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December 7, 2015

Venting Online Can Cost You – Big

If a frustrating day at work or a tiff with your spouse has ever tempted you to send off an angry e-mail, text or social media post, you may want to reconsider. Venting online may feel cathartic, but it could risk your relationship, your job, or even your mental wellbeing.

When something happens that gets you particularly angry or frustrated, it’s normal to want to vent, to get it “off your chest.” In today’s digitally connected world, it’s all too easy to angrily poke your way through a harshly worded text or pound out an irate e-mail. While the initial adrenaline rush may give you a surge of energy, there’s a good chance you’ll regret having sent that message within the next few hours or days.

Once you calm down, you’ll likely realize that there’s no getting that message back or controlling where it ends up.  While you may feel safe in deleting that message, chances are a co-worker could easily forward your tirade on to your boss, or others. Your neighbor could share your tirade with the homeowners association. Once it’s online, it’s “in the wind.”

Posting your anger to social media is even riskier. You’re probably “friends” with more than just your actual friends, and those acquaintances or associates could share your post with others. We’ve all seen a post that obviously started off as an outburst on social media — one that was likely intended for just family and friends — get shared and re-posted until it’s gone viral.

With all the risks of your frustrated words getting aired to the world, why would anyone vent online? Posting or “tweeting” a few angry words feels like a quick way to “get it off your chest.” Since it’s not face-to-face, it feels safer than confronting the individual or organization that you’re upset with in person. But those two factors have a flip side: without taking the time to think before you act, you may end up saying things you don’t mean, and the sense of anonymity makes it easier to say rude, inflammatory or even bullying things that you wouldn’t say in person. In this way, venting online can damage relationships and your reputation.

Research indicates that despite the sense that venting makes you feel better, it likely makes you angrier. In April 2015, the Wall Street Journal published an article, “Don’t Hit Send: Angry E-mails Just Make You Angrier,” wherein the author, Elizabeth Bernstein, explores the findings of Dr. Brad Bushman, a professor of communication and psychology at the Ohio State University in Columbus. In his research, Dr. Bushman found that test subjects who ruminated on a frustrating situation got more angry and aggressive in their descriptions of the issue or person seeming to cause the problem, while those that didn’t engage in venting were more likely to respond calmly after a similarly upsetting experience.

Writing out and sending your angry diatribe into the world can cause you to focus on it longer, formulating counter arguments to a response before it even arrives, fretting about what the response will be, wondering why you haven’t received a reply, or dissecting the response to continue the argument. Even if you’re simply venting about a situation to a good friend or a loved one, if that person commiserates with you it can further fuel your indignation.

There are several stories of social media vent sessions that have led to real-world consequences. A good number of people have lost their job as a result of a careless social media update:

Jessica Bibbs, a Phoenix woman, criticized her job at a physical therapy office after she wasn’t awarded a promotion. She posted comments on her Facebook page like “This place is a joke!!!” while insulting her co-workers: “I hate fake and lazy ppl!!!” She has argued that her Facebook comments were “private,” but it didn’t stop her from getting fired.

Kaitlyn Walls was fired from a daycare center when, before her first day of work, she posted to Facebook about how she hates working at daycare and hates being around a lot of kids. She undoubtedly thought the comment would only be seen by her close friends, but it instead spread across the Internet, resulting in angry attacks on her Facebook page from people she’s never met.

Venting online can also hurt your future employment prospects. According to a CareerBuilder study published last year, nearly half of employers surveyed research candidates on social media sites, and 36 percent of employers say that they have even eliminated a candidate from interviews because they bad-mouthed their previous company or a fellow employee.

The next time you’re itching to vent online, try this instead:

1. Submit an anonymous vent to the site Muttr. Other users can comment, which you can choose to engage with or ignore. Some may offer advice or commiserate, others will taunt you to an argument – giving you a safer sparring partner than your boss, but also potentially igniting your ire further.

2. Turn off your phone or shut down your computer until you’ve had a chance to calm down. Find a way to distract yourself – watch funny cat videos online, go for a walk, spend some time with your kids (who will remind you that the world revolves around them – not you).

3. Write it out in a Word document that you can save on your computer. Some people are better able to explore all sides of an issue if they take the time to thoughtfully present their argument. If you’re still angry tomorrow, or the next day, go back to the letter with a clearer head and polish the best-phrased pieces to take with you to talk to the other person face-to-face.


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Andrea Eldridge is CEO of Nerds On Call, which offers onsite computer and laptop repair service for homeowners and small businesses. Based in Redding, Calif., it has locations in five states. Contact Eldridge at www.callnerds.com/andrea.

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