Ah, but how should Mr. Joel have responded? Business consultants have a few suggestions for how to deal with online criticism. These are for businesses rather than celebrities, but they might apply here. For example: “engage by responding in the same context with some constructive advice or acknowledgment of the issue.” And don’t let them get to you. “Rule #1: DON’T start a flame war. You can’t win. In the end, you must take a high road, even if it hurts a little. If a customer is upset with you—LISTEN and show empathy. How you would like to appear to others reading the posts?” To put it more simply: Be Kanye–or, rather, be the Kanye who, yesterday, responded to criticism of his comment that he doesn’t listen to rap at home.
Kanye clarifies, brushes it off, and expresses affection for the offending party–and then plugs his current project. Mr. Joel, watch and learn:
I LISTEN TO JEEZY, WAYNE, JIM JONES, BIG BRO AND RICK ROSS IN MY CAR AND IN THE GYM. I LISTEN TO ONLY BUILT FOR CUBAN LINKS AND NAS WHEN I DESIGN… BUT IF I’M IN THE CRIB CHILLING AFTER RAPPING ON STAGE EVERY DAY OF MY LIFE… NO I’M NOT TURNING ON NO RAP MUSIC. (INCORRECT GRAMMAR INTENDED) IF SOMEBODY WORKS IN STARBUCKS THEY DON’T DRINK COFFEE AT THE CRIB. GO TO BOSSIP AND READ THE COMMENTS. PEOPLE ARE REALLY UPTIGHT ABOUT WHAT I LISTEN TO IN MYYYYY HOME! I AIN’T GO LIE… SOME OF THE COMMENTS ARE MAD FUNNY THOUGH!!! BOSSIP IS ONE MY FAVORITES!!! HAHAAAAA … OH AND I STILL LOVE YBF TOO. WATCH THA AMA’S TONIGHT!!! SING IT WITH ME…. HOW COULD YOU BE SO HEARTLESS!!!!!!!!!!!!
SIDEBAR: I USE ALL CAPS CAUSE I’M LAZY NOT MAD. I TYPE WITH ONE HAND AND HOLD THE PHONE WITH THE OTHER.
This points out a problem with another bit of the consultants’ advice:
If the rant is a one-off on a small blog with limited readership, it’s often best to simply let it go. If the problem persists, arguing is not the answer, but a gentle “we’ve been tracking your comments, and are quite surprised. How can we help you get to the bottom of this” might work. We’ve seen people stop posting as soon as they realize that someone is watching.
It depends who you are. If people respect you, there’s a good chance that as long as you’re courteous and respectful when you wade into a discussion, it’ll garner more goodwill. But if you’re big enough, people who are criticizing you often want you to engage directly with them, because they feel like they have useful advice. Engaging just makes it worse. The biggest rule about online criticism, then, is this: It will never go away. Because it’s not a new phenomenon! The comments people leave on blogs and message boards are the kind of things that have always been said about public figures throughout history. It’s just that now, they’re visible for everyone–including the subject–to see.
So based on all this, let’s try to formulate a few rules for responding to criticism on the Internet.
- Just don’t respond. It may seem hard, and it won’t stop the bitching. But it will keep you sane. Once you get drawn in, that will almost always end badly, adding more fuel to the fire and forcing you to either keep responding or quit the Internet. And know yourself: if you’re not a good writer, not experienced at Internet “discourse,” and not quick-witted, just stay out of it. You’ll only make yourself look worse.
But if you do want to respond…
- Respond early, respectfully, and with good humor. Your best bet here is to charm people. Be nice. Acknowledge their criticisms–you probably did do something stupid! Hey, everyone does. If you get in early, you’ll only have to deal directly with one or two people, who you can pick, but everyone will then feel personally engaged. And when people feel like you’re someone they have a relationship with on a peer level, rather than being just some distant figure they can mock without any consequences, they’re more willing to give you the benefit of the doubt.
Let’s say, however, there’s some really egregious stuff out there and you want to argue with your critics. What then?
- You have to be able to look smarter than them. For all its mainstreaming and dumbing-down, the Internet is still, ultimately, a venue ruled by nerds. You will not win with self-righteousness. You will not win with basic insults. You will win with elaborate, cutting insults that shame and humiliate the critic, that cut to their most hidden shames and expose them as shallow, weak, and pathetic. And more than anything else, you will win if you keep your cool and the critic doesn’t. You have to be able to slip the knife in with a smile. And that’s a really, really hard thing to do.
YUP, I SAID IT… [kanYe West: Blog]