Mark Schaefer Talks About “Digital Distance” and How It Contributes to Bad Behavior Online

Mark Schaefer is an internationally-recognized business and marketing professional with 30+ years experience. He is the author of the bestsellers The Tao of Twitter and Return on Influence, which was named a “Top Academic Titles” of the year by the American Library Association.

Mark shares his thoughts about the ways in which “digital distance”creates a barrier between us and others online, and asks us to see the real person behind the avatar. Watch the video to hear what else he says about how we can create a more civil web!


“Venting” Your Anger Is Unhealthy, New Study Reveals

We’ve all heard the adage “don’t hold your anger in, let it out!” But, in fact, that’s only part of the story. While it’s true that holding anger in can lead to emotional and physical illness, releasing anger inappropriately – whether outward-facing towards others or inward-facing against oneself – can be very harmful.

Queendom, a subsidiary of PsychTests AIM Inc. that offers a range of scientifically-validated psychological assessments, recently released the results of its Anger Management study (press release here):

  • On a scale from 0 to 100, the average score for feelings of anger was 56 (a moderate degree of anger).
  • Women experienced slightly more anger than men and were slightly more likely to dwell on upsetting situations.
  • Younger age groups experienced higher levels of anger than older age groups (average of 60 for those under 18 year of age, 55 for those older than 25).
  • Test-takers who experienced higher levels of anger and who were more likely to dwell on anger-inducing situations were also less satisfied with their job and had poorer performance reviews.


According to Dr. Ilona Jerabek, president of, “the issue lies in how we release [anger]…. Anger needs to be expressed, but it needs to be done calmly, assertively and it needs to incorporate constructive solutions for the problem.”

Are you interested in learning more about your own anger management style? Take the Anger Management Test  – the results may surprise you.

Are You Often in a Bad Mood and Generally Pissed Off?

If this describes you, if you frequently find yourself becoming irritable and angry when you’re online and then act inappropriately by lashing out, your mindset may be contributing to your bad mood.

In his book Anger Management: 6 Critical Steps to a Calmer Life, Peter Favaro, Ph.D. writes that people who are annoyed, dissatisfied and angry as their foundational way of existing have an outlook that says, in effect: I don’t like the way the world is set up, and it is really pissing me off.


It may sound ridiculous to believe that a person could be pissed off because the world doesn’t operate the way any one individual thinks it should operate, but this belief and many like it form the foundation for most angry lifestyles. The perpetually under appreciated and misunderstood person does not get enough ‘thanks’ from his world as he thinks he should, and that pisses him off. The perpetually threatened person does not understand what is wrong with the people in the world, who seem to go out of their way to give him a hard time, while everyone else is left alone. That pisses him off because he should be left alone and not bothered by anything.

… one of the most difficult [anger-maintaining perceptions] to conquer says ‘Anyone who does something I disapprove of bothers me and pisses me off, because they wouldn’t be behaving that way if they weren’t trying to piss me off.’ Because chronically angry people who live their lives around angry themes disapprove of just about everything, the world itself becomes a very irritating place.


If this sounds like you or someone you know, it is probably a good idea to learn basic anger management skills via excellent books such as the one listed above, or even enroll in an anger management course or receive counseling from an expert in anger management treatment. Keep in mind that anger doesn’t have to be exclusively outwards facing but can be directed internally, against oneself, as well.


Stop Making Others Your Problem

Imagine this: You’ve logged onto a social networking site and are checking the updates from the people you follow (most of whom you probably don’t actually know in real life). You see one of them making a statement you disagree with.

Maybe it’s about a sensitive topic such as politics, the economy, reproductive rights, sexual orientation, or parenting. Maybe the person made an dumb joke. Or maybe what they said is, simply put, just ignorant.

Then what happens? Well, if you’re like many people online, you feel offended.

Never mind that the statement wasn’t directed at you. Never mind that it didn’t involve you personally. Never mind that you don’t have a real relationship with the person who said this, or only a shallow fleeting relationship with them at best. You feel as though the statement is a personal affront to you. You feel threatened, even though more likely than not, there isn’t a legitimate reason for this.

Then what do you do? Do you remind yourself that their views are not yours and it’s silly to get so upset? Do you put this person out of your mind and move on? Or do you write an immediate and pointed response, and spend your energy trying to show them why they’re wrong and why you’re right?

In other words, do you let them have power over your emotions and give them more attention than they’re really worth?

Certainly there are times and situations when taking a stand is necessary, brave, and the right thing to do. But much of the online conflict you see between people is a silly and immature verbal exchange with no winners.

Don’t make other people’s online statements your problems. After all, you don’t need to attend every argument you’re invited to.


(Note: Last line of post is modified from: “I don’t have to attend every argument I’m invited to” – author unknown.)


When is Someone Not Worth Engaging With Online?

We’ve all encountered someone online whose statements and views grate on us. It’s at that point that we need to decide whether it’s worth directly engaging with the individual, and if so, what our ultimate goal is. (Of course there are times when there’s a need to take a public position about something someone’s said, but that’s not what we’re talking about here since those communications tend to be less direct and therefore potentially less explosive than a personal back-and-forth with another individual.)

So let’s assume our goal is not to intentionally antagonize or personally attack this person  – after all, that would be immature and a sign of weak self-control – but rather to get them to reconsider their position and possibly even and correct it. So far so good.

The next thing to look at is what type of online communication style this person has. If it contains the following items, then stop and think carefully about whether it’s worth your time and emotional energy to engage with him or her. You’re unlikely to change their mind, may escalate the situation, and are likely putting yourself in the line of fire.

  • Highly emotional and reactionary
  • Frequent use of absolute language (e.g. always, never, etc.)
  • Excessive use of sarcasm and snark
  • Intentionally selective omission of information that proves their position or statement wrong
  • Personal attacks on others, direct or indirect
  • Name calling of others
  • Character assassination of others
  • A desire to “win” instead of getting at the truth or moving forward on an issue
  • A history of online arguments and fights



Are You An Angry Person?

Are you an angry person? Here are some questions to think about:

  • Do you believe it’s a “dog eat dog” world?
  • Do you frequently ruminate about things that happened in the past?
  • Do you enjoy arguing with others just for the sake of arguing?
  • Do you feel personally compelled to point out others’ errors to them?
  • Do you regularly raise your voice to someone in person or use harsh language online?
  • Do you have a hard time just “walking away?”
  • Do you have a habit of “erupting” as a way of expressing your anger?
  • Does it make you feel strong knowing that some people are afraid of you?
  • Do you say things online that you would not feel right about saying directly to someone’s face?
  • Do you feel the need to get revenge when you believe you’ve been wronged?
  • Have you ever lost friends or a romantic partner because of your anger?
  • Have you ever been fired or lost business because of your anger?
  • Do your friends and family members try to sooth you when you’re in an angry mood to avoid your eruption?


If you answered yes, think about getting professional help to learn how to manager your anger in more healthy ways.