Google+ Diet: Day 7

One of the jarring things about spreading all your social activity over many sites and networks is that you experience a mild form of culture shock while moving from one to the other.

Every site has a prevailing "vibe" that can be generally negative or positive.

For example, the comments on Digg and YouTube can be incredibly negative. Conversation on Twitter and Facebook tends to be very supportive.

Moving from Digg, where a link may be heckled with a "You suck! Why don't you go kill yourself!" to Facebook, where the same link may be greeted with sunshine: "Great link! You're awesome for posting it!"

To me, the ideal comment culture is one that tolerates strong disagreement, but not disrespect, bigotry or vicious personal attacks.

Comment culture is determined partly by the structure of the network, and partly by the prevailing demographic. But it's also determined, in part, by deliberate effort on the part of the community.

So far, the general commenting "vibe" on Google+ has been awesome. But this could change, as the community grows. It's up to us pioneers to set the tone, and shape the culture.

I believe the key is how we all handle criticism, which is an under-appreciated skill, in my opinion.

I've worked as an editorial and opinion column writer for <mumble, mumble> years, and in that time I've learned (the hard way) about dealing with criticism in the most constructive way possible. Here are my "best practices" for dealing with online critics, which I think if applied broadly can help shape Google+ for the better:

How to deal with critics

When someone criticizes you or something you care about publicly online, ask yourself: Is the comment disrespectful in some way? Is it a personal attack, rather than a disagreement with an idea? If so, you may be tempted to 1) attack the person back; or 2) defend yourself.

But most of the time, the best way to deal with disrespectful posts is to ignore them. By responding to them, you may bring a lot more attention to them, which in fact may be what the critic is after in the first place. By responding to respectful comments, and ignoring disrespectful ones, you can drown the bad ones in a river of constructive and interesting conversation.

Respectful disagreement is another matter. If someone strongly disagrees with your idea, or comment, without attacking you personally or being nasty about it, it's a good idea to respectfully engage in a debate about the ideas in question. Or not. It's your choice.

I'm a big believer in acknowledging good argumentation and valid points, as well as admitting when I was wrong -- which is often. It's easy to be embarrassed by being proved wrong in public, but I've found that people respect you more if you admit it rather than trying to win the argument by refusing to admit it.

Here's my most surprising bit of advice: When someone disrespects you in private -- say, a note that's private to just you on Google+ or Gmail -- the best response is a respectful reply. I'd say 90% of the hate mail I've responded to respectfully and without negativity caused a 180 on the part of the hate mailer. Here's a sample conversation:

HATE MAILER: "Hey, Elgan. Did <Silicon Valley company> pay you to write that piece of <censored>? You're literally the biggest moron I've ever read. I wish I could have my five minutes back!"

ME: "Thanks for your note! I'm curious to know what it was about my column that you disagreed with. Thanks again."

HATE MAILER: "Sorry for being such a jerk. It's just that I bought a widget from <Silicon Valley company>, and had a really bad experience with their customer support. And here you are praising them. I just kind of lost it. Sorry."

ME: "Don't worry about it. Drives me nuts when that happens. And it's good to know about your experience. I hadn't heard anything like that before, so it's actually helpful to me as a columnist. Anyway, thanks for bringing all this to my attention."

I've found that people often criticize harshly because they have an emotional connection to the topic, and feel they're not going to get through to you unless they go overboard. But a respectful response defuses the emotion, and gets that person to change their tone. But, again, this generally only works in private conversations. Public haters usually fight it out to the bitter end no matter what you say.

And of course, racism, sexism, or other over-the-line comments can be dealt with on Google+ by visiting that person's profile, and either blocking them or reporting them with the link at bottom left.

It's up to all of us to keep Google+ safe for constructive, respectful debate and conversation!
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