What’s Everyone Yelling About?

March 4th, 2013 by Joe Romito

Why is Everyone Yelling?First a caveat, I am not a psychologist, but we’ve all felt the urge to ask the question “Why Is Everyone on the Internet So Angry?” The article linked here addresses the cultural pressures on the individual that may result in the bombastic tirades we often see on message boards or in comment sections. But, what if the connection goes deeper than a desire to exploit anonymity or a mimicry of pundits. Then the question is why do people act mean on the Internet, or more broadly, why would ordinary people act so belligerently? Thus we arrive at the Stanford prison experiments. Now if you’ve never heard of it, the long and short basically reveals the extreme nature of people to psychologically adapt to the roles a situation places them in, ie. prisoners and guards. Here’s the funny part. This experiment was a big step in the world of Attribution Theory, something directly applicable to the world of … wait for it… Marketing.

If you clicked on that link you’d find Hull University’s Stephen Dahl’s, a Professor of Business, explanation of attribution theory as it applies to how we interpret another person’s comments about a product or service. Namely, we “attribute” motivations to another person’s actions or comments, based on three categories: consensus, consistency, and distinctiveness. Is everyone else saying that? Has this person always said that? Does he say that about everything? If he is acting with low values in these categories, it’s likely he has a personal motivation. How does this apply to anger? The simple answer is, trolls. Individuals on the Internet who are trying to make you act a certain way, their words are not based on true opinion or interpretation of something, but on the wholly personal desire of enjoying another person feeling upset by their actions. And a lot of people are buying what they are selling. You can find that most of these heated exchanges online are traced back to, or at least spurred on by these mischievous instigators.

I’m not disagreeing with the other explanations for this anger on the Internet, but merely adding another facet to understanding it. Some people are not trying to have a conversation; they are trying to persuade you to act irrationally for their amusement. Most people who have been on the message boards long enough have honed their senses and research abilities to more accurately attribute a “troll” motivation to these individuals, and thus avoid these situations entirely. We aren’t all angry, angry just has a very aggressive sales team working for it. And thats the problem.

People who spend large sessions in communities, like Reddit and Tumblr, have sharpened their instincts for picking up personal motives. Initially to avoid being manipulated by these people, but now they see personal motives as deceptive in some ways and can react strongly against them. It’s important to be open about your marketing intentions or backgrounds when dealing with some communities or else the backlash can be harsh.