The psychology of rude commenters on technology news and information sites

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I often read technology news and blogs and occasionally wander over to the comments section to see people’s real world experiences. You are always confronted with caustic comments that regularly include profanity aimed at the writers, those who choose the technology or service, and others who have posted.

Why would anyone read an article about a product or service they may have never used, then leave some off-topic caustic comment? While we might never know because they are almost always anonymous, psychologists can make some guesses based on patterns of this rude and socially deviant behavior.

Disappointment with where they are in life is the underlying cause. Naturally, they would protest and say, “No, I’m not.” Deep down, however, there is a burning dissatisfaction with how they are treated in real life, the position they hold in society, their salaries, and lack of recognition. They often feel they are disrespected, which is largely imaginary, but real to them nonetheless.

Displacement is taking out your anger or frustration on a non-threatening target. Tech writers, who are perceived as knowing less than they do, are a favorite target. The comments about female tech writers are particularly abusive. Other targets might include commenters who remind them of their dad or boss.

Often you will see wholesale attacks on entire user groups such as those who use Macs. Probably, the “vile executive who keeps putting me down” uses a Mac, so all the millions of people who use one are just like him. Or, the “rich girl at college who wouldn’t give me the time of day” used a Mac, so all Mac users are like her. Remember, this is not intellectual, this is emotional. Emotions are often messy and often don’t make any sense to outside observers.

Should we ignore them? Absolutely. Bitter people rarely become better people, so leave them to their own misery. They have grown attached to it.

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