To Vent Or Not To Vent Online: Handling Conflict In the Age of Social Media
I admit it: I enjoy blogging. Back in the day, I jumped on a variety of different blog platforms, like Tribe.net and LiveJournal, just for a taste of putting my thoughts “out there”. On the Daily Post, Scott Berkun shared a blogging topic tip, encouraging people to share something that drives them crazy. Apparently, venting is a very popular topic! Recently I viewed a Today Show video clip about a divorced couple embroiled in a seven-year long custody battle. The husband-father decided to anonymously blog about his marriage, divorce, and the custody story in a no-holds barred site he named The Psycho Ex-Wife, which he was court-ordered to remove. Claiming that his 1st Ammendment rights have been violated, he is currently accepting donations while he mounts a legal defense. His extremely popular blog has me asking not if he could vent online legally, but if he should vent online. This is a blog post attempting to address that question in light of the Internet and the viral nature of sharing through Social Media.
Fill Out This Complaint Form
Observation: before the advent of real-time sharing through Social Media, being heard in public involved one of the following:
* being a celebrity (or a freak of nature)
* pulling a dramatic stunt and calling the press to document it
* making a lot of noise or doing physical damage to a property or person
* filing a lawsuit
* throwing around ridiculous amount of money
* losing everything and crying through the street
Seriously, if you had a complaint, your process of filing a complaint without any of the above being true involved submitting a complaint on a form you had the intuition would end up being lovingly placed in someone’s circular file (aka waste basket).
Today, anyone with private email address can create an anonymous blog and write anything they wish, short of racist, terrorist, and otherwise defamatory words towards another identified group or individual. If you have a complaint about a company whose product description or claims were untrue, misleading, or harmful, you can choose to submit your story, and anyone reading it can provide feedback. Using the Internet for this purpose can be an effective act that demands a response.
A blog, Facebook updates, and Twitter tweets have become personal megaphones trumpeting a sea of complaints, cheers, rants,and raves about the profound, the mundane, and everything inbetween. If you took a moment to take a little sip from the sea of venting-oriented blogs, you’re likely to drown. People talk about the noise to signal ratio, and these days, there is so much noise, you might find it hard to listen.
When and How To Vent
There aren’t many hard and fast rules about online venting, but the general ones, while common sense, are worth checking off your list before clicking the SEND button:
* Don’t publish your rant/venting when you are emotional. You can write with strong emotion, but edit when you are calm and clear about what you want to accomplish. Calling people names, using humiliation and provocative descriptions, or threatening with violence might be your passive aggressive answer to your frustration, but it might be difficult to persuade a judge that you were only kidding. Sometimes, just writing something without publishing may be enough energy for you to resolve your anger or select another action.
* Consider posting anonymously if you are concerned about backlash or revenge. As Scott Berkun’s repost mentioned, there are many ways to state something anonymously to allow the rant to be heard without identifying others or threatening your privacy.
* Logic, being articulate and clever, and sharing well-researched posts may deliver you better results than trolling, stalking, and expletive-filled rants.
* Before publishing a complaint, consider options that involve handling the matter privately versus public humiliation.
* Don’t publish private conversations, video, or photos. Do not take quotes out of context.
* Ask for appropriate feedback on your venting, and design a way to moderate those comments.
* Realize that your 1st Ammendment rights to freedom of speech in America do have limits. It doesn’t mean you can say anything you want without consequences. We have laws, and then we have social codes. Don’t even pretend to be surprised if some people disagree with your rant. Expect it, and therefore be prepared. I have personal experience seeing what angry mobs are capable of if they don’t like what you have to say.
An example of a common vent is Yelp.com. A disgruntled customer of a restaurant might want to let others know he was unhappy with the food or service, and he can take a moment to write a specific description of what went wrong. But I would encourage the customer to approach the manager before leaving the restaurant and lodge the complaint privately. You’re more likely to get a quick response F2F. [Check out this short article about just this very topic in The Stranger].
Another example (albeit a mediocre one) is Note To Asshat on Live Journal. This format serves as an informal depository of unnamed people and places inspiring a rant. The sole function is more cathartic than anything else, though a few entries have a moderate entertainment quality to them. Clever writers would be welcome, but I sense these witty people would find another platform on which to make their point. Local papers like the Stranger have sections such as i Anonymous where people flex their cathartic muscles. There are a plethora of choices out there, folks.
When NOT To Vent
Are there times when the negative consequences of venting outweigh the positive benefits? I have my opinion, and I’m sure you have yours. Possible reasons not to vent:
* Emotional or psychological damage to others. You have to assess if your vent crosses the lines of privacy, slander, cruelty, and fallout. In the case of the father-husband, he may be facing the fallout of his choices for years to come as his sons come into greater awareness of their father’s pleasure in outing their mother and badmouthing. I do not wish to imagine the negative model he may be portraying regarding the treatment of conflict and women. [Yes, I did notice that the Twitter account associated with The Psycho Ex-Wife includes entries from his fiance, and some of the entries are less than family friendly.]
* You may have plenty of fans and followers, but not real friends. You may accumulate tons of fans, but others close by may fear your lack of grace, fair play, or discretion. Future friends or lovers may judge you on how you handled conflict in the past. Google serves as museum of your random acts of venting that no amount of backtracking can completely erase.
*Keeping the hatred alive. If the venting only serves to keep the hatred alive, that is energy being sapped away from finding a more viable solution towards healing and moving on from whatever conflict you’re facing.
*Lack of balance. It’s incredibly easy to feel like you’re right, fair, and deserving when the only person who is in the room is yourself in front of a keyboard. Crowdsourcing your decision making by looking at the number of hits or supportive responses is a poor substitute for a thoughtful, ethical, and responsible conversation between yourself and other trusted advisors. Before you launch your rant to the Twittersphere or Facebook land, you might want to consider other perspectives, even if you disagree. At least you’ll be more articulate about your position.
If you haven’t figured it out, neither I nor anyone else can definitely tell you when you should or should not vent online. The choices — and the consequences — will always be yours to bear. However, I think everyone who does so should make an informed decision. The crime, if there is any to be had, is in the moment when one’s words and choices cannot be retracted, and you or someone you love says with regret, “I wish I had thought of that before I hit send.”