Internet Anger

by Vicki on January 24, 2014

I’m blogging about the obvious this week – the Internet is an angry place.

If you spend any amount of time online, you know that anger is one of the most common expressions of emotion you see as you navigate the Internet. Bloggers write angry posts, podcasters spew angry rants, Facebookers somehow get into battles of words over seemingly trivial issues and Twitter-ers manage to get into scuffles that even make the news.

According to Nick English of USA Today,

Beihang University researchers studied 70 million Weibo “tweets” over a six-month period, sorting them into the emotional categories of anger, joy, sadness, and disgust. While sadness and disgust didn’t appear to cause sympathetic emotion, happy tweets were likely to cause joy among those who follow and retweet them. Unfortunately, rage was the emotion most likely to spread across social media…

But I don’t think this completely explains what prompted me to write this post – a question on a nearby Facebook community site that asked about residents’ interest in a new business opportunity. To date there are almost 200 replies and many of them ooze with anger and hate.

WHY?

Why do people get so inflamed by online interactions? Is it the proverbial chicken or the egg? Do people come to the Internet angry or is it something intrinsic to online interaction that invites anger to brew?

Without any empirical data to support my claims, here’s what I think:

    • One logical explanation is that the anonymity the Internet offers makes it much easier to spew anger than it would if you were in the local grocery store interacting in person. This stuff doesn’t happen very often when you are face to face.
    • Communicating our thoughts and feelings is tough at the best of times. It is even tougher through a medium where you don’t have the luxury of seeing how your words are affecting others.
    • The Internet affords us a medium of communication where you can spend hours crafting the message and nobody interrupts. It is the perfect medium for a monologue. If you do have a bone to pick, you can pick it really really well online.
    • On the flip side, you can type up a quick response and let it fly into cyberspace with very little thought. It is SO easy to put something out there without thinking it through.
    • People pay more attention to negative information. The negativity bias refers to an asymmetry in the way we perceive good and bad information in that we give more weight and consideration to bad than we do to good (for more info, check out this post)

And finally, I do think that people might be coming to the Internet angry. Or at least open to the emotion of anger. And the Internet most definitely delivers!

When you beat up someone physically, you get exercise and stress relief; when you assault him verbally on the Internet, you just harm yourself.
― Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms

Anybody can become angry — that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way — that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.
― Aristotle

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