Last week, my post "Is It Sinful for Christians to be on Government Aid?" went viral (or what is viral for me - I got more pageviews in one day than I usually get all year). In that post, I opened up about my insecurities about receiving help from our local social services office. Being on government assistance is often frowned upon, and wondering whether or not it was against God's Word was was a question I'd personally wrestled with. I felt it was a fitting post to share on the Hallway Initiative since many of us here have struggled with or are still in the throes of financial hardship.
And the post blew up...for all the wrong reasons.
In Elite Blog Academy, I was taught to prepare for my first viral post because one never knows when a post will go viral. There were tips about creating a subscriber offer - a free gift to encourage people to sign up for my newsletter - and making sure that people could easily subscribe. All of that was well and good, but there were 7 incredibly hard lessons from my first viral post that I wasn't prepared for.
People Don't Read
When Erin's assistant shared my post, she clearly stated that the post was mine and not Erin's direct work. But people never read that part, and those who didn't agree with the post began attacking Erin personally for having written such a post.
People Are Rude
Many, many people disagreed with my post. While I think that's pretty understandable - I wrote about a personal, hot-button topic - I was shocked at how rude people were. It was as if, because they weren't in a face-to-face conversation, they felt more free to write hurtful things that I'm guessing they'd never dare to say in person.
People Are Judgmental
Another thing that caught me completely off guard was the judgmental tone that some responders seemed to have. Now, I know that with written comments, there isn't voice inflection, and my hope is that people weren't as judgmental is it seemed. But those who opposed government aid seemed to be judging those who were on it, and vice versa.
People Jump to Conclusions
More than just being rude or judgmental, many people read the title of the post and responded to it without ever reading what I said in the post. (Initially, there was a hiccup with the link to my post where only the image showed up and not the link with it, and this did contribute a bit to the conclusion-jumping but didn't account for all of it.) Had they simply taken the time to read instead of jumping to conclusions based on the title alone, many of them would have realized that they were in agreement with me and could have avoided conflict.
People Misinterpret Your Message
Many people accused me of deliberately trying to stir up followers with the title of my post. Some said I had deliberately created a "click-bait" title, which means that I worded my title in such a way as to compel people to click through to the post only to find out that the post wasn't on topic with the title.
I can say with a clear conscience that this was definitely NOT my intention at all. More than that, I answered my title's question in my post, so even if my goal had been to lure people into clicking through, I didn't leave the title topic unaddressed. It was a painful reminder of how people can easily misinterpret a blogger's message and intent.
Technology Issues Plague Everyone
As I mentioned above, one issue that contributed to the uproar over my post was that the link to the post on Erin's page didn't work correctly at first. Because not everyone could click through to read what I'd written, this contributed all the more to people's assumptions and misjudgments.
It was a good reminder to me that technology problems can creep up at any time to anyone. Erin and her team are seasoned blogging professionals and have been working in the online world for years. Even so, there was a glitch that caused even more confusion and tension. Although it was quickly resolved, it was just one of those things that added to the mayhem.
Viral Posts Are Usually Controversial
Since I'd never before experienced a viral post, I was distressed to realize that the reason mine went viral was because of the controversy, not because people loved it or felt it was well-written. I asked in one of my blogging groups if posts ever went viral for good reasons or if only antagonizing posts did. Sadly, most bloggers reported that their viral posts were like mine, where the reaction was much more negative than positive. Only one blogger had had a positive experience with a viral post.
So, after letting the dust settle and thinking through these 7 depressing lessons that my first viral post taught me, what am I doing with this new-found information?
Well, along with these sad realizations, I do think there is hope. In addition to the frustrating lessons I learned, there were also 3 beneficial takeaways that I'm choosing to focus on.
People Are Hurting
The negative reaction to my post, as difficult as it was, clearly showed me that people are hurting. Ann Voskamp wrote in her 1000 Gifts Devotional that "fear often wears anger's mask," and it makes me think that many of the rude reactions stemmed from people's hurt and fear. While this understanding doesn't excuse poor online behavior, it does help me look past it to realize that many people are deeply hurting.
I can be praying for these people. I know first-hand what it's like to be financially needy. It's a scary position to be in, and it could well lead to a person lashing out in anger. I know, because I've been there myself.
People Need Grace
Lots of readers didn't treat either Erin or me well as a result of my post. But rather than responding in kind, it showed me that people need grace, and often, a lot of it. While it might be easy to get snippy with the snide comments some people left, we have an opportunity to cloak them in grace and to reply lovingly.
I'm the first to admit that I don't do grace well. Although I've received God's grace when I absolutely did not deserve it, I struggle to pass on grace to others. And yet I'm called to extend grace to those around me just as I've been extended grace from the Lord. This unfortunate blogging experience was the perfect place to practice giving grace and to grow in my walk with Christ.
Your Friends May Surprise You
The resulting storm from my viral post took place on Sunday afternoon, and since I'm not usually on social media on Sundays and because I rarely ever check my blog's analytics, I was blissfully unaware of all the goings on. One of my blogging friends got in touch with me to let me know what was happening, and I was grateful! There were some very heated readers who needed explanations.
When I jumped on to find out the extent of everything, I really expected Erin to take down the post or to simply defend herself since she wasn't the post's author. Instead, she sweetly defended my post, reminded those who were upset to thoroughly read my post before answering harshly, and truly supported me. I would have understood if she felt unable to do so; after all, these were her readers, not mine, who were so up in arms.
Her gracious response was a reminder to me that we have friends who are willing to defend us when needed. I didn't expect her to do this and wouldn't have blamed her if she simply hadn't wanted to deal with it. But I was so, so thankful that she stuck by me!
My first viral post was anything but fun. It ended up teaching me 7 very painful lessons that were difficult to swallow. But the Lord used it all the same and showed me that even when people are upset or angry, we can respond with understanding and grace.