(I originally intended this for startup founders, who are often
surprised by the attention they get as their companies grow, but
it applies equally to anyone who becomes famous.)
If you become sufficiently famous, you'll acquire some fans who
like you too much. These people are sometimes called "fanboys," and
though I dislike that term, I'm going to have to use it here. We
need some word for them, because this is a distinct phenomenon from
someone simply liking your work.
A fanboy is obsessive and uncritical. Liking you becomes part of
their identity, and they create an image of you in their own head
that is much better than reality. Everything you do is good, because
you do it. If you do something bad, they find a way to see it as
good. And their love for you is not, usually, a quiet, private one.
They want everyone to know how great you are.
Well, you may be thinking, I could do without this kind of obsessive
fan, but I know there are all kinds of people in the world, and if
this is the worst consequence of fame, that's not so bad.
Unfortunately this is not the worst consequence of fame. As well
as fanboys, you'll have haters.
A hater is obsessive and uncritical. Disliking you becomes part of
their identity, and they create an image of you in their own head
that is much worse than reality. Everything you do is bad, because
you do it. If you do something good, they find a way to see it as
bad. And their dislike for you is not, usually, a quiet, private
one. They want everyone to know how awful you are.
If you're thinking of checking, I'll save you the trouble. The
second and fifth paragraphs are identical except for "good" being
switched to "bad" and so on.
I spent years puzzling about haters. What are they, and where do
they come from? Then one day it dawned on me. Haters are just fanboys
with the sign switched.
Note that by haters, I don't simply mean trolls. I'm not talking about
people who say bad things about you and then move on. I'm talking
about the much smaller group of people for whom this becomes a
kind of obsession and who do it repeatedly over a long period.
Like fans, haters seem to be an automatic consequence of fame.
Anyone sufficiently famous will have them. And like fans, haters
are energized by the fame of whoever they hate. They hear a song
by some pop singer. They don't like it much. If the singer were an
obscure one, they'd just forget about it. But instead they keep
hearing her name, and this seems to drive some people crazy.
Everyone's always going on about this singer, but she's no good!
She's a fraud!
That word "fraud" is an important one. It's the spectral signature
of a hater to regard the object of their hatred as a
can't deny their fame. Indeed, their fame is if anything exaggerated
in the hater's mind. They notice every mention of the singer's name,
because every mention makes them angrier. In their own minds they
exaggerate both the singer's fame and her lack of talent, and the
only way to reconcile those two ideas is to conclude that she has
What sort of people become haters? Can anyone become one? I'm not
sure about this, but I've noticed some patterns. Haters are generally
losers in a very specific sense: although they are occasionally
talented, they have never achieved much. And indeed, anyone
successful enough to have achieved significant fame would be unlikely
to regard another famous person as a fraud on that account, because
anyone famous knows how random fame is.
But haters are not always complete losers. They are not always the
proverbial guy living in his mom's basement. Many are, but some
have some amount of talent. In fact I suspect that a sense of
frustrated talent is what drives some people to become haters.
They're not just saying "It's unfair that so-and-so is famous," but
"It's unfair that so-and-so is famous, and not me."
Could a hater be cured if they achieved something impressive? My
guess is that's a moot point, because they
never will. I've been
able to observe for long enough that I'm fairly confident the pattern
works both ways: not only do people who do great work never become
haters, haters never do great work. Although I dislike the word
"fanboy," it's evocative of something important about both haters
and fanboys. It implies that the fanboy is so slavishly predictable in his admiration
that he's diminished as a result, that he's less than a man.
Haters seem even more diminished. I can imagine being a fanboy.
I can think of people whose work I admire so much that I could abase
myself before them out of sheer gratitude. If P. G. Wodehouse were
still alive, I could see myself being a Wodehouse fanboy. But I
could not imagine being a hater.
Knowing that haters are just fanboys with the sign bit flipped makes
it much easier to deal with them. We don't need a separate theory
of haters. We can just use existing techniques for dealing with
The most important of which is simply not to think much about them.
If you're like most people who become famous enough to acquire
haters, your initial reaction will be one of mystification. Why
does this guy seem to have it in for me? Where does his obsessive
energy come from, and what makes him so appallingly nasty? What did
I do to set him off? Is it something I can fix?
The mistake here is to think of the hater as someone you have a
dispute with. When you have a dispute with someone, it's usually a
good idea to try to understand why they're upset and then fix things
if you can. Disputes are distracting. But it's a false analogy to
think of a hater as someone you have a dispute with. It's an
understandable mistake, if you've never encountered haters before.
But when you realize that you're dealing with a hater, and what a
hater is, it's clear that it's a waste of time even to think about
them. If you have obsessive fans, do you spend any time wondering
what makes them love you so much? No, you just think "some
people are kind of crazy," and that's the end of it.
Since haters are equivalent to fanboys, that's the way to deal with
them too. There may have been something that set them off. But it's
not something that would have set off a normal person, so there's
no reason to spend any time thinking about it. It's not you, it's
 There are of course some people who are genuine frauds. How can
you distinguish between x calling y a fraud because x is a hater,
and because y is a fraud? Look at neutral opinion. Actual frauds
are usually pretty conspicuous. Thoughtful people are rarely taken
in by them. So if there are some thoughtful people who like y, you
can usually assume y is not a fraud.
 I would make an exception for teenagers, who sometimes act in
such extreme ways that they are literally not themselves. I can
imagine a teenage kid being a hater and then growing out of it. But
not anyone over 25.
 I have a much worse memory for misdeeds than my wife Jessica,
who is a connoisseur of character, but I don't wish it were better.
Most disputes are a waste of time even if you're in the right, and
it's easy to bury the hatchet with someone if you can't remember
why you were mad at them.
 A competent hater will not merely attack you individually but
will try to get mobs after you. In some cases you may want to refute
whatever bogus claim they made in order to do so. But err on the
side of not, because ultimately it probably won't matter.
Thanks to Austen Allred, Trevor Blackwell, Patrick Collison,
Christine Ford, Daniel Gackle, Jessica Livingston, Robert Morris,
Elon Musk, Harj Taggar, and Peter Thiel for reading drafts of this.