“Sometimes mean behavior on social media is super casual. Instead of being harassed, my friends just don’t tag me in a picture. How do I deal with the drama? Is it possible I’m overreacting?”
Ah, yes…drama online (as this week’s TikTok depicts — scroll down — there’s no dearth of it; am I right?). Let me start by thanking you for raising this question: it’s an important one, because, as you note, it highlights the fact that rude or harassing behavior online doesn’t need to be visible, or in-your-face. Often, when we think about Internet drama, our minds go to Twitter battles, or vicious, anonymous takedowns. But hurtful behavior can be subtle and insidious: not tagging someone in a picture, or even leaving a comment that, on the surface, may seem nice…but it is still rude or damaging (e.g. “I LOVE the new dress. If you lost just a little more weight, it would be perfect! ❤️”). That’s passive-aggressive behavior, and it happens all the time on social media.
So, how do you deal with passive-aggressive behavior? Well, as you point out, the first (and toughest) step is detecting it. After all, it really is possible that your friend just forgot to tag you! With that said, the truest test of any form of harassing behavior — including passive-aggressive behavior — is if it happens repeatedly. If your friend keeps “forgetting” to tag you, or posting little-less-than nice comments on your photos, it’s probably not accidental. In any case, it’s important to remember that you shouldn’t need to reach a “bar” or lower limit to take action: if the behavior is bothering you, it’s important that it stops. Put more simply, Step 1 is to listen to and trust yourself.
Okay…so then what? You might find yourself wondering how, exactly, to take action. My suggested pathway? Talk to your friend, but do not let it escalate online. I’m not sure if you’ve ever had a fight with a friend, family member, or SO via text/message platform, but most people find that there’s so much lost in that exchange. You can’t hear how the person is expressing their point of view; you can’t see the guilt or sadness in their face when they apologize. Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic may make in-person conversation tough, but at the very least, if you can, try and use FaceTime, or Zoom.
Stay calm during the conversation, but be honest about how you’re feeling. (e.g. “I just feel like you keep forgetting to do ABC…and it makes me feel like XYZ…) Of course, there’s a good chance your friend brushes all of this off. (“What?! That was totally accidental.”) Do not fall into the intentions game, e.g. trying to “prove” that your friend meant to be rude. Instead, stay focused on the impact. (“Intentions aside, you still hurt me.”)
Through all of this, my biggest piece of advice is to keep everything in context. To be clear: passive-aggressive behavior online can be very damaging and is never okay. But at the same time, don’t let your self-worth be dictated by a comment or your presence in a picture. (If you want to read more about “the pressure to be perfect” on social media, check out Week 2’s blog post.) You are so, so much more than any and all internet drama: never forget that.
Before I sign off, one last thing: if you have a question about the internet on your mind, share your note, question, or thought here. Your topic might be featured in an upcoming TikTok/blog post! More importantly, you’ll be doing our online community a huge service: there are probably tons of young people thinking and feeling the same things. Don’t forget to also spread the word! With you, we can keep building and growing this amazing “Ask Trish” space.
As always, thanks for watching and reading along! See you again next week,