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Have your say: How do you deal with the dark side of social media? Add to ...

It was a dream gig that turned into a nightmare.

When Jessi Cruickshank, the host of Canada’s Smartest Person, hosted the Juno Awards gala, she playfully roasted some A-listers. Unfortunately, the fans of one of those celebs were not amused. The next morning, Cruickshank awoke to discover more than 8,700 “angry, terrifying and downright disturbing” comments on her Instagram page.

“It was like nothing I had ever seen or experienced before in my life and to be honest, I didn’t know what to do,” she said.

It sometimes feels like the world of social media is a dark place.

Just recently, Ghostbusters actor Leslie Jones temporarily closed her Twitter account after receiving a barrage of racist abuse.

In the shadow of terrorist attacks, the global refugee crisis, and divisive politics like the U.S. presidential election and Brexit fallout, online conversations can quickly turn nasty.

Three years ago, Popular Science became one of the first in a still-growing list of publications to shutter online comments on its website, citing too much negativity.

Everyone we talk to sees negativity on the Web in one form or another. Sometimes the venom comes from strangers, as Cruikshank experienced. Other times, it’s a friend, co-worker or family member making a shockingly hateful comment on Facebook or Twitter.

The dilemma is trying to find a way to respond that doesn’t further fuel the nastiness.

Cruickshank says the most important thing people can do is speak out when they see someone being victimized online.

“Let’s stop letting it happen and start giving victims a safety net by speaking (or tweeting) up for them.” she says. “We all have the power to help stop the spread of online negativity.”

How do you handle negativity on social media?

Claire Kerr, director of digital philanthropy at FrontStream and instructor of social media strategy at George Brown College in Toronto

I would prefer to see social network sites concentrate their efforts on how to reduce the amount of abusive content online, to make a safer community environment. It can’t be all on us to protect ourselves from the small amount of people who want to dominate a platform.”

Eric Alper, director of media relations at eOne Music Canada

“If you’re dealing with trolls, just walk away because it’s a fight you can’t win. I’ve never seen a troll apologize and say, ‘you’re right.’ When people close to me have written something racist and angry, I’ve sent them private messages reminding them this kind of thing stays up there a long time. I say, ‘This can really damage you in the long run.’ ”

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Follow on Twitter: @craigkielburger

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