What is it about social media that brings out the worst in people?

There have been several instances that I have seen lately of people just being completely horrendous to others via social media. A few days ago there was a story about a woman in Australia who received an anonymous letter from some of her “friends” telling her off about sharing too many pictures of her new baby on her Facebook page. It was nasty, completely vile, and I was totally shocked. The letter writer claimed that it they had gotten together with a group of friends to show the seriousness of their concern.

What really got me about this letter was the fact that these so-called friends didn’t have the balls to sign their names. If you are going to attack someone like that, for something completely unjustifiable, then you had better have the guts to own your words. Since when did it become ok to say something online that you wouldn’t say to their face? And if you would say it to their face, why not sign your name? It’s easy to poke at someone online if you know that they can’t poke back at you.

What is it about social media that brings out the worst in people?

That’s that thing. It has removed any kind of personal accountability for your actions and words. I talked about it with my husband and I wonder if it the true nature of people showing through or if it is just a lack of personal accountability and responsibility.

I thought it might be kind of neat to have us both explain our points of view, since they are so different.

B says:
I think that this culture of meanness on the internet stems, in part, to people not having any accountability for their own behaviour. It feels like if you make comments to someone on the internet, you are free to say anything you want, even if you would never dream of saying it to their face. It is a completely two-faced attitude, and insanely hurtful, but there is something about the perceived safety of being online that makes it feel ok. If I say something, I am going to own my words. I don’t believe in hiding behind a screen and saying things that are cruel. If I disagree with your attitude, or your opinion, I might say so, but since I am attaching my name to it, I am going to be genuine in expressing it.

I find that people think that it is not their responsibility to be aware of the way their words make other people feel online. This cloak of invisibility feels protective, which then lets you take a free-for-all at whomever you want. It’s like the guys who go to a protest and want to cause trouble . The first thing they do is pull on a balaclava or mask. The people who are there because they truly believe in the cause don’t feel the need to hide their faces because they are owning their actions. The person in the mask is going to be a lot more willing to start a fire, because no one knows who he is. It’s the same online. It’s easier to start fires if your actions have no consequence. It’s a slippery slope, and we need to start being more aware. If you wouldn’t say it to my face, don’t say it to me online.

This is not to say that bullying doesn’t happen in a face to face environment, because it does, but honestly, without fear of reprecussion, it makes it that much easier to do online. I don’t think that we, as a society, just don’t care, but that we feel removed, and thus safer, to engage in this kind of behaviour.

My husband, however, has a completely different point of view.

M says:

People’s true personalities are made more obvious when they are making anonymous comments. The ability to hide your true identity makes it less of a necessity to hide your real nature, and the side of you that someone might only catch a glimpse of if you are pushed to the limit is able to be free, allowing you to be the jerk that you are. You have no need to hide what you really think and who you really are, because no one can attach the nasty behaviour to you , which lets you keep your “outward face” to be nice and pleasant, while still allowing you the freedom to be yourself. People who are awful on social media are, deep down, awful people. They may be really good at hiding it, but it always comes out. Social media just gives them a vehicle to be themselves.

What do you think? Do you agree with me or with M or are we both off base?


  1. says

    To an extent I kind of agree with both of you. I think you absolutely hit the nail on the head when you said the people feel like they don’t have to take accountability for what they say online, when they’re hiding behind a screen. I think that also people don’t really use their same filters before they speak whatever is on their mind like they do when they’re talking in person. People let their emotions run away with them. I do think it’s awful how mean and vindictive people can be online, and they need to realize that if they wouldn’t say something to somebody’s face, then they shouldn’t put it down in text on a screen, that almost makes it worse.

  2. says

    It’s sad that people feel the need to comment on how other people live their lives. If they are not putting anyone in danger, I really believe it’s none of our business. If we don’t like it we can choose to ignore it. Reacting like this is just giving more power away.

  3. says

    I definitely agree with you, people hide behind ease of access. They don’t have the guts to be rude in person so they head online. Every time I see something like this letter you are talking about I think “that’s it societies gone off the deep end… this is the worst it’s going to get!” But then someone else does something crazy! Have you seen the letter going around to “the in-laws” asking them to only purchase gifts on a specified list for their child because “they keep buying him too many books and things he doesn’t need” Oh and the disclaimer saying “not to gift anything too “personal” or “not on the list” without a receipt because those items are too hard to return. When did being grateful go out of style? When did writing a letter like this become acceptable? If this gal had to say these words directly to her mother and father-in-law would she? It’s exactly what you said… it’s easier to put hateful words down online, on paper… it’s crazy.

  4. says

    It really is easier to to be brave when hiding behind a computer screen. The other day I had someone say “no offense but…” And then proceed to say something so rude. Simply saying “no offense” doesn’t mean what you say won’t hurt!

  5. Rachel G says

    My husband firmly believes that if you want to really know what someone is like, look at their Facebook page. He believes that true colors shine on Social media–that genuine, excellent, kind people will still be genuine, excellent, and kind….and others won’t. I perhaps don’t believe that quite as strongly as he does, but I’m leaning towards it more and more.

  6. says

    Great post on a topic that I spend a lot of time thinking about.

    I don’t think it is reflective of people’s true natures, exactly. I mean, I don’t think that people are really vicious inside and able to let it out now that they can hide behind a screen. I think that the one-sided nature of online communication creates a disconnect between a persons words and the reactions that would normally temper their severity.

    I think part of it has to do with not having immediate feedback when you’re talking to someone. In real life, you say something and the person you’re talking to reacts. If you intentionally or unintentionally say something hurtful, there is a fallout from that. I don’t believe that most people would be unaffected by this. We all get annoyed. We all have mean thoughts. But MOST people are genuinely concerned for the feelings of others and don’t want to deliberately hurt them.

    Online, the only emotions contributing to your immediate words are your own. You’re angry/annoyed/whatever, and all you have to feed that feeling is your own thoughts. You stew on them and come to the conclusion that they are righteous and just and HAVE to come out. And when you are writing your screed, there’s no reaction – no hurt expression, no apology, no dismay. Just your own thoughts at their worst bursting from your fingertips. You hit send and someone is blasted by the full force of your petty annoyance and anger.

    I don’t think it’s a bravery born from your own facelessness. I think it’s a … bullish insensitivity born from the immediate facelessness of the person you’re talking to. But, maybe I think to highly of people? I just can’t believe that most people would be mean like that if they thought about how it would make others feel.

I love comments! Care to share your thoughts?