Sticks and Stones: Grown-ups Behaving Badly Online


By Jen Evans, Principal, JL Evans Communications

Do you sometimes edit, or even erase, a drafted comment or post on a digital forum for fear of being verbally annihilated? Sometimes I stay silent on topics because I just can’t stand the pain that follows from the angry mob. I’m not defending any individual or organization that says or does something stupid, insensitive or just plain wrong. I AM asserting that we have a problem with online behavior in professional forums as well as individual ones. This is about grown-ups behaving badly.

As a PR professional, I know that online reputation managers struggle to find the balance between waving the flag for issues of importance versus ticking off their fan base. Large organizations and individuals with sizable fans/followers/advocates are  better equipped to handle criticism through social media channels, but they are not bullet-proof.  Below, a few recent cases you can easily source online.

Paula Deen, @paula_deen on Twitter, famous for her calorie-rich Southern cooking, recently lost her Food Network show contract after a deposition she made went public stemming from a court case where she is accused of making racial slurs among other things.

Guy Kawasaki, @guykawasaki on Twitter, has more than 4 million followers. In the midst of the Boston Marathon bombing, his scheduled posts kept coming – apparently including a positive post about the Marathon that clued in followers that he wasn’t paying attention to real time events.

These are examples of public figures.  And many will argue that they deserve the verbal bashing.  But what about the rants and insults that we see in friends’ posts directed at each other or even some other individual not present in the online discussion? Can we try a little harder to be kind in our social media conversations? It is possible to state your position without making generalizations or making someone else feel small because they have a different position. But what are some tools for change in our daily habits?

I like these 6 simple steps, curiously found on the guy-focused site Art of Manliness, because they are truly gender neutral.

1)    Remember there is a real person/people on the other side

2)    Don’t say it online if you wouldn’t say it to their face

3)    Use your real name

4)    Sit on it

5)    Don’t respond at all

6)    Say something positive

There are some wonderful resources and posts out there to help us all remember our manners. I listed just a few here. What are yours?

Author Bio:  Jennifer Evans, Principal of JL Evans Communications, is an inherently curious, “neurotically productive” community advocate who has invested more than 17 years in business and community to better understand why people and businesses make the investments they do and how to guide them to fruitful relationships. You can follow Jennifer on Twitter @jlevans.

One Comment

Geoff Livingston

Good post, and this can never be reinforced enough. I have to be honest, I don’t see Guy’s tweet as an example of incivility. I thought the responses and mudslinging that occurred as a result of his error devolved into that, 98% of which came from others, and not Guy.


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