Local News

You're online. You're angry. Do this before hitting send

Posted October 29, 2015 6:15 p.m. EDT
Updated October 30, 2015 5:22 p.m. EDT

— Chug bleach. Go jump off a cliff. I hate you. Those were just some of the angry tweets directed at Michigan punter Blake O’Neill after he fumbled a snap before his team lost to rival Michigan State earlier this month.

The Twitter users who sent those nasty notes quickly disabled their Twitter accounts after they were called out. It's a classic example of the danger of hitting send when angry, and sometimes, hitting send comes at a cost.

Last month, Surf City Police Chief Mike Halstead was forced to retire after posting on Facebook that the “Black Lives Matter group is nothing more than an American born terrorist group.”

Halstead said he wrote the post in response to the killings of several police officers, violence he attributed to the extreme rhetoric of the Black Lives movement.

“Of course I was angry. I'm still angry,” he said during a recent interview with WRAL News. “I don't regret, not for one minute, what I wrote, because it's the truth.”

Surf City leaders didn't see it that way and forced Halstead to retire after 17 years leading the force.

From tweets to texts to emails, Duke University psychology professor Mark Leary says it's easy to express yourself with technology, but you need to be careful, especially when angry. He suggests following some simple steps before hitting send.

“The danger with that limited number of characters is you can’t put nuance in your message,” Leary said. “If I’m just ranting in an email, I have no idea how you’re reacting, and so I have to really rev it up so I get my point across.”

“Think about the other consequences that might come about if you push send,” he added. “Are there other consequences other than just informing the person that you’re angry? Have you damaged a relationship? Have you led them not to trust you? Do you look like you’re out of control?”

When WRAL reporter Amanda Lamb reported on the hit-and-run charges against then-North Carolina State running back Shadrach Thornton last month, she faced a social media storm from some fans, including one who called her “an ugly (expletive)” on Facebook. The writer posted various attacks, some of which were too vulgar to be reprinted.

Earlier this year, when winter weather hit the Triangle, school systems struggled to pick make-up days.

“Twitter erupted with very negative responses,” said high school senior Sophia Walsh.

Many parents voiced their concerns, and others took their frustration to social media and email. WRAL News obtained thousands of pages of emails from parents to school board members. Some were constructive, and some turned up the heat with bold letters

"You are failing us by not implementing the plan you laid out,” one parent wrote.

Another parent piled on to the calendar debate with unrelated complaints that the school board members “must have MUCH more faith in your teachers than I do … the majority of the teachers we have encountered are GREATLY LACKING.”

If composing a message when you’re angry, Leary suggests avoiding writing in ALL CAPS.

“When you’re angry, you want to make sure they understand that you have a good reason to be angry, so you have to concoct more and stronger reasons for your anger. And, as you start thinking about that, you’re getting angrier and angrier,” he said.

To be effective, Leary says, the anger must involve a goal and “have a purpose, other than just to try to make someone feel bad.”

As for Halstead, the police chief who was forced to resign after posting about the Black Lives Matter movement, he says he has learned from his experience.

“I mean, maybe I could have worded it different. I don't know,” he said. “I regret losing my job. I'm a public servant.”

While Halstead stands by his message, he understands that some people may have misinterpreted the intent of his message. In hindsight, he wishes he had added more conciliatory content.

“I want to talk peacefully. I want this to stop, and let's get together as Americans. Let's come to some kind of solution,” he said.

There's a term for using email or social media to vent. It's called flaming and can be bad for your health, according to experts. When hitting send, people tend to think it makes them feel better because they're being heard. Instead, it has the opposite effect, often making them even angrier and for a longer period of time. Experts say the key is to use anger strategically, and don't let it use you.

“Sleep on it. Walk away. Come back and re-read it,” Leary said. “If each person could cut back 15 percent of their unneeded expressions of anger, whether on social media or in person, that still would improve the world, if everyone just backed off 15 percent.”