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Social Media Makes Us Passive-Aggressive

"Is it really necessary to set off fireworks two days before July 4th?" asked the Facebook commenter. It's never a good sign when someone starts a question with "is it really necessary?" Because the answer is "no," and they're only asking because they don't want to be "that guy." Except they became "that guy" as soon as they said, "is it really necessary?"

It was the second query in as many days, and both status updates started the same way.

"Is it really necessary to shoot off fireworks?" I could hear the nasal whinge coming through, like a whiny Lumbergh from "Office Space."

"Yeaaaahh, I'm going to need you to go ahead and stop setting off your fireworks and having fun. So if you could do that, that'd be terrific, mmm'kay?"

In both cases, the person in question had a valid concern. The fireworks kept their kids awake. Or they scared the dog, and the dog kept the kids awake. Whatever. My complaint isn't with a parent whose kids have stress-induced insomnia.

It's the tone of the question — is it reeeeelly necessareeee? — that set my teeth on edge. Just say what you want, and don't ask the question you know the answer to. Or they could just do what I do: turn out the lights, call the police, and then watch out the window to see if anyone gets arrested.

I don't know if it's social media that makes us passive-aggressive, or if it's just because we're from Indiana and we're too polite for direct confrontation. (Indiana: We're America's Canada.) Whatever it is, there's something about that snotty rhetorical question that make me want to throw my window open and shout, "Yes, it is!"

Thanks to social media, people are sharing more communication with everyone except for the person they should actually talk to. If you don't actually want to go to their house and ask them in person, how about something written to the person in question?

"While I appreciate your enthusiasm for our country's independence, could whoever is setting off fireworks in the neighborhood please stop by 9:30? It's keeping my kid up."

It's simple, direct, and doesn't make it seem like they're the kind of person who speaks loudly to a friend in the hopes that someone nearby will overhear.

"Man, someone in here sure has a lot of perfume on today! I mean, my eyes are watering from all this perfume. I know it's not me, and it's certainly not you, because we rode in the car together. But I can barely eat because the stench is so overpowering. I wonder if my olfactory assailant knows they're ruining my meal and causing irreparable brain damage. I hope they realize they're an awful human being who should slink away and live as a hermit in a cave."

I see this passive-aggressive communication between friends ("I can't believe I got stood up for lunch today!"), in a message from a parent to an older child ("We could sure use strength and prayers while our family deals with a stressful issue that threatens to drive us apart." "Mom, I said I was sorry at dinner. Jeez, I only went out with her once!"), and even spouses. ("You would think that after 15 years of marriage, I wouldn't have to remind certain people to quit leaving their socks by the bed. But what do you expect from someone who's from Ohio?" "Sheila, I raised that boy for 18 years. If I couldn't fix him then, ain't no way you can fix him now." "I sure wish some people remembered I was Facebook friends with them. And that we're all watching TV in the same room.")

The only time I see someone addressed directly is when they're dead.

"It's been six years since you left us, Aunt Sally. We sure miss seeing you every Sunday, Aunt Sally. Not a day goes by that I don't think of you, Aunt Sally. I miss you like crazy, Aunt Sally."

Problem is, Aunt Sally won't see that message because she's in Heaven, and one of the great things about Heaven is that they don't have Facebook. They use Twitter.

I'm not saying we shouldn't air our grievances on social media. If you have a complaint, air away, but none of this behind-the-other-person's-back BS. Just don't talk around the issue, or refuse to address the person directly. Be an adult and communicate in a mature responsible manner.

My only hope is this message reaches the people who need to hear it most.

So if one of you could tell her for me, that's be terrific, mmm'kay?

The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on

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  1. I was looking for articles on uses of social networking for business and I came across yours inspiring read. Thanks man!


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