Why Do We Hate Online?

I was taught as a child that there are certain manners that are appropriate, and those that are not. While I ran into my share of bad manners and probably exhibited some as well, it was not a daily occurrence.

And let’s face it, it’s difficult to exhibit bad manners in the form of negative comments and language aimed at another person when you are looking the other person in the eye.

This is never more evident than during the corporate annual performance review, where leaders are supposed to deliver performance feedback.  Granted, the annual performance review is stupid.  Just the mere setup of sitting across a desk once a year and highlighting a years’ worth of behavior and results is awkward.  And if there is any negative feedback to share, it becomes flat-out frightening on both sides.  So, leaders finesse the feedback into a “sandwich” – you did great here, you messed up here, but overall you did great.

Or think about it a different way…a car cuts you off on the Interstate and you – the well-behaved adult – suddenly spews expletives you would never think to say in person.

In the performance review, you (the leader) must own your words and your delivery.  In the car, the victim of your verbal outrage drives on and you never see them again.

It is easy to hate when there is no accountability.  It is easy to ramp up the vitriol when there is no possibility of consequences.

Online, we can often hide behind a veil of anonymity.  We may say whatever we want to say, regardless of the consequences.  That is our right.

But is it really?

Recently, the Marine Corps began sending women to San Diego for basic training.  Since 1949, women have trained to become Marines only at Parris Island, SC while male Marines trained at either San Diego or Parris Island.  This move to more fully assimilate women into the Corps is a big deal and receiving attention among current and former Marines.

As with any news, the Marine Corps is sharing this with the world via social media.   But….they turned off the comments on the Twitter feed.  Why?  Because of the hateful comments from current and former Marines who do not agree with women in the Corps.

Of course, they were called for “CENSORSHIP!”

When asked about turning off comments, the spokesman said, “’ The fact that we consistently see that whenever we post content about female Marines, we continue to see hateful comments shows that we still need to experiment with how we approach this topic online.”

It is our right to speak.  Is it our right to hurt?

When we are face-to-face with another individual, we may think twice about the words we use and the tone we set.  After all, communication is only 20% based on words; the rest is non-verbal.

Online, there is no non-verbal option.  Words are the only way to really express how one feels.

The world isn’t going the way we want it to go and we are frustrated, even angry.   We see an outlet, and perhaps we are buoyed by others who agree with our frustration.  Perhaps we don’t talk face-to-face because we are afraid to damage relationships or be hurtful.

Ah, but online we are totally free to speak our mind.  We can embellish our words with emoticons, but it really is all about the words.  And if we don’t have a relationship with those on the discussion thread, there are no consequences for harsh words.  After all, we REALLY need to make our point!

But are there consequences?

Maybe I am overly sensitive, but I have heard that “women don’t belong in MY Corps” before.  Having made the commitment to my country to serve in the Marine Corps for six years, I find it sad that people still make hateful comments about women who serve.

But those young women who are embarking on a commitment that takes courage and stamina don’t need to hear hateful comments.

But there they are anyway.  On Twitter.  Buried in a mile-long comment feed that gets more and more hostile as it grows.

It isn’t just this issue

This happens everywhere, not just in this example.  Read an article online, then scroll to the comments.  Check-in on your LinkedIn feed, and see how a simple statement can be ramped up just by choosing inflammatory words.  You might not see it on FaceBook if you have an actual relationship with your “friends,” as that could generate consequences.

Why do we hate online?  Because we can. 

I think it is fair to say that we are all a little frayed these days.  Pandemic and politics are pushing us to our limits of frustration, even anger.

Is it censorship, then, to turn off the comments?  That’s a good question for which there is not a good answer, but it must be debated.  Social media is a new phenomenon.  It evolved into the behemoth it is today and deserves careful consideration regarding what may be posted and what should not be posted.

Do we have the right to spew vitriol towards other people online?  I guess we do. But should we?

What harm does it do?  Do we know?

Actually, we do know what harm it causes

Because we are humans, we understand feelings.  We know that nastiness, charged words, and mean-spirited labels hurt.  Period. If we, as human beings, decided to treat online conversations with the same care we treat face-to-face conversations, maybe the issue of censorship would be moot.

What could we do differently?

How about censoring our own words online, thinking carefully about how charged, how angry, and how judgmental they are, and shifting the phrasing toward something less potent?

What if we say “no” to hyperbole and charged language and use our common sense to discern the details that are important and ignore the hyperbole?

Is it our right to say whatever we want to say or is there a social construct that forms our agreement to behave as humans – a social construct that is rooted in respect and dignity?

Damn, I sure hope so.


Carol Anderson
Carol Anderson
CAROL is the founder and Principal of Anderson Performance Partners, LLC, a business consultancy focused on bringing together organizational leaders to unite all aspects of the business – CEO, CFO, HR – to build, implement and evaluate a workforce alignment strategy. With over 35 years of executive leadership, she brings a unique lens and proven methodologies to help CEOs demand performance from HR and to develop the capability of HR to deliver business results by aligning the workforce to the strategy. She is the author of Leading an HR Transformation, published by the Society for Human Resource Management in 2018, which provides a practical RoadMap for human resource professionals to lead the process of aligning the workforce to the business strategy, and deliver results, and writes regularly for several business publications.

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  1. Disturbing as it may seem, there will always be those that write or speak in hate
    Not sure if turning off the comments really helps…there is a cyber footprint and when people publish hateful things… it says a lot about them too. Like how ignorant they are. They are doing more damage to themselves as well. These individuals are bullies. They can be reported too. If it is closed comment…they are not allowing the rotting…who is being protected really? Online marketing brings a topic that attracts attention…but turns of commenting…this seems questionable.

    Thanks for this interesting read Carol..still thinking about it.

    “Brave fingers type mighty words, but when in person, are never heard”

    • That is the perfect question and quote, Paula. I suspect if you asked those young female Marines, they would tell you they’re tough and they can take anything that is handed out. That’s what I did when faced with the same comment face-to-face. Over time, I became belligerent.

      Perhaps my writing this piece, and the slap-in-the-face reminder I got when I read that article about turning off the comments, was less about the cyber anonymity and more about why we hate in the first place.

      You are right – there will always be haters. There will always be bullies. By having hate so prominently and angrily displayed everywhere, does that foster hate in those who may simply be followers, so that it accelerates to a deafening roar?

      I guess my fundamental question is why we allow that? I don’t mean censorship, I mean human respect and dignity.

      In the Marine Corps, I knew (soft of) what I signed up for. But humanity in general – what do we owe each other?

      Thanks for the comments. It made me think too.

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