10 Ways to Avoid Online Drama & Controversy

Avoiding Online Drama & Controversy

“We’re not passengers on someone else’s journey, but the curious pilots of our own.” 

~ M.D. Campbell

It’s that time of year again to put away Summer projects and start thinking about the Fall and the art challenges which artists across the globe enjoy participating in. For me, I’ve enjoyed the Inktober challenge for several years, and it’s something that I really look forward to. However, this year, the event has been met with unexpected drama, drawing the negative mire of controversy.

During the pandemic, two successful online artists and social media “influencers” became embroiled in a case of plagiarism allegations. Frankly, I was surprised by the whole affair and never imagined this would be a topic that I’d be writing about. Still, it’s a good example of just how badly things can go, when we put our personal situations online, for the world to see.

Plagiarism can be damaging allegation, even without proof or being true. It can ruin a reputation, corrupt name or brand recognition, and put a person’s ability to make a living at significant risk. But, scandal and controversy lure in an audience to headlines that sell and when handled right, they can actually be profitable.

It’s not uncommon for artists, journalists, or musicians to plagiarize the work of others, both accidentally or intentionally. In some cases, it can be devastating, like a well-known journalist in my area who was accused twice of plagiarism and eventually fired from a prominent newspaper with their reputation shattered. Yet, in other cases, like Andy Warhol or Jeffrey Koons, the allegations of plagiarism had the opposite effect and increased the value of their artwork, due to the scandal. The Beatles, too, were sued multiple times, which cost them millions. But, it did nothing to tarnish their image or reputation and was financially nothing compared to the money made from the songs they were accused of ripping off.

A few years ago, in the online community, a young “influencer” accused another of stealing content. It became a spectacle of drama which played out on social media platforms, drawing thousands of followers into the controversy, choosing sides. It turned out that the whole scandal was a mere stunt devised by both “influencers” in an effort to boost views, collect subscribers, and attract to potential sponsors.

This current plagiarism controversy has shaken the online art community and it was the hot topic of discussion for weeks. I heard a lot of speculation and people defending one artist over the other, but what I didn’t hear was a voice of reason, from anyone, explaining why this kind of drama is just bad business for everybody. That’s why decided to present the 10 Reasons To Avoid Online Drama & Controversy. Because, in these times, we need mature leaders in our communities, positive support and guidance through difficult challenges, and discussion to motivate other into developing and exploring their own, personal creative goals, not to weigh them under the stress and anxiety of other people’s dramatic situations. For me, when something like this current situation pops up online, in my work environment, or even in my neighborhood, the first thing I try to remind myself is:

1A. It’s None of My Business 

Learning about this current situation, people tossed judgements, opinions, and speculation like rings at a carnival ring toss! I understand why people were upset, but I didn’t understand why they were investing so much emotional reaction into someone else’s situation. After all, this was a legal brouhaha that had nothing to do with me, whatsoever. Soon, I realized there was more at stake for these artists than I initially saw. The “influencer” accused of plagiarism was also the creator of one of the biggest, online drawing challenges of our contemporary social media art community. As thousands of people were becoming consumed by this controversy, my reaction was, “it’s none of my business and that I should just stay out of it.”

I support the online drawing challenge, but soon I found people began reacting to my position and asking, “how can you do this challenge, knowing what you know?” My choice was to rationally acknowledge this question and explain that this is a challenge I take on for myself, on my terms, and has nothing to do with the people involved in the controversy. Some folks didn’t agree with me and have abandoned the challenge, altogether, which I completely support, as well. But, in the end, the philosophy still applies, whether at school, work, or even at home: If it’s not our situation, then it’s probably best to just stay out of it, because, once we choose to engage it, the consequences of a dramatic situation could be costly.

1B: Picking Your Battles

I decided to add this in for clarification. While this article suggests that it’s wise to avoid online drama and controversy in effort to maintain our focus on our own goals and tasks, I also want to say that it’s vital to pick and choose causes and movements we believe strongly in, for support, action, and awareness. This article addresses less vital controversies, in general. I just wanted to be clear that it’s important to pick our battles and know when a drama or controversy is worth our valuable time and when it’s not.

2. Don’t Jump on the Bandwagon

In discussing controversy, people draw lines in the sand and choose sides. It’s easy to get caught up in drama, because it’s like watching lighting strike – it’s exciting, energetic, and stimulates a rush of adrenaline. But, it can also be fun watching someone else’s scandal, drama, or controversy unfold while we can fall back into the safe notion that, “thank goodness it’s not me!” We get to sit on the sideline and watch the drama unfold, tossing in our judgements and opinions as spectators. But, once people start posting comments, it’s natural to want to be part of the winning side. Everyone wants to be in the know, collect information, and be the first to chime in on new developments to be able to join in and bond with others who ride the bandwagon.

But, for those who jump on the bandwagon, there are potential, negative consequences. Over-posting or being too dramatic or offensive without judgements can get us kicked off the bandwagon. Not paying close attention and we can fall off the bandwagon. And once the dust settles, those who were involved may be remembered or recognized for things we said, calling us out and placing a whole new drama, right in our laps. 

3. Stick to the Facts, Dismiss Opinions

I always taught my students that when looking at a piece of art, stick to the facts that we know about the piece, and dismiss the initial impressions or opinions we had when we first looked at it. Removing what we think, believe, or feel from a piece of art can help us better understand – and eventually appreciate – the piece, the artist’s intent, and what it is communicating, overall. Opinions, based on emotional interpretations, can be challenged and debated. Saying, “I think the painting is amazing” or “I believe it’s about a social issue” or “I feel like it’s unfinished,” we open ourselves up to challenge. 

The reality is, that just because we think it’s amazing, doesn’t mean it is – it just means that we think it is. When we believe to know what something is about, doesn’t make us correct – it just means we believe we are. And just because we feel something, doesn’t mean everyone feels that way – it just means we feel that way.

It’s the same an opinion – just because we express something as being true, doesn’t mean it’s true. The point is, that this can be applied to a dramatic controversy, as well. By sticking to the facts, not opinions, we argue our case based on truth, which can’t be disputed. By sticking to our opinions, we argue our case based on thoughts, beliefs, or feelings, which can always be disputed. In a legal courtroom, a judge isn’t going to be interested if we think a person committed a crime; they’ll only be interested if there’s video footage of the person actually committing the crime.

4. Promote the Positive

A lot of folks are taking a negative position regarding this plagiarism controversy, debasing the person they believe has committed the alleged injustice. Instead of jumping on that bandwagon and slamming that person’s name, it’s arguably better to promote a positive perspective, even if the facts are concrete and condemn that person. Promoting the positive is not only healthy for our own well-being, but the contagious effect on others is powerful, as well. 

Often, people drawn in by a person promoting a negative outlook can be rationally swayed into seeing a more positive perspective based solely on another person promoting a brighter point of view. Not for nothing, leveraging a positive outlook actually makes us feel better, more upbeat, and engages our creative spirit.

5. Restrain Our Social Media Self

Social media is rampant with controversy, from music, sports, fashion, to influencers. Comments we disagree with can get us pumped up and ready to throw down our own two cents about a situation. But, we’re all aware how comments can easily be taken way out of context and blown completely out of proportion, which can be humiliating in front of a massive audience of friends and family. I mean, how many times a month do we hear about an athlete, politician, or musician posting an offensive or inappropriate Tweet, only to backtrack and apologize later? Years ago, a professional’s career would be ruined for saying something offensive, but now, it merely takes an apology and a lot of money to make it all go away, very quickly.

This happens within our own social media circles, too. A friend of mine commented about the police recently, which drew a lot of negative attention from other friends. The controversy began and angry comments flooded the post. I just shook my head and wondered why they didn’t know the post would draw that kind of reaction, in the first place? For me, the best thing to do is avoid the controversy and restrain myself on social media. When I get the impulse to comment, I THINK before I post anything. And if you’re not familiar with the acronym, THINK, it’s the social media etiquette acronym:

T = is my post true?

H = is my post helpful?

I = is it inspiring?

N = is it necessary?

K = is it kind or is it mean-spirited?

From all the videos I’ve seen about this controversy, it’s clear that many people have no desire to restrain their opinions on how they feel, as there have been a lot of scathing comments made. For me, I thought addressing it this way, was a mature, appropriate response that talks about it in a larger context. Unnecessary comments and remarks only seem to fuel the controversy further.

6. Remain Calm

We are all quick to react when there’s a controversy or when someone expresses a strong opinion online. A post like, “watercolors are the worst!” often yields a response like, “You’re an idiot! Watercolors are awesome!” So, while one person was poorly expressing their frustration in trying to learn watercolors, someone else chose to flame the comment by calling them an idiot and dismiss the comment with their own belief. Instead of simply asking, “what makes you say watercolors are the worst?” the opportunity for dialogue was lost in favor of a cheap insult and a chance to feel like a big winner.

Insults are designed to get a reaction. And strangely enough, there are people out there who revel in provoking others to react. When I receive a criticism, I try to engage the person for a rational discussion. But, when it’s obvious someone is just being churlish and insulting, I simply delete the comment or ignore it and move along. I have no interest in it. It’s funny to me, but it took me a long time to realize that when someone is trying to bait, provoke, or antagonize me into a reaction, the best thing to do is literally remain calm and ignore them. Once they realize they can’t get under your skin, they usually go away.

7. Maintain Our Personal Values

A situation like this current one is unfortunate. As spectators, we were lured in and now observe intensely to take in the information and form our own opinions and judgements, allowing us to choose a side. If we’re fortunate, we can maintain our personal values through it, not getting caught in the drama. Remembering that we’re good, honest people who have more of an interest in our creative exploration than being cheerleaders and spectators to someone else’s drama show.

For me, it is unacceptable to get caught up in lies, twisted truths, flip-flopping beliefs to suit the situation, baiting or taunting others, or to allow myself to get upset over something that is, again, none of my business. Maintaining personal values and knowing there’s always a positive, nurturing response to something negative and hurtful. If I have to engage a provocative personality, I try very hard to view them as a child who is need of nurturing, and diffuse their negativity until I can move away from it.

8. Keeping to the High Road

When I’m online, I refuse to engage negative or hostile personalities who are just phishing for a reaction. Why? Because I like to think I’m better than that! It’s taken years, but I’ve learned to quickly recognize provocative or negative personalities. Instead of engaging it, like I might have when I was young, I can now move away from it or even call it out, when necessary, saying, “I’m sorry, but I’m not interested in engaging this kind of negative discussion.” It’s as simple as taking the high road instead of the low road. 

The low road is for people who just like to complain and descend in to negativity.

The high road is for people who prefer to climb toward success and see positive opportunities. In a situation where someone is trying to draw that negative attention out, it’s much more satisfying to say no and move on past it. For piece of mind and for the creative spirit.

9. See the Forest for the Trees

There’s an old saying about how the devil is in the details. To me, that means that when I’m working on a piece, I have to focus on the larger picture, not the tiny details that make up the picture. It’s true in many fields where people are unable to see the larger scope because they’re stuck on small details. Hence the saying, “you can’t see the forest for the trees.” It’s like a landscape painter so hung up on painting all the trees, they forget to explore the full scope of the entire forest. In school, students get hung up on the details of a subject, instead of seeing the full overview of the subject. With an online drama and controversy, people get caught up in the “who said what” and whispery gossip, that they end up missing the whole point of a discussion. 

There’s a Facebook group for my hometown, where a heated discussion arose about a dangerous intersection. Some people wanted traffic lights. Others wanted to re-route traffic. And others wanted a police presence. But, instead of discussing the dangers of the intersection and ways to resolve them, folks became insulting, belligerent, and hostile toward each other, missing the whole point, altogether. It became about people’s subjective opinions, not about the concern for the community. And that’s where my concern is for this current online art influencer drama that has unfolded recently, where one person chooses to dump their personal conflict with another into the lap of an entire community, creating a fervor and an uproar, for reasons I don’t entirely understand.

If we state the facts, we can acknowledge that the person had sincere concerns. But, when we examine what benefit there was to bringing it to the community, it seems to me that it was done to expose another art influencer and gain sympathy. Prior to the person presenting this allegation, thousands of people were joyously preparing to partake in one of the biggest online drawing challenges of the year. However, after making the allegation, the community fell into a negative fissure of confusion and concern, causing that uproar of controversy and drama that has gone on for weeks.

My question is, was it worth it? Was there a better way to handle it, and leave the entire online art community out of it? Is there more here than meets the eye? And are we possibly being distracted by something bigger or more nefarious going on? Again, if we focus on the tiny details and minutia, we risk losing sight of a much bigger picture.

The old “you can’t see the forest for the trees.”

10. Don’t Let It Interfere

Personally, the whole affair smells like spinach and I don’t like it at all. As a professional artist, a parent, and a former teacher, this seems to pander to a sensitive cohort of artists that respond quickly and emotionally to this kind of controversy. Using a social media platform to plead a case and turn an entire community against a fellow influencer and artist seems, to me, to be counterproductive and frankly, unfair. 

I completely understand that there may be legitimacy to the allegations, but as I said in number one, “it’s none of my business.” But, when my Youtube recommendations are full of videos about these two influencers and this controversy, I saw a need to address how to avoid getting caught up. I saw a need for a voice of reason to explain why this shouldn’t interfere with our objectives and goals, or distract us – the online art community – from the positive enjoyment and excitement of our own work, especially with the thrill of Inktober and other drawing challenges coming quickly upon us. Because, in the end, whatever happens to these two people is none of our business.

If they want to sell books, that’s their business. 

If they want to point fingers and make allegations, that’s their business.

If they want to turn the community upside down to serve their own purpose, that’s their business. 

It’s not ours. 

I’m all about discussing plagiarism, protecting our work, copyrighting our work, and how to handle it with site administrators, moderators, agencies, or even lawyers, when someone does abscond with our work. I’ve had plenty of experience in court for copyright infringement, breaking contracts, and illegal use of my work. 

It’s exhausting, it’s horrible, and it’s expensive. While my own social media presence is  small and growing, I’d never make personal allegations against another person, publicly, or name names to damage their credibility or earning ability. 

Even throughout this article, I took great care not to mention any names, out of respect. And perhaps that’s the difference – I respect the community that has given me the opportunity to provide a positive platform to share my experiences, my artwork and music, and the trusted fellowship of good, honest conversation of topics we all find entertaining and inspiring. For that, I’m eternally grateful and humble.

Thank you so much for coming by today and sharing in this discussion. If you plan to take on an October challenge, yourself, I wish you the very best of success. 

Just remember, we are not passengers on someone else’s creative journey, we are the pilots of our own.

Take care, and God bless! ~ Mark