Online Civility, Part 3: Ranting is Hazardous to Your Health

Part 3 of 4
rantCivility on my own Facebook page took a hit in late 2012, after the contentious presidential election ended only to be bumped from the headlines by the shooting at Sandy Hook — and the accompanying debate over gun control. Many of my friends shared my perspectives on both events, but I was quickly reminded that my 1,300 friends are a diverse and opinionated group.

After I posted a few items that I didn’t think were provocative or controversial, my page was full of comments and arguments — between people who didn’t even know each other. I realized that reading political attacks (on both sides) and reactions to my own posts was bringing me down. I decided to be more selective about my posts, and how I worded them. I don’t like to unfriend people, but I also hid several people from my news feed — and almost immediately felt a sense of relief.

It turns out there’s a scientific explanation for what I experienced, because research shows that “Ranting on Websites May Just Make You Angrier.” Several studies published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking show that people who rant online often feel better after posting, but feel more anger generally. And reading and writing negative comments is associated with negative mood shifts.

Lead author Ryan Martin explains, “The Internet brings out impulsivity problems more than anything else. It’s too easy to respond right away when you are most angry.” The anonymity of the web makes this problem even worse. “People are angry at big groups of people — Democrats, Republicans, illegal immigrants. People want to feel like they’re doing something and think just expressing their feelings to the world will help.”

Martin said there’s nothing wrong with feeling anger, but it’s healthier and more effective to get involved, solve problems, and try to make a difference.

How do negative comments and posts affect you? And what have you done to minimize negativity?

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