Don’t Try To Save Your Haters: Lessons Learned From The Rhonda Lee Controversy

December 14, 2012  |  

Rhonda Lee, the Louisiana based meteorologist, spoke with Roland Martin on the Tom Joyner Morning show yesterday about her termination from KTBS, a local ABC Affiliate, for responding to derogatory comments about her natural hair, among other things, made on the station’s Facebook page.

If you haven’t read the full details of the story, Veronica Wells does a great analysis of the situation; therefore it is no need to reiterate again.  But listening to Lee explain the sequence of events to Martin, there are two things to note about this story: First, Lee’s termination doesn’t compare at all to the story of Jennifer Livingston, a Wisconsin reporter, who took to the airways and responded to a viewer, who reprimanded her via email for being overweight, thus not being “a suitable example for this community’s young people, girls in particular.” I have heard this comparison a lot since this story went viral.  While both took a stand against bullying and harassment over the Internet, Livingston had the full support of her station (including her husband who works as an anchor for the station), who even carved out time in the news show’s broadcast for her to speak on the derogatory comment. Unfortunately for Lee, she did not have the same permission – although there is some disagreement over how this policy was or was not communicated.

Another thing to note is the difficulty in handling negative criticism, especially in this new digital age.  In short, Facebook is getting more and more people fired and Lee is its latest casualty.

Nowadays, all you have to do is click-[Insert derogatory comment here]-click and boom! Instant gratification for them; instant bruised ego, hurt feelings and painful historical reminders for you.  Nicci at FatFemPinUp recently listed a sampling all of the derogatory, vile and hateful comments she’d receive after posting a picture of herself via Twitter, with a caption, “450lbs *shrugs* and no, im not trying to lose or gain weight.” Most of the comments were so ugly and vicious that it would be hard to ignore them, if not take them to heart.  And many of them could stand to get their feelings hurt from a verbal thrashing.

However, in order to survive in this new digital age, you need a new level of patience as well as tougher than leather skin to deal with the anti-social folks. But in those instances where the tomfoolery and shenanigans are too much and you lose patience, discernment is key. As Yvette Carnell, a writer friend of mine, bluntly said recently of this controversy, don’t engage crazy. Or in more universal terms, don’t feed the trolls. Reason being, you can’t change their minds and some folks really do thrive off of attention – no matter if it is negative or positive. And responding not only fuels their debauchery but tends to derail conversation on a thread. And if a couple of commenters manage to insult both black people and cancer patients in the same sentence as well as create an elaborate conspiracy theory involving little black kids winning a free shopping trip at Wal-Mart to the mayor of the town, I really don’t think that a response, no matter how well intentioned, is worth your time, effort and energy.   Believe me, his/her stupidity is already duly noted.

In, The 4 Worst Things About Writing for the Internet, which is one of my favorite humorous articles about writing for online audiences,  Cracked writer Daniel O’Brien speaks very fluently about how veteran professionals in this digital era end up dealing with some of the more colorful forms of feedback we see in comment sections:

You can get over it. I’ve been doing this long enough that I’ve gotten plenty of comments from both ends of the spectrum of Internet Commentary, from the lows of “You’re the worst thing to ever happen to writing, I fucking hate you,” all the way to the highs of “This article wasn’t a piece of Isht like your others, I fucking hate you.” I’ve read both of those comments and everything in between them enough times that it’s all basically white noise at this point. So there’s a possibility that you’ll eventually become immune to all comments. Or you could just develop a thicker skin. Or just not read comments at all. Or you can read and intensely focus on every single comment, (though only a total lunatic would do that). Whatever. The point is, you can get to a place where comments don’t affect you at all.

With that said what a lame reason to lose your job, especially considering how innocuous her response was.  When I first heard of this story, I thought she went in on this jerk, with some colorful and derogatory language of her own.  Instead she delivered a very thoughtful reply, in my opinion, definitely not worthy of being fired over. Exactly why you should never try to save your haters.

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