennine Jacob

      Hey there! so sorry, I made a mistake setting up this post, actually Hilary Rushford wrote it… it’s corrected now.

      But yes, I see your point about bullying/criticism, however, we have to think that people have different thresholds for criticism. People criticize me all the time, they disagree with me, I’ve been called a brat, old, and several other names, it bothers me, but I deal.

      That said, I do think there needs to be more civility on the internet. That words do hurt, and really, what comes out of saying something like “that shirt looks horrible on you!” Nothing. It doesn’t do anything.

      Also, when it comes to trolling, and negative comments, it does hurt the blog if left unchecked it polarizes readers and undermines the credibility of the blogger. http://heartifb.com/2013/03/07/is-the-internet-comment-culture-doomed/

      Reply
      • Jennifer Novello

        I really appreciate this article because something that bothers me to the CORE is when bloggers are bullied, their comment sections are over flowing with negative and boarder-line insane comments and they don’t even address it. Either we are afraid to speak up and say in a classy, polite manner “dude this blog is not a space where negative comments are welcome” OR I see bloggers go off the deep end and curse right back, so wrong. There needs to be a calm, level headed approach to bullies and just pointless comments in general. Because you said it perfect Jannine, NOTHING comes out of those lame comments.

        I will be very honest, after spending a lot of time reading blogs over the years I personally get shaky every morning when I open my inbox and see “new comment” alerts, because I know as a blogger I am putting myself out there and will one day attract some form of negativity, but I hope I can remain classy and address it perhaps one of the ways Hilary mentioned above. Thanks 🙂

      • Hilary Rushford | Dean Street Society

        Oh Jennifer it breaks my heart that you feel that when you check your inbox! But you aren’t alone. One idea is creating a Community Guideline like I have on my site: http://www.deanstreetsociety.com/community. I know it’s optimistic, but I truly do believe that the more of us who create safe, positive spaces, together we can slowly shift the expectation. 🙂

        with grace & gumption, Hilary

    • Hilary Rushford | Dean Street Society

      Ally, great point that you can of course go to the other extreme & see yourself as a victim. In my case, because I run a style community where other girls share their style {I run an Instagram challenge, group classes, etc} I feel that who I’m really protecting with my policy on bullying, are my readers & also the new bloggers who I mentor. {I explain that in my Community Guidelines here: http://www.deanstreetsociety.com/community}

      What thrills me is how often I hear, “I was nervous to share my photos in Hilary’s style class, but everyone was so encouraging!” So in my case I’m blessed that I’ve never had to deal with negative comments on Dean Street Society, but I also believe that’s because I set out from the start to make it a place of encouragement.

      Your blog sounds like a great description of the example I gave in the article where if you have some sass, then you have to expect some back. I think either way, it’s really about empowering us as bloggers to set the tone on our sites & to see ourselves as role models, deciding the tone, knowing we deserve to be treated with the same respect we put out there, & especially if you’re welcoming others into your community as I am, making it a safe space for them too.

      with grace & gumption, Hilary

      Reply
  6. The Science of Happy

    It’s always important to be the bigger person. First of all, I moderate my comments on my blog so that helps an awful lot. But sometimes I’ll even post negative comments so I can reply in a polite manner and show respect.

    http://thescienceofhappy.blogspot.co.uk/

    Reply
    • Hilary Rushford | Dean Street Society

      Science of Happy, I love that! Truly handling it with grace & gumption in my opinion. 😉

      Reply
  7. Harajuku Girl FL

    Great article. I very much agree that civility needs to be maintained.
    I also closely monitor my comments. I’m all for constructive criticism. You can tell who the trolls are though.

    Thanks!

    Reply
    • Hilary Rushford | Dean Street Society

      Harajuku Girl, love the use of the word “civility”! That’s really what it’s all about. Having discussions are great, differing opinions are awesome, but common kindess is really what indicates if it’s the former, or a line’s been crossed.

      with grace & gumption, Hilary

      Reply
  8. Juliana Bui

    Every time I go to read my comments, I’m always terrified that there’s some kind of hate waiting for me. Thankfully, I haven’t experienced any form of online bullying yet (?) since I’m just starting out, but it’s great to know how I should react and prevent it.

    – Juliana
    http://cocoandpicasso.blogspot.ca/

    Reply
    • Hilary Rushford | Dean Street Society

      Oh Juliana I hate hearing that! Oh how I wish that we didn’t have to brace ourselves for that! One idea is to create your own Community Guidelines like I did: http://www.deanstreetsociety.com/community. And then think of your blog like a party. You set the tone, the theme, & invite the guests. Every once & a while someone will have too much to drink & get out of line, but it won’t ruin the party or your night. 😉

      with grace & gumption, Hilary

      Reply
  9. Bohmyi

    I haven’t experienced any form of online bullying yet either, just because I only started a week ago, but I am aware that it will happen someday and I’m bracing myself for those days to come! Thank you for the tips on how to handle it – I’m sure I’ll refer back to this post in the future! x

    Reply
    • Hilary Rushford | Dean Street Society

      Bohmyi, welcome & congrats on your launch m’dear! Read my reply above to Juliana as you truly don’t have to worry about it as much if you’ll just set your expectations from the beginning & set out to treat others with kindness, most people will follow your lead. Don’t let yourself live in fear. Trust that most people are good & just know if something ever does pop up, that it’s not you, it’s them. And move on with confidence in all your other sweet readers. 😉

      with grace & gumption, Hilary

      Reply
  10. Donald

    Saying negative comments about an outfit isn’t bullying. Now if they comment, post it on your Facebook, and twitter and constantly harass you then that is another whole ballpark. Sometimes getting some negative criticism is a good things maybe it can help you improve your writing, style, ideas, etc. I love some good constructive criticism, but that does not mean being completely harsh and brutal. Online bullying is a tricky situation but definitely doesn’t include negative comments like “I hate your outfit.”

    http://www.shopcharmant.com
    http://www.trescharmantxo.com

    Reply
    • Hilary Rushford | Dean Street Society

      Donald, how I describe it in my Community Guidelines (http://www.deanstreetsociety.com/community) is that as a personal stylist, I see my outfit posts as using my clothes as my chalkboard. If I was a fashion professor & you shouted out, “I hate your outfit!” … well, that would just be rude. And the kid who does that in school? He’s the bully. That’s his role. So even if he does it one time, he’s not welcome in my classroom. Because I, or any professor, or blogger, desserves to be treated with more respect. 🙂

      with grace & gumption, Hilary

      Reply
  11. Paula McClelland

    I have yet to see any negative comments appear on my blog. If I did they would be pretty pointless as I don’t do outfit posts or really put myself out there much physically. However I do have experience with real world bullying and I can offer this as advice; does the “bully” have a point? Are you a fat b*tch? Are you a sk*nk? No? Then why would you waste time and energy stressing about what a stranger thinks?
    Also Fran made a good point about your content. Perhaps your’e getting peoples backs up by constantly doing pointless supported posts or spruiking the same brand over and again (I really hate that, but I wouldn’t ever say anything, I would just stop visiting that blog)
    At the end of the day if your’e putting yourself out there you have to accept that fringe readers may leave catty comments, you just have to consider if they have a point or if they’re just being a-holes and not get too upset about it. Nobody is ever loved by everyone.

    ♥ Paula Shoe Fiend.
    http://shoe-fiend.blogspot.co.uk/

    Reply
  12. Diana

    Since I run a plus size fashion blog I get some spectacular snark once in awhile. I have had strangers walk up to me on the street and say things to me they might otherwise reserve for the Internet. Online, I just block it. There is significant difference with relevant critique or reasoned disagreement and social violence online or off. I have no doubts in my mind about the difference. If intent is unclear… it’s manipulative violence and I hit delete.

    Reply
  13. Carrie

    Wow, I was thinking about this a lot lately.

    I had someone who copied my content and such on my blog – I addressed it and they continued. They then had a nerve to refer to me as their ‘best friend’ – of course I am not. I addressed that too publicly. They tried to still be friends on every social media site… I blocked them and did not speak to them afterwards.

    Then I was told about a series of tweets where this blogger then tweeted about me, saying how pathetic I am, how I’m fat and how I copied them – please, I know how to be professional. They tweeted about how it would be fun to finally meet me (um, but we were apparently ‘best friends’) at an event. That event is in two weeks time. I’m pretty sure they’ll just wallow in a corner and wish they could say to my face how pathetic I am.

    I’m not going to lie, it made me a bit sad. I’ve worked at my blog and brand for years before this individual. It’s fine to criticize my work but then to talk about my appearance – I am not even a fashion or beauty blogger. I just write.

    People treat blogging like its high school at times – ridiculous. We are not in an episode of Mean Girls or something.

    Thank you for the great article, Hilary!

    Reply
  14. Rosie Findlay

    Have you guys seen the online forums criticising style blogs? They are snarky and I don’t recommend reading them, but I’m wondering if anyone has been the subject in any of them and, if so, how did you deal with it? I’m thinking specifically of GOMI and Shamepuff.

    If you have experienced snark on sites such as these, or bullying comments (not necessarily the same as negative comments, I agree- I think the tone in which the comment is written often indicates if it’s meant to be constructive criticism or just mean) I’d love to hear from you (for my PhD research on style blogs).

    Reply
  15. Lisa

    I am so happy that some light has been shed on this issue. I also believe that this can be applied in certain ways to everyday day life as well. Ex: A mean FB comment, etc. I completely agree that letting that type of negative energy in your personal space is a no-no. I don’t treat people with disrespect and I expect the same in return. Thanks again for the lovely article.

    Reply