Ask Dr. Nandi: Why nice people become mean online

Posted at 5:53 PM, Apr 04, 2018
and last updated 2018-04-04 17:53:04-04

It turns out many of us have the ability to become mean when we surf the internet. Why do we treat strangers politely in person yet feel entitled to be mean-spirited online?

Science may have an explanation for when normally good people surprisingly become trolls. But first let’s share some of our viewers' online experiences.

Sue Forgach- Bojanowski shared what’s happened to her, she says, “I have been bullied & called nasty names because some people disagree with what I say. Therefore I no longer comment.”  

It’s unfortunate that many people can become disrespectful when online. A 2017 survey found 40 percent of adults experienced online abuse and 62 percent said they considered it a major problem.

Now science apparently has found two triggers that make regular people become instant trolls, and that boils down to the context of the exchange and your mood at that moment. It turns out having a bad day can mean you’re easily triggered and are more likely to take it out on strangers when online.

Jamie Greene Kaniarz is the Executive Director of an anti-bullying nonprofit. She wrote a long message but says, “… it never fails to amaze me, is some of the way that parents behave online…. it’s how they treat the students. Full-grown adults, in their 40s, 50s, and 60s, targeting the students for the way they look, their ethnic background, their gender or sexuality...It’s just horrifying.”

It’s very disheartening to hear adults criticizing teenagers. The internet certainly seems to be a magnet for nasty comments. But we all have the ability to spread goodwill instead of passing judgment. If you’re having a bad day, stay off the internet until your mood is lighter.  

If you read something that angers you, give yourself a timeout before responding. If you feel the need to respond, try to remember your manners, be objective, encourage cooperation, and post positive remarks rather than ones that spark conflict.