This morning, I noticed what I thought was an offensive post from a Facebook friend that I badly wanted to respond to. Fortunately, I didn’t have time to respond right then so I made a mental note to get back to it later and went about my morning. I was still sort of fuming about it, though, and thinking through all of the different things I wanted to write in response. I admit some of them were a bit cruel.

I’m telling you this because it’s a nice example of how we can keep from falling into the online anger trap that seems to get so many people in trouble. I was mad this morning. In fact, I was livid about what I had read and if I had responded, like I wanted to, while in that angry state, I may have written something I later regretted.

My last post described three facts about online anger (see here), including how it can cause people serious problems. One thing I heard in response from people is how they wanted to know more about how to avoid those types of consequences.

First, to finish the story about this morning’s Facebook argument, by the time I got around to going back to Facebook, I had decided not to write anything in response. It just didn’t seem like there was any point. I probably wasn’t going to write anything that would change this person’s opinion and I don’t think any of his friends were going to be persuaded either.

And that’s actually part of the first strategy for avoiding online anger.

  1. Ask yourself why. Why are you thinking about posting/tweeting/etc. in anger? Are you hoping to change someone’s mind? Are you trying to offend people? Is it just to vent? Make sure you are aware of the end result you are hoping for. If you are just trying to offend or to vent, you may want to rethink it. As I wrote in a previous post, venting online isn’t all that good for you. If you are hoping to change someone’s mind, give a lot of thought to how you want to write your response. Few people are likely to have their mind’s changed by a hostile or cruel response. This morning, for example, if I had responded with some of the cruel comments I had thought of, it probably would have done nothing more than damaged my relationship with this person further and made some other people mad at me. What’s the benefit in that?
  2. Wait. Emotions are usually short-lived and if you can wait them out, your anger will start to dissipate and you’ll likely make a better decision about what to write (if anything). Again, this morning was a good example of that. I waited to respond (in this case because I didn’t have time) and by the time I got around to it, I was a bit less angry and more level-headed. I was thinking a bit more clearly and probably made a better choice for it. If you can wait even five or ten minutes, you’ll likely calm down enough to respond more rationally.
  3. Have it read. If you decide to go ahead and post, it may be helpful to have someone read it first. If that person is removed enough from the situation, he or she might be able to offer some much needed perspective, tell you if it sounds rude, if it’s unclear, etc.
  4. Finally, don’t respond online. If you are angry at a particular person for something, consider talking to them about it in person. An online post is sometimes the easy way out. It’s what people rely on when they don’t want to have an in-person and uncomfortable conversation with someone.

The truth is that I’m still a bit angry about what I read today and I may go respond at some point. I wouldn’t want to suggest that it’s never good to express anger online. Far from it, we are often right to be angry and should express that anger in healthy ways. I do feel confident, though, that if I choose to respond to this person, it will be a better, more thoughtful response than I would have sent this morning.

About the Author

Ryan Martin Ph.D.

Ryan Martin, Ph.D. is an anger researcher and the Chair of the Psychology Department at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.

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