Lately, and I don’t want to get into any specifics here, I’ve seen a disturbing trend. Maybe you’ve noticed it too if you hang out on Twitter. If you don’t then maybe it hasn’t been as prevalent. But lately, I’ve seen a lot of “hater” behavior. My friend Nic Wirtz mentioned a similar trend during the Tweetdiner chat this past Saturday. Now, just like silly bands, hater behavior can come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. For example:

Arnie the Argumentative Aardvark: This kind of hater will argue with certain people until said people react, usually in a not good way.

Sally the Slap-Happy Sloth: It’s really easy to “slap” people, especially in Twitter. Sally figures that since the Twitter stream rolls by so quickly, the person she is slapping may not even notice. It’s really easy, in 140 characters, to take a little slap at somebody.

Eva the Explosive Emu: This kind of hater seems to go along all nice and happy until suddenly, for no apparent reason, they explode at somebody, taking that poor somebody off guard.

The list goes on and on. Maybe you have some other members of the set at home.

Here’s the problem, though. When you are on the receiving end of this kind of haterific behavior, the pressure is on you, not the hater, to act in a mature fashion.

Bummer, right? However, I’ve seen this played out over and over again. Someone says something mean to person A. Person A retaliates. Everyone says tsk tsk tsk to person A. For whatever reason, no matter how unfair it is, the person who reacts gets a lot more attention than the person who initiated the squabble in the first place.

Avoid becoming Victor the Victimized Vampire Bat

There are a lot of ways to handle haters without making yourself look bad. The following are some of my recommendations. Maybe you have some as well?

Shine out an aura of unending patience: The online world is kind of nice in that the general public only sees what you type. If you find that someone is driving you batty, go ahead and punch a pillow, kick a blanket, hit your bed, but when you come back to Twitter or your blog or wherever it is, be as calm and as still as a sea in Summer. Agree that the Arnie the argumentative aardvark is totally entitled to his point of view. Ask Ellen the explosive emu if everything is okay. If a person is truly trying to be a hater, nothing will upset them more. If something more friendly is going on, you’ll get down to the nugget of it rather than becoming an explosive emu yourself.

Ignore the person: I know, this seems like it might be really boring, but just a thought – if you see a train crash, do you drive your car right into the middle of it, or do you drive away as fast as you can (while maybe looking at the madness in your rear view mirror)? If someone is trying to bait you into an online fight because they’re having a bad day, just refuse to participate. If they keep bugging you, unfollow them, report them as spam, or tell your friends what’s going on so you can get some back-up.

Pay more attention to people who are treating you well: A lot of haters are fed by the attention they receive for their unseemly behavior. It’s kind of like Ghost Busters II, which altogether was not a great movie, but remember how the slime kept feeding off of everyone’s misery? Online haters are just like that sometimes. So, instead of blasting out a really happy and uplifting song, sing out praises for valued members of your community. Tweet out really good blog posts. Show the hater what he or she could experience if only they would stop hating. And if they’re just plain hungry for misery, let them go somewhere else.

Explain to the hater that their behavior is unacceptable: I view this as a last resort, as it’s only a step or two away from engaging. However, if you’ve had friendly communications with the person, it sometimes doesn’t hurt to send an email or a personal message just to say, “Hey, you’re really not doing yourself any favors here. I’m concerned about you.” Now, you could also tweet this out in public but that just seems really passive aggressive. And it’s feeding the beast.

Don’t fight fire with fire

Whether you choose any of these methods or none of them, one core fact remains. In the online world, you are what you type. Very often, your followers or the people in your community will only see what you are saying to someone else. If they see you ranting and raving at someone, it’s kind of like seeing someone ranting and raving in the middle of a sidewalk for no apparent reason. They don’t see that someone is irking you. They don’t know that you have been patient for 27 months and now finally you’re losing it. They just see what you’re doing and what you’re typing. This is always the case. You never get a break. So before you retaliate, try to weigh the usefulness of your fireball against what it might cost you in terms of trust and credibility from people who like and respect you. Usually – this makes the decision pretty easy.

Oh, and by the way…

It’s really easy to come off as a hater in a place like Twitter-world. People don’t know you. They don’t know the tone of voice you have in your head. Always play on the safe side, even if you think you’re getting to know someone well enough to joke around with them. As somebody really smart said one time, “Better to be safe than sorry.”

Agree? Disagree? Hate? Love? Share in the comments below!

Image by Felix atsoram.