Dealing with Aggressive People on the Internet (& Remembering How to Avoid it Yourself)

Internet arguing

The lack of face to face interactions these days has created the perfect breeding ground.

The perfect breeding ground for unwarranted aggressiveness.

The anonymous nature of the internet makes it easy to let off on people. To be a troll. To be closed minded and aggressive with those who disagree with you.

It’s what’s called flaming.

Flaming is when an interaction between internet users gets heated, to the point of insults, profanity, and hostility. So, basically any political debate on the internet.

If you’ve spent any amount of time on social media or on internet forums, you know what I’m talking about.

Sooner or later, someone’s going to lose it. Shit will hit the fan, as it’s said.

But that’s not even the worst of it.

This internet anonymity not only breeds flaming. It breeds a lack of empathy and basic manners.

This is what makes it hard for you and me to engage with people online. It makes it hard to have worthwhile political discussions. It makes it hard to understand where someone is coming from (because they’re so aggressive).

Today, I’m going to talk about the theories, effects, and consequences of internet anonymity. Then, I’m going to give you a few ways of dealing with and approaching it all.

Let’s dive into it!

Flame war

Part 1: Antiprocess, Disinhibition, & The Difficulties that Online Interaction Pose

There’s a lot of terms, phenomenon’s, and behaviors that go into explaining the effects of internet anonymity.

From a lack of self-awareness, to a disconnect between a properly explaining a concept and failing to accept it. There’s a lot that goes into turning you into an emotionless internet monster.

How You Turn into a Raging Emotionless Internet Monster

The online disinhibition effect is the best way of describing how online anonymity affects you.

Online disinhibition is when the social restrictions, embarrassment, and all the normal factors that make up face-to-face interactions are loosened.

When you’re talking to someone face-to-face, you pick up on facial reactions, body language, tone, etc. You’re not as aggressive or mean as you would be online.

Talking to someone face-to-face makes you tone down what you have to say. The anonymous nature of most online interactions removes that impulse. You don’t see their facial reactions, you know them. It creates a disconnect.

It’s easier to be hostile to someone you don’t know or sympathize with. If you’ve experienced road rage against someone who cut you off, you know what I mean. However, how would you feel if you found out that person you cussed at was actually a close friend? You would feel embarrassed and shameful.

That’s how anonymity affects our social interactions.

Don't Debate on Social Media

The Long Term Effects of It

The ease at which you can be hostile toward those you don’t know, eventually affects your ability to effectively process information.

This is where Antiprocess comes in.

Antiprocess is when both sides show a clear grasp of each other’s viewpoint, but refuse to accept it. This is when undesired information is marginalized thanks to mental defense mechanisms.

A good example of this is in polarized debates. No matter how well both sides explain, defend, and argue for their side, they can’t convince their opponent that they’re right.

It’s extremely hard to convince a stranger that your viewpoint is worth accepting. They can easily ignore what you have to say, resorting to fallacious attacks. Eventually heating up to hostility.

This leads to a denial of information that would otherwise convince you. It can also keep you from understanding where someone is coming from, worldview wise, by refusing to accept their reasoning.

This is why social media debates are a complete waste of time. It’s easier for me to convince close friends that the drug war is harmful, because they know and trust me. Strangers online have no emotional connection with me. Making it harder to convince them in one swing.

It also makes it easy to log into social media accounts, throw out an emotionally charged viewpoint and leave. Never to sign in again. You get to voice your opinions but rarely have to deal with the consequences if you don’t want to.

Part 2: Self-Awareness, Empathy, & How to Deal with The Effects of Internet Anonymity

You could say that the biggest thing missing in online communication is a willingness to relate to your audience. Whether that’s understanding their emotional reasoning or the logic that backs up their views. Empathy is missing.

Thanks to the anonymous nature of the internet, it’s easier to leave a conversation. You can physically leave the conversation without any social collateral. Try doing that in real life with your friends.

The lack of authority gives people a feeling of openness and security. Most people are not comfortable sharing their opinions around authority figures.

Luckily, it’s simple to avoid this trap.

How to Avoid it Yourself

So…you want to avoid the emotionally charged (and detached) trap of the internet?


First, you’ll need to work on your self-awareness. Notice when you’re getting emotionally charged. This can happen when you start getting angry or irritated with someone’s views. If you can’t calmly hear differing views without launching into a tirade on why “they’re wrong,” then you’re getting emotional.

Aaannnd you probably need to chill.

Second, get to know the opposing side. It helps prevent demonizing and generalizing. They’re not the enemy, they just disagree with you.

Thirdly, work on understanding their viewpoints and the reasoning behind them. Democrats don’t support the welfare state because they “want to enslave Americans.” Naïve comments like that show a lack of understanding.

Lastly, don’t debate! Just don’t do it. No one is going to change their mind because of one debate. However, they will change views thanks to continuous interaction with people they trust and respect.

face to face conversations bring you back to reality

How to Approach Someone Who’s Doing it

What should you do if someone is getting emotionally charged? What if they’re suffering from internet anonymity?

Here’s what you can do:

  • If the “debate” is getting out of hand, end it
  • Try to switch the topic to something less controversial
  • Don’t debate in the first place
  • End the conversation, but continue to get to know them better
  • Don’t get emotionally charged yourself

Going back to the Basics: Face to Face Conversations

Always go back to face-to-face conversations.

Think of it like a default setting. It helps you craft the right settings that work for you.

Online, you can’t see someone’s face. You don’t know who they are. What they look like. So your brain ends up assigning characteristics to the individual you’re talking to online.

Your brain literally creates an individual. It constructs an elaborate fantasy of that person. That fantasy might give the individual traits and reasoning that fit your narrative, but leave out the reality of who that person is.

Face-to-face conversations don’t suffer from these mental constructs.

Which is why they’re so important to have.

Make a regular effort to talk to democrats, face-to-face. It’s harder to marginalize their views. It’s harder to demonize someone to their face.

It’s why I talked to two democrats at my county fair. It reminded me that democrats are people. People with ideas, reasons, emotions, and desires just like you and me.

I disagreed with them, but I didn’t hate them.

Face-to-face conversations bring you back to reality. And if used properly, it’s a tool that can realign your online interactions to a proper format.

What’s your thoughts on face-to-face vs online conversations? Do you realize how easily you can become hostile to others online? Does that bother you? Leave your comments below!

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About John-Pierre Maeli

Keeping it simple and crystal clear, because anything else is useless. I'm here to not only inform you, but to also connect with you. That's what The Political Informer is all about. Feel free to follow me on either Twitter or Google+ Let's talk!

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