Jay Thompson is a former brokerage owner who spent over six years working for Zillow Group. He retired in August 2018 but can’t seem to leave the real estate industry behind. His weekly Inman column publishes every Wednesday.
Way back in the pre-pandemic times of early 2019, Lady Gaga won the best original song Academy Award for “Shallow.” She and her A Star is Born co-star, Bradley Cooper, sang a powerful rendition of the song during the Oscars.
Moments after the performance ended, the internet lost its mind. Rumors swirled that Gaga and Cooper were in love, having an affair, ruining relationships. The internet practically proclaimed Cooper was Gaga’s future baby daddy.
Two days after that performance, Gaga appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live and answered questions about the love affair rumors with what is, in my opinion, one of the best quotes in the history of the internet: “Social media, quite frankly, is the toilet of the internet.”
Nailed it! Here were two Oscar-nominated actors, performing a love song from a love story. You know, acting like they were in love. Yet, untold thousands accused Gaga of being a homewrecker.
Toxicity abounds in the online world. Social media provides an easily accessible platform for anyone with a cell phone or Wi-Fi and a keyboard. Those platforms can be used for fun, for good, for business, or to attack and destroy.
I know first-hand about haters and keyboard warriors. Having spent over six years as Zillow’s director of industry outreach made me a target of some pretty toxic commentary. Death wishes, threats to bring a gun to my office, attacks on my family — not because of who I am, but because of where I worked. It seems utterly ridiculous, doesn’t it?
Almost two and a half years ago, I walked out of the Zillow offices for the last time, heading off into “retirement.” No one but my wife knows this, but as I stepped out of the office building onto the busy downtown Seattle sidewalk, I looked up toward the 31st floor of the “Zillow Tower” with a tear in my eye. I had a lot of friends and countless amazing co-workers and memories in that building. Then I looked down at my phone, smiled and proceeded to remove myself from half a dozen real estate groups on Facebook.
After that cathartic moment, I walked about a block and a half to my favorite sushi restaurant, ordered myself a cold beer and sushi, and opened up a list on my phone of toxic real estate groups, and yes, toxic, downright hateful, people. As I quaffed my beer and snarfed my sushi, I left another couple dozen groups, unfriended several people who were never friends by any definition of the word, and blocked about a dozen folks from my social media life.
It was glorious!
Then I turned off all social notifications on my phone, paid my bill, and walked to the No. 3 bus that would take me home.
The purge would continue in earnest for the next several days. I was on a mission to eliminate online toxicity from my life.
Although it has significantly slowed over the past couple of years, with the purge becoming but a trickle, the effort to end the ugly, nasty, hateful side of the online world continues to this day, and I suspect the task will never really conclude.
Why some people are so angry — about a multitude of topics — puzzles me. That they have no qualms or conscience about venting their disdain for life, business and other people online is mystifying. Sadly, it seems it’s just the reality of the world we live in today.
I’ve learned a lot about dealing with the toxic underbelly of the internet and flushing the toxicity out of my life.
Here are a few tips I have learned that I would encourage anyone reading this to consider. No one needs to put up with much of the nonsense spewed forth on social media platforms. Unless your job was like mine — requiring you to monitor brand mentions and feedback — do yourself a favor, and work on eliminating toxic people and their thoughts. Hit the flush handle, and enjoy the time you spend online.
1. Keep scrolling
If you’re like most people, you probably consume social media on your phone. That’s a device that makes scrolling super simple. See something crazy or toxic, swipe your finger and scroll right by.
You don’t need to read the post; you’ll know it’s toxic with a quick scan. The comments are almost certainly equally harmful, or worse. Just scroll on past.
2. Unfollow, snooze, unfriend, block
I’ll never unfriend or block someone for having an opinion different than mine. I’m thankful for differences and enjoy a spirited debate.
However, should you choose to dive into a personal attack against me, I will “unfriend” you in a heartbeat. Attack my family, and you’re blocked — my family is off-limits.
If you find unfriending or blocking too harsh, or you’re afraid of hurting someone’s feelings, then unfollowing and snoozing someone may be your solution. Though honestly, if you find your finger hovering over the unfriend or block buttons, but you can’t pull the trigger based on that person’s feelings, remember this: They certainly don’t care about your feelings.
3. Keep a positive attitude
When I first got my real estate license, there were signs all over the brokerage office that said, “Attitude is everything.” And it is. Yes, sometimes that phrase is annoying, especially when what you’re thinking is, “Right now, a commission check is everything.”
It’s not easy to keep a positive attitude, especially in trying times. If you can, it will do wonders for your head and your body. No one can be sunshine and rainbows all day, every day, But the more time you spend in a positive mindset, the less time you’ll spend fretting, worrying and letting toxic people and actions affect you.
4. Avoid the blame game
Back in the day, a friend of mine spawned the hashtag #BlameZillow. I’ll freely admit it made me laugh. At times, it seems like people would blame Zillow for all their woes. Just this morning, I read where someone was blaming Zillow for their MLS dues increasing. Really?
Yes, it’s easy to pick on someone, something, some philosophy or some actions and lay blame for everything wrong in your life. All that does is increase the dosage levels of toxic thoughts. Misery does love company, so if you’re miserable frequently, all you attract are other, miserable people.
5. Fess up, sometimes the problem is in the mirror
The corollary to blaming others is sometimes the blame is really on you. As a human being, admitting our faults is difficult. And as a human being, the simple fact is we all have flaws. No one is perfect. No one should expect anyone else to be perfect.
If you can admit you are wrong, that is a huge step toward solving your problem. Blaming others, the government or a business is the easy way out. It’s also a ticket to never solving an issue and never reducing toxicity in your life. Sometimes you have to fess up, admit you’re the problem, fix it and move on.
6. Self-discipline matters
Think before you read, and think before you speak. Sometimes it feels like critical thinking skills have flown out the window and disappeared into the ether, never to be seen again.
Ever seen someone go off on a rant about a news article? When you read the article — and not just the clickbait headline — you can only wonder why this person has lost their mind. People pile on in the comments, equally outraged, but it’s crystal clear their outrage is wholly unfounded based on the article’s content.
You have got to read past the headlines in today’s clickbait world. Have the self-discipline to read on, and you’ll save yourself a lot of angst.
7. Take a walk
Often, the best response is no response. But if you feel you must jump into a toxic subject, step away from the keyboard.
One of the best tactics I employed when responding to an agent angry about Zillow was writing my response and then going for a walk around the block. That allowed time to diffuse the gut, emotional feelings and reaction. It allows time and space to clear your head. I would often return to my desk, delete my original response and write something more appropriate.
8. Take a break
The next level up from taking a walk is taking a break. It took me several years, but one of the best things I did for my sanity at Zillow was implementing “Facebook-free Sundays.”
Every Sunday morning, I would post on Facebook that I was out for the day and if something was a true emergency to send me an email. Do you know how many emails I got during those two years of free Sundays? One.
Yes, I frequently failed at staying offline for the entire day. But even a few hours of respite was a much-needed break. Try it; the world won’t end if you spend one day a week offline.
9. Don’t take it personally
I can’t count how many times well-meaning friends, family and co-workers would tell me, “Don’t take the crap personally.”
Yeah, when you’re getting attacked, alongside your co-workers, customers and your family, it’s almost impossible not to take it personally. But you need to try. Even some fleeting thoughts like, “This isn’t personal; it’s business. It’s someone who’s confused. It’s someone having a bad day,” can help you keep your own sanity and swing the toxic meter way left.
The online world can be toxic, brutally so at times. Often it does feel like social media is the toilet of the internet. But it’s also a fantastic way to stay in touch with family and friends. It’s a platform to educate yourself and gain insight into how others think, learn, and perceive the world. If you can eliminate, or more realistically, significantly reduce the toxicity, the good rises to the surface.
And there is good in all of us. Well, in the vast majority of us. As for the few out there who are always angry, bitter and divisive — flush the toilet, and block them. No one’s got time for that nonsense.
Jay Thompson is a real estate veteran and retiree living in the Texas Coastal Bend, as well as the one spinning the wheels at Now Pondering. Follow him on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. He holds an active Arizona broker’s license with eXp Realty. “Retired but not dead,” Jay speaks around the world on many things real estate.