If you have any kind of public presence on the internet you’ve likely experienced cyber-bullying or trolling, or even just the magnifying effect anonymity gives some peoples’ cruelty. When you put yourself or your work out there not everyone is going to love it, and some of those people are going to want to tear you down to “teach” you, since obviously they know the one right way to live and create and exist.
Rather than write an essay about how hurtful bullying can be- because *duh* that’s why these people do it- or itemizing my experiences with it in my long life on the internet or how I’ve dealt with it, I want to talk more about the difference between bullying and criticism.
Cyber-bullying is surprisingly common in online subculture communities (particularly lolita which has entire sites dedicated to pointless barking about the finite details of near-strangers’ lives). Which surprises me since so many subcultures begin as reactions to the dominant cultures and often experience negative responses in “real life”, you’d think we’d be working to make our online communities safer for members not trying to rip each other apart like Mean Girls.
There is an enormous difference between constructive criticism and cyber-bullying however, and I often hear people excuse their bullying by calling it criticism (which it so isn’t). I graduated from the Ontario College of Art and Design, I have sat through a zillion critiques of my work and participated in countless ones of my peers’ work. You would never approach someone’s project with the goal of making them feel badly about themselves or their work, you wouldn’t say things like “you should kill yourself”, create gossipy “secrets” about them and post them around, or any of the other top notch online-troll traditions when examining someone’s creative efforts. Not only because those are garbage things to do, but because it helps no one. No one is going to become a better dresser or a better artist/creator when you verbally abuse them. Cruelty is not motivating, “knocking someone down a peg” because you don’t like what they wear/do/create is about what you are lacking– not about what they are doing.
A constructive critique comes from a place of encouragement and learning, the object is to suggest improvements and changes to an outfit/artwork/etc. The creator is also under zero obligation to act on these suggestions, as their goals may be different those of the critic, and they aren’t under any obligation to please your specific tastes. No one starts out as an expert in any field or skill. Feedback on your work is how you improve, it’s how you evolve as a creative individual, it’s 100% necessary to the process of being an artist or expressing yourself creatively. But creating an environment where constructive criticism is switched out for insulting, bullying, and cruel gossip helps no one- it’s the moldy thing in the back of the fridge slowly permeating all the good food with yuckiness.
I think when you put cruelty and hatred into the world (be it online or in “real life”), you are poisoning the community. You are making a hostile environment that discourages new participants and will ultimately result in the death of your scene because you drive off new creators and contributors. How can a scene evolve when no one is allowed to take risks for fear of being viciously bullied?
You don’t have to love everything everyone does, but try not be a total asshole about it. 😉