Look, you didn’t mean to, but it happened. Maybe you had imbibed heavily and still had social media access, maybe you just had a lapse in judgement and shared something you shouldn’t have. Either way, you done fucked up on the internet. It happened, and you’re embroiled in a full social-media snafu. What do you do now?
So, that’s the bad news: you did something stupid. The good news is there are are a few simple steps you can take to limit the damage.
Keep nothing unnecessarily public
Before you do anything the most important thing to do is get the communication in a channel that needs to be private, private. Did you share a picture or post that you shouldn’t have? Hide it. Especially if another person’s information is involved – they deserve better than you spreading that data. While the internet doesn’t forget, at least getting it out of the public’s eye can help mitigate the damage.
Of course, maybe it wasn’t something you shared. Maybe you got into an argument on someone’s post and it has absolutely exploded on you and it escalated a way you didn’t want it to. There, you need to at least try to change the forum of the conversation to something more private. Try DMs, e-mails, or private messages.
Maybe it’s already private. Maybe you just sent some text messages you didn’t want to, or you were an idiot and asked a friend a favor that was rude. Sometimes you are just accidentally an ass; it happens. If the conversation is already private, take it easy and be cool. Then…
Take a break and reflect
Now, go for a walk. Take a break. If you’re still feeling steamed, go for a walk right now and cool off. If you’re unsure of the situation, feel free to think on it, or ask your trusted friends. You already made things private so you aren’t putting other people’s information out there, so it’s okay to take some time to think things through. Once you’ve done that, now you can approach the situation rationally.What actually happened?
- Was it an argument? Arguments can happen on the internet, certainly. Not all of them can be resolved amicably. However, if you’re considering this a situation where you done fucked up, presumably you were either an ass, or you were wrong, or both. Either way, the most important thing to do is to reach out (privately) to the person and apologize if you were wrong. It might be that you have to agree to disagree.
- Was it a mis-understanding? Sometimes you say things that come across wrong, either public or in private. Sometimes you ask a favor that isn’t appropriate or is too much to ask of a friend. Or maybe you had a faux-paux with the work BCC e-mails. In this case, you need to reach out (again, privately) to the affected parties and 1) apologize, 2) clarify what you meant.
- Were you just an idiot publically? If this is just a risk of you sharing something stupid about yourself, delete it and move on. Sometimes, for example, you shared a stupid picture of yourself doing something you don’t want to publish, so just delete it and move on. I should point out here though that there’s a difference between being an idiot and being offensive and or hurtful in public. If people were calling you on something, it’s important to listen to what they are calling you out on. There’s a good chance you can learn something. If you were publicly hurtful, that is going to deserve a public apology.
There’s a couple of caveats here:
- Intent doesn’t matter – It doesn’t matter what you intended to say. If you said something creepy, or skeevy, or offensive, and it freaked out and or hurt people, that happened. Do NOT just say “it was a joke” or “a misunderstanding.” Just because you didn’t intend to hurt people doesn’t mean that you can ignore the fact that you did.
- Trolls aren’t rational – I am assuming that if you are classifying the situation as one where you done fucked up, you aren’t dealing with trolls. These mobs of angry internet denizens are hurtful and travel in packs, so if you have become the target of them you have done nothing to deserve it. Thoughtful dialogue is wasted. Use mute / block liberally and be safe. Report everything.
- Unsolicited Dick Pics are not okay – It’s kind of sad this needs to be said, but women will tell you on the internet that it DOES need to be said: do not send unsolicited pictures of your junk. If you did, you need to apologize profusely. You’re a bad person.
It’s really important to accept responsibility for your actions. It’s one thing if you just made yourself look like an idiot posting that picture on the internet
but sometimes we say ignorant or stupid things. Doubling down and getting defensive won’t help you. You need to accept responsibility for what you say or what you do, and how that impacts other people. We might have different philosophical bases for our opinions, but you need to accept when your conduct is hurtful to other people (again, see the caveat up above).
Do not just apologize “because someone got offended,” because you clearly aren’t understanding the problem.
Keep your response Proportional
Keep your response proportional to what you’re dealing with. If you had 100 people on a thread calling you out for something stupid you said, you had better have a substantive and highly public response. If someone had responded to you with an enormous e-mail, you had better give a thoughtful and sufficient reply – not just defensive arguing. If you just sent one minor faux paux message, don’t send them a 10,000 word masterpiece about how you actually are a great person. That’s just weird. Don’t do it.
An Apology is not Obligated to be Accepted
So you apologized. Now what? Well, that depends. First, the other person is not obligated to accept your apology. If they don’t, you’ll have to live with it. It might be that an apology is insufficient. It might be they just block you and never talk to you again. There might still be consequences. Understand and accept them. If you’ve made a good faith effort to make amends, you’ve done what you can. Now just accept the consequences.
That’s all, right? Well. One last set of thoughts…
Internet harassment is very real. I’m presuming you in reading this are generally a nice, good person, and not actually an asshole. If you are generally a nice person on the internet (my particular favorite kind of person), you should be fine. You’re human, you made a mistake. If you’re an asshole harassing someone? Take a long look in the mirror and figure out why you’re being an asshole and stop.