April 21, 2015

Angry writing

Writing anything online when angry is dangerous...

Angry writing

Writing anything online when angry, be it in a chat, blog post, tweet, wall post, anything, is a danger that can come back to bite you as well as exposes much of your character, maybe even more than you realize.

Recently on Twitter I saw a reposted Facebook wall post about a woman who claimed to be rejected for a programming job because of her apparel at the interview. You may have seen it as well. I am not going to comment on whether or not her story is accurate and truthful, if the company was in the wrong, or if her attire was appropriate. There is a time and place for that, but not here. As an analyst, I often see blogging inspiration in these events, not about the surface level issues, but on the deeper issues, ones some may overlook completely.

You have probably heard this saying more than once in your life: “Think before you speak.” This statement emphasis critical thinking, forcing you to know exactly what you want to say (be it word for word or the message you are going to convey) before you even speak. Another saying you may have heard goes “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it.” This saying is kin to the last. Angry words hurt just as much as “sticks and stones”, and words spoken in anger, a time you are not about to think critically and examine the consequences, can come back to hurt you (something many people call karma).

Unfortunately, the Web seems to have affected this sound advice. Thanks to anonymity, people will post whatever they feel like, no matter how nasty, rude, disrespectful, or insensitive it may be, and it is done without thinking the actions all the way through.

Since it is anonymous, after all, nobody knows who I am. Besides, it is just the Web. Stuff like this happens all the time. It is all good.

Except it is not all good. People who use the Web are real people with real feelings, and anonymity does not negate responsibility for your actions. Illegal threats thrown online are still illegal. Hurtful words typed are still hurtful. Newton’s third law, “To every action there is always opposed [and] equal reaction”, still applies on the Web. Yet all the time such things are written, written without fully understanding the consequences. Any hurtful words or words written out of anger (possibly when the most hurtful words are written) do have effects on both the readers of that message and yourself.

One of the consequences of writing in anger is your revealed character. On the Web, we can put on an act, wear a costume, and pretend to be a completely different person then we really are. Yet despite our best efforts, our personality and character traits will bleed through, and anger will do that more than any other emotion. This applies to our online and non-digital lives, but we fool ourselves into thinking the digital realm is immune.

I find that when one is angry, their deeper character and personality shines through. If the person is rebellious, it will be evident through their actions. If they have trust issues, it will be seen in their speech. If there is a sense of entitlement, they will speak and act in a way that justifies their motives and perspective, often by putting the blame on someone or something else (e.g., societal issues).

Though I exampled this show of character through interpersonal contact and situations, it is often unrealized that digital bits can carry these emotions. It is fact, text looses much of the emotion of the writer. That is partially why emotes exist, to help restore this lost feeling. Anger is the primary exception. When someone writes out of anger, those feelings are transmitted. Angry writing can be misinterpreted due to the medium, but humans have a knack for detecting words written in anger, despite being unable to see and hear the writer’s physical emotion. Jealously? It can be seen. Depression? It can be extracted. A “holier than thou” attitude? Yup, it is obvious. Any front you have put up is stripped away, revealing your true self. If you are hot-headed and act entitled when angry, that suggests you are easily provoked and perhaps a snob, and it certainly says something about your world perspective.

Again, as this my main point in this post, your angry writings can come back to bite you. One of the former editors of a respected computer magazine wrote in his column how he rejected a qualified job candidate (referred to as John) because not too long before, John had posted a video of himself drunk and acting irresponsibly along with other drunk friends. That was enough for the editor to reject John. Why? Because all the qualifications and abilities in the world mean nothing if you lack the professional character needed for a professional job. Yes, we all have faults and shortcomings, but that is not an excuse for your actions. In the same manner, publicly visible angry writing can close doors and burn bridges without realizing it. I understand a person’s need to express themselves and get their feelings out, but there is a fine line between expression and overkill, a line made even finer when you realize it reflects your true character.

I encourage you from now on to follow the advice you have heard all your life: “Think before you speak” and “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it.” These interrelated skills are critical to your future life, career, and relationships, both in the digital and “analog” realms. On the Web, responsibility and ownership of your words, actions, and “online name” is more important than ever before, even greater now than it may have been in 2010, only five years ago. Do not act out of raw feelings and emotion, think before you speak, think before you type, and especially think before you click, for you never know just what you will be forfeiting and giving up in the future, all because of your words right now.