Making sense of bad online behaviour

Making sense of bad online behaviour

Ranting can be considered a verbal (whether written or spoken) expression of anger and frustration. When someone rants, it shows that the person is angry and frustrated and is letting everyone know of his or her feelings, said Alex Lui An Lieh, a lecturer at the Faculty of Behavioural Sciences, HELP University.

There is a difference, however, he said, between ranting, which is abrasive and aggressive, and constructive expressions of anger and frustration, which is descriptive, reflective and solution-focused.

He said there is nothing wrong with anger but it is how we expressed it that makes anger a potentially destructive force.

"Anger is a function of our fight-or-flight system that serves to protect our lives and those of our loved ones.

"Of course, there are many ways in which people express anger and frustration.

"Some people become aggressive and act out violently by breaking things and hurting others physically. Other people turn their anger and frustration inwards and start indulging in self-destructive behaviour like alcohol and drugs.

"Then, there are those who rant."

The clinical psychologist pointed out that the psychological concept of catharsis presumes that ranting reduces tension and physiological arousal (i.e. reduced heart pressure and heart rate) provided the target does not retaliate and act aggressively against that person.

However, he said, research that focuses less on the biological responses and more on actual feelings of hostility found that expressing anger does not relieve aggressive tendencies but instead, can sometimes make it worse especially in the long-run.

"The general finding of most research now is that ranting does make you feel good for a while but it does not reduce your anger. In fact, the good feeling only encourages you to become angry more often.

"It's like taking drugs -- it makes you feel good for a while but once the effect wears off, you will feel as bad as before, if not worse.

And the worst part is, the good feeling that comes from ranting can be reinforced and eventually become addictive."

The danger of frequent ranting, he said, is that it will end up as a habit, which is hard to break, and eventually it becomes part of a person's personality.

Lui said although ranting can be destructive to the individual, collective ranting can be beneficial to society.

"This is because ranting can send out a very strong message that an injustice has been committed and there are people who are extremely not happy about it.

"If enough people rant about a certain issue, then it is clear that something should be done about that issue and that it is a cause for concern. In this way, ranting can serve as a check and balance that serves to ensure a fair and just society."

On why people rant online, Lui said a cyber-psychology expert, John Suler, who is a professor at Rider University in the United States, has identified six factors.

"He said people behave differently when they are online and when they are face-to-face with another person due to dissociative anonymity, invisibility, asynchronicity, solipsistic introjection and dissociative imagination.

"Suler said that because people can hide or alter their identity online (dissociative anonymity), they can separate their online actions from their real-life identity.

"Therefore, people rant online because they are able to rant more freely by averting responsibility for what they say or do.

"The other reason is that in cyberspace people do not interact with others in real-time. Other cybercitizens may take minutes, hours, days, or even months to reply (asynchronicity).

"Not having to cope with immediate reaction from others allows the person to rant without any inhibitory feedback from the others. This is known as the 'emotional hit-and-run'.

"Similarly, since people cannot see each other online (invisibility), there are no immediate visual feedback from others to suggest disapproval or indifference to the ranting."

Solipsistic introjection and dissociative imagination, Lui said, suggest that due to lack of face-to-face cues, the ranting person creates an imaginary identity of his audience and the online social environment in which he can freely express his frustrations without any retribution.

The only way to cope with individuals who rant, said the psychologist, is to ignore them.

"Those people who are attracted to rant sites are usually people who are already high in their anger traits and nothing can stop them from expressing themselves in such an uncouth manner.

"Just like any naughty child who craves for attention by acting up and throwing tantrums, we should just ignore such behaviour. As soon as others are empathetic towards them, the need to rant will cease."

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