Passive aggressive social media

Opting for passive aggression on social media platforms is the best way to demonstrate you don’t do direct, you don’t do honest, and you definitely don’t want to resolve the issue. Otherwise what on earth will you post about?!
Words: Erica Lay

Love them or hate them, social media platforms have become an integral part of our daily lives, shaping the way we communicate, share information, and express ourselves. However, an intriguing (and eye rolling) trend continues for some individuals, where the preference for passive-aggressive posts and elusively vague but loaded comments seem to overshadow direct, face-to-face communication. This raises questions about the impact of technology on interpersonal relationships and the evolving nature of conflict resolution in the digital age.

You know the sort of “content” I’m getting at here. The attention seeking posts from the melodramatic Facebook user, which until recently, I thought (hoped) had died a death but, much like 90s wide leg trousers, seems to be making quite the comeback. We’ve all got them in our feeds, from that person who has a flair for theatrics that would make Shakespeare blush. If they didn’t study drama at school, I’d be surprised. Nay, shooketh.

“Feeling so incredibly lost and alone right now. Can’t believe the people who claim to care about me are nowhere to be found when I need them the most. I guess I’ll just have to keep smiling through the pain, like always. #FeelingNeglected #WhereAreMyRealFriends”

Cue the designated response:“U OK hun?”
Followed by the: “Yeh I guess… DM me babes…” LOADED. Can you feel that? Just, like, so loaded…like, OMG babes. Please hold the line whilst I, an adult, pause to take a deep breath and let out an exasperated sigh. Please. If you’re going to post this sort of teenage guff online at least give us lurkers names dammit. Who’s abandoned you? Huh? What is going on here? We need to know! Don’t we? Lurkers rights aside, let’s just enjoy it while it lasts. Because you know after it’s been up for a few hours it’ll get deleted. The OP (original poster) will have left it up just long enough for the “real friends” to have seen it, and hopefully feel terrible for not supporting their bestie through their latest trauma.

And what trauma would this be? Maybe she burnt her toast this morning. Stubbed her toe? Were Tesco out of teabags again? #thoughtsandprayers. Let’s face it, no experience is too trivial for our melodramatic poster, she can make a drama out of absolutely anything. And weirdly, usually has a little tribe of adoring fans who will feed into this ridiculously childish behaviour, bombarding her with emojis, virtual hugs and declarations of their commitment to her and her agenda, whilst the rest of us look on in, well, horrified curiosity. It’s like the compulsion of revulsion. Can’t… stop…. watching… Brilliant isn’t it? Who needs Netflix?

And then we’ve got the melodramatic selfies to contend with. I mean, who doesn’t like a “Feeling cute. Might delete later IDK” next to the face of a pouting pretender hitting their stories fifteen times a day as they document every emotional upheaval with a new filter and a slightly different puckered pose or “thoughtful face”?

Yawn. I think I’m too old for stories, I just don’t get it… if these people want literally the whole world to see their dramas and issues, then post it on the damn timeline. Not everyone is on social media all day every day because they have actual jobs and dare I say it, lives. Lives where they interact with human beings IRL. Crazy hey?

Speaking of which, in this age of instant communication and constant connectivity, it appears that some individuals much prefer to air their grievances on social media rather than engaging in direct, real-life conversations. One thing is posting nonsense about your non-crisis for the LOLs, but when it’s frustrations with friends, family, or colleagues, the temptation to express discontent through veiled, passive- aggressive posts and dramatic rants, probably should be avoided if you don’t want to end up with no mates and a family who are embarrassed to be related to you. And in yachting, a crew who all think you’re a massive bell-end with the social skills of a wet lettuce. Can you imagine? You’re a chief mate and your chief stew has to tell you that you’ve upset the junior decky. “Oh no what happened, did he say something to you?” “no, worse, he posted a passive aggressive meme on social media.” GASP! How do you even start to deal with this? And how will the decky react when you say “Hey do you want to talk about that post?” Will he actually say yes? No he’ll say he’s fine. It wasn’t about you. And flounce off to post something else about being highly sensitive and misunderstood instead, because he is not equipped with the mental faculty or skills to have a direct conversation at this level.

Ok, I’ve had my ranty moan and we can all see how I feel about (highly immature emotionally underdeveloped) people who choose this way of operating through life instead of just saying “Hey, you upset me. Let’s talk about this,” and having adult conversations, so let’s delve into the whys and wherefores.

One factor contributing to this trend is the perceived sense of anonymity that social media provides. Behind the safety of a screen, individuals may feel emboldened to express their thoughts and feelings without facing immediate consequences. This veil of anonymity can encourage passive-aggressive behaviour as users believe they can hide behind their online personas without directly confronting the subject of their discontent.

It does seem like younger generations especially may be experiencing a heightened fear of confrontation, which could be fuelling the preference for passive-aggressive online venting. The avoidance of face-to-face discussions might stem from a desire to sidestep uncomfortable situations, or the anxiety associated with direct confrontation. Let’s face it, nobody normal likes confrontation. It’s like having to break up with someone in person versus doing it over text. You know you’re a big old bag of dicks if you ditch someone by text but hey, it’s just easier, isn’t it? It’s not like you wanted to stay friends anyway.

Social media platforms offer a buffer zone where individuals can express themselves without the immediacy and intensity of a real-life conversation. However, what they’re not considering is that by doing this, they’re pouring a bucket of gasoline over what was previously just a smouldering twig and contributing to a potential raging inferno. Even if they delete that post later, the internet remembers. And people take screenshots. We keep the receipts.

Posting passive-aggressive content can also be a way for individuals to seek validation and support from their online peers (remember that fan club from earlier?). By airing grievances publicly, users may be hoping to garner sympathy or solidarity from their followers, creating an echo chamber that reinforces their perspective. The likes, comments, and shares received on these posts can serve as a form of affirmation, reinforcing this behaviour. And this is what we see – because whilst the adults among us scroll on past and choose not to engage due to fear of eyeball dislocation from vigorous over-rolling, those who do engage feed the negative little troll, encouraging and validating them and their actions.

An article from Modern Therapy (2019) stated, “The key here is that our sense of self-worth is not and should not originate from social media. We must be cognizant of the reality that it is not possible to fully improve our self-esteem through posting online and receiving positive feedback. Rather, looking inward to ourselves is a sustainable and healthy way to develop positive emotional and cognitive self-appraisals that build up self-esteem and self-worth.”

People who post this way online might not even be like that in real life. We probably all know people who present themselves as a different person on social media. This is not uncommon, in fact it has a name, the “online disinhibition effect” and there are whole studies on it in various science journals. But what makes people act out in this way and bully and judge on social media? Well, going back to the article from Modern Therapy, “Our online behaviour directly relates to our sense of worth offline. It also relates to psychological states, for example whether we have low self-esteem, narcissism, anxiety or depression can equate to the need for admiration, external validation or other traits leading us to post online.”

When someone does post this stuff, should we be sympathetic then? Hmm. Maybe best left to the fans… or we risk becoming a new target for them. Some people like to lash out at others online and try to bring them down or hurt them because they derive pleasure from it. Perhaps it makes them feel better about themselves. It really shouldn’t. Many psychology reports also note than people like this are generally not that stable and should be treated with caution. So yeh, let’s be careful about our interactions with them. Do not feed the animals. They’re bitey.

While social media provides a platform for expression, which is great, this reliance on passive-aggressive posts over direct communication poses potential risks to developing our interpersonal relationships. The lack of nuance in online communication can lead to misunderstandings and strained connections, as recipients may struggle to discern the true intent behind veiled messages. And if people keep posting like this, the recipients or targets of these posts will probably just give up on them and eventually stop caring. If they even cared in the first place.

Why are we like this though? When did we stop interacting in real life? Is this another fall out from the pandemic when we were all locked up and falling down internet rabbit holes? Or is it just humanity’s natural progression as we rely more on technology to share ideas and communicate? Whatever it is, it could do with a change. And as usual I feel that starts with Generation X…

To foster healthier communication among younger generations, it’s crucial to promote open dialogue and the importance of addressing conflicts directly. Encouraging face-to-face conversations or private messaging can help individuals express their concerns more effectively, fostering a better understanding between parties. Parents, I’m looking at you right now too. This stuff starts at home, encourage your kids to talk about their feelings and express themselves in a safe environment.

There we have it. The prevalence of passive-aggressive social media venting reflects the evolving landscape of communication in the digital age. While technology offers new avenues for expression, it’s essential to strike a balance between online and offline communication. Encouraging open dialogue and teaching effective conflict resolution skills can contribute to building stronger, more resilient interpersonal relationships in an increasingly (dis?)connected world.

So you’ve read all this and still want to post passive aggressive stuff on socials? Ok fair enough. I tried. If you’re going to do it, at least do it properly: Master the art of VAGUEBOOKING – craft a post that’s so cryptic, even Sherlock Holmes couldn’t figure it out. Bonus points if even your actual friends can’t work out if they’re the subject.

Play the victim – Make sure you mention how you’re always there for everyone. But nobody’s there for you. Boohoo. Be that martyr.

Give the drama – “I think it’s funny how….” Bonus points for ending with shrugging and cute emojis.

Memes – Find those passive aggressive memes and keep them in your arsenal for every occasion. Nothing shouts subtle shade like using memes. Cos it’s just funny right? “I was only joking” covers your backside in every situation.

Use quotes – Nothing like a passive aggressive quote to throw shade. Subtly, of course. “I’d rather have an enemy who admits they hate me, instead of a friend who secretly puts me down”. All right love, calm down.

Friendship tests – Don’t forget to regularly post about “true friends” and make sure you keep note of the ones who immediately reply. Cos they’re the ones you want to keep an eye on. Guilty consciences right there.

Deniability – If called out don’t forget to say “Oh I wasn’t talking about you specifically! I was just joking around” because nobody wants to actually deal with their problems like a grown up do they?

Remember – opting for passive aggression on facebook is the best way to demonstrate you don’t do direct, you don’t do honest, and you definitely, don’t want to resolve the issue. Otherwise what on earth will you post about?!