Why Are We Complaining on the Internet?

internet etiquette

The internet has provided us with a myriad of comforting places full of so much positivity. We’ve created spaces online where we can meaningfully connect with others, and we’ve found networks for hobbies and interests that bring us alive. We’ve used sites and platforms to pursue passion projects, launch dreams, stay connected with our families and host fundraisers to benefit causes that are changing the world.

We all know there’s a dark side to the internet, too, the side that is full of hate and judgment and cruel commenting made from anonymous accounts. We’ve witnessed the negative impact that this type of darkness has had on people all over the world, ranging from company CEOs and world leaders to middle school children and bloggers.

But there’s a middle ground that we don’t talk about quite as much, the space in between the positive and negative that’s a little grayer. We’ll call this the passive space, the place where comments are made in a way to veil the true intent of the post while communicating a different subtext, one rooted in complaint. You’ve seen this, right? There’s a certain type of post floating around the world wide web on a daily basis, one that revels in the greatness of something while simultaneously making a passive, less obvious remark that reveals an underlying complaint or frustration. This passive aggressive perspective is one that we’ve observed over time, and it’s something we haven’t quite known how to address.

There’s a certain type of post floating around the world wide web on a daily basis, one that revels in the greatness of something while simultaneously making a passive, less obvious remark …

Let us first clarify something: We are all about carving out spaces where we can be honest, places where we can reveal the things in life that are hard and trying and difficult. We want to encourage others and remind ourselves of the importance of finding healthy ways to vent to people about the things that are going on in our lives that are challenging.

But what we want in addition to that is a real sense of transparency, honesty and openness. Instead of true vulnerability, what we’re more commonly seeing is a veiled commentary hidden behind perfectly styled posts, cutesy coffee cups and darling babies (who look so adorable and healthy but “just wouldn’t sleep last night”). We know what people are trying to say when they make these posts, and we know we’ve made these very same posts ourselves in the past. But what we’ve realized is that these passive aggressive updates aren’t communicating our true intentions or bringing us together in any positive way. Instead, they could cause us to look ungrateful for the things we have, and they might be preventing a real attempt to seek out companionship, help and advice when we need it.

So, here’s what we’re thinking: Instead of being tempted to share something that’s partially positive with a subtext of ingratitude or frustration, let’s be real online and talk about what’s been difficult for us. Let’s straight up say “this thing is hard” instead of “this thing is so, so, so wonderful but maybe it’s frustrating me just a little bit and if you ask me about it further I might share, but otherwise I’ll pretend everything is mostly all right.” Let’s not worry about what the response from our online community might be and instead present our struggles, great or small, with honesty and clarity.

Let’s turn away from our screens and turn toward the people in our real lives who can provide us with support in the form of a lunch date or a phone call or a big old hug.

Or maybe we need to take this search for support one step further and lean on the people in our lives who can physically meet us where we’re at by providing us with the emotional help we need, whether we’re dealing with a daily frustration or a life-altering crisis. Let’s turn away from our screens and turn toward the people in our real lives who can provide us with support in the form of a lunch date or a phone call or a big old hug. Rather than solely relying on our internet communities to bring us the validation and help we need, let’s look to our home teams, our networks of people who can provide us face time in the truest sense of the phrase.

We would love to hear what you think about this topic. Are you craving the same sense of emotional authenticity and vulnerability in your communities, both online and in the real world?

Image via Monica Outcalt

Rachel is the Development Director for the Touch A Life Foundation, a non-profit organization committed to the rescue and rehabilitation of exploited and trafficked children in West Africa and Southeast Asia. She currently lives in Dallas, TX, with her husband, their baby girl Ruby, and their cuddly English mastiff.

  • This struck such a chord with me. A couple months back, I posted an article that I crafted as witty and sarcastic, but beneath it all, it was full of derision and complaining. To be honest, it didn’t feel good seeing it published. I’ve never written a piece like that since and I don’t plan to. I try to be more honest and transparent and up-front about what I’m saying. So much better!


  • Ruth June 16, 2016

    This is gold. Oh how hard is it to be brave- and share actual struggles. We love the facade or appearance of neat and tidy perfection. But there is so much light, goodness, and life found in the struggles.

  • Anonymous June 9, 2016

    I don’t know that I find it a big deal. It’s certainly not on the level of people who make a sport out of being mean to people. I think when people try to do a positive comment with a tacked on complaint they just feel like people will react negatively. I think some people are under the impression that if you just say, “The new baby kept me up all night and I’m exhausted” their comments section is going to have people asking why they don’t appreciate their child enough and so people mix it up to remain sympathetic. My gut instinct is just that I would rather hear people say whatever is on their heart, positive or negative, petty or important. It’s not my place to judge if they are grateful enough for what is in their life or if they problems are big enough to warrant my compassion or if they should have said this to someone in person instead of the Internet. There just seem to be so many different factors that could be playing, so who can say what someone else should do?

  • Barbi Wood June 9, 2016

    Beautifully written truth!

  • Catie June 9, 2016

    Love this so much. I recently just started a blog after a long time of just being idle and thinking about it. My hope was (and is) that my words or anyone who ends up writing for it would just be honest. Yes, I want to share with and encourage the internet world of women but never want that world to replace anyone’s community (including mine) of nearest and dearest that can be on our couches in under an hour to see physical tears or hear the length of a belly laugh.

  • Anonymous June 9, 2016

    I agree whole-heartedly. People use social media as a platform nowadays