This morning, I woke up to find I'd been personally called out as a spammer by a user of the popular Ruby community blog RubyFlow. This isn't a response post to that, I wrote my response already as a comment, this simply makes for a good prelude to this article.

In this case, the "attack" (for lack of a better word, it's not an attack really) was noble in intent. The user who wrote this article I would say had good intentions of protecting a community website they care about, but it got me thinking about how we go about things like this as developers.

I'm used to being criticised

I've only been openly writing and recording for less than a year, but I have already become quite accustomed to having my work criticised in both constructive and hurtful ways. I love criticism, and hope I get more constructive feedback whenever someone has it to share.

With my writing, screencasts, and even my teaching at General Assembly I usually ask for feedback whenever I get the chance, it's how I become better at what I love doing, teaching.

Criticism isn't so easy for many others to deal with though, especially in the early days when they're just finding their feet.

How your words hurt people

This isn't the first time I've blogged about how hurtful posts and comments can be the wrong way to do things. In my article about "Why Swift Will Never Replace RubyMotion" I mentioned that it seemed unfair to be attacking the work of Laurent and the rest of the HipByte team.

… before you bash on RubyMotion and immediately dismiss it now that Swift exists, and then announce to the world that it’s dead (DHH joke in here somewhere), please remember something.

RubyMotion was created by an amazing and brilliant developer, who bootstrapped his business, granted amazing jobs to people that deserved it, built in a profitable and sustainable business model from day one, and provided the tools and means for developers all over the world to do something that was just out of reach for them before RubyMotion existed.

When Swift came out, though according to Laurent it's had no impact on sales at all (in fact they're up), I can imagine some of the things being said about "RubyMotion is dead" could have been quite hurtful.

This is exactly the same for authors too, as I'm sure everyone knows, but sometimes it's forgotten.

It's a scary choice putting your content out there, as you expect some reactions like this

- From my comment in the the reference article

I consistently avoid websites like Hacker News which are notorious for horrible flame wars and hurtful comments on work. Sadly it seems most hurtful things on HN are from people that just want to have an opinion even though it usually has no larger bearing on the topic. It's not a place for me, even though I know my work as been mentioned there before.

The Bullied Have Become The Bullies

Many developers were the "nerds" and "geeks" in school who were bullied, I know I for one was fairly severely bullied. The sad thing though is that once we've found our domain, the web, many of us suddenly become the ones doing the bullying.

This isn't new news either. It's extremely common for female tech bloggers to receive some absolutely disgusting responses to their work from those that some time ago were complaining how unfairly they were being treated.

This phenomenon is even alluded to in popular TV shows like The Big Bang Theory. In episode 11 of season 4, "The Justice League Recombination", the four main characters begin bullying a recurring guest character for his lack of intelligence.

After being "powerless" for so long, once we find a way of gaining power, some of us go overboard.

You're 15 minute off the cuff rant could change someones life

I mentioned this in my comment on the referenced article, that because you decided to write something hurtful on a whim, you may actually have made a huge impact on the rest of that person's life. There is an extraordinary amount of power in words, especially on the web in a public forum. Remember that before you potentially deter someone from expanding their career and working towards a better life.

Had you deterred me, you may have had a lot larger impact on someones life than you realised, and definitely a larger impact than a small emotionally provoked post should have. Please consider the impact you can have on someone before posting things like this, not just publicly … but also emotionally.

A better way

The article I referenced at the start of this may be a little different, as the main concern was spam and not (entirely) content, but there is certainly alternative ways of going about giving criticism.

  • Be constructive and avoid personal attacks
  • If it might be hurtful for the opinion to be public, consider sending them an email instead
  • Use their comment areas or the most direct way of contacting them if it's ok for it to be public (e.g. Twitter)

How you can help

If you come across hurtful criticism on people work, or hear of a friend's work that's been put in that position, there is things you can do that can really help them not lose confidence.

Your main job is to try and boost their confidence back up. For example if the quality of their work has been mentioned, remind them and those in the arena you're talking in, that they're only just starting out, and quality comes with consistently practicing, especially writing.

Secondly, try to avoid spurring the flame war further, do your best to calm it, do not attack back. If the conversation goes on in the same manner, it will only become more personal and hurtful for the person under assault.

Finally, consider contacting them directly, and letting them know you support them and enjoy their work. Bad feedback can sometimes be overwhelming, but a bit of good feedback can at least help take the sting off.

Be Kind

To wrap up, I'm going to quote my parents.

"If you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything"

Nice doesn't mean a compliment, it simply means something that will help, encourage, or grow the person being spoken to.