Calling Out Bad Behavior via Social Media

We tend to be pretty passive-aggressive as a society. And social media seems to have made it worse, in some ways. Social media has made it possible for us to point out bad behavior, and we’ll often do it to a complete stranger, but we won’t do it to our friends.

I did a short (unscientific) survey last month to find out whether people would call out bad behavior on the part of strangers versus friends. I wasn’t surprised by some of the results, partly because most of the people I know are pretty nice people and not prone to being online jerks. But mostly because many respondents are from the Midwest, and we’re annoyingly nice about a lot of things.


Basically what I found is, we are more likely to forgive friends, but we will stick it to a complete stranger.

  • If we are wronged by a friend, we’ll point it out privately rather than call it out.
  • 40% of us will hang a stranger out to dry publicly; nearly all of us will tell someone else about it.
  • Only a very few people will say or do nothing, either about a friend or a stranger’s bad behavior.

The Survey

This was a four question survey, with a series of answers that asks about responses that range from very direct (and rather jerky) to very passive (being a doormat).

For example, question #1 asked: When a friend — who uses social media — wrongs me in some way, I am more likely to:

  1. Call them out BY NAME on a social network. “I can’t believe @edeckers stood me up for our meeting this morning.”
  2. Point out my annoyance, but don’t mention their name. “Got stood up for a 7:30 am meeting.”
  3. Send them a private message pointing out the problem. “Did you forget we had a meeting this morning?”
  4. Absolutely nothing.

The Results

So would you @reply someone or set your Facebook status to call them out by name? Or would you passive-aggressively point out to the whole world that some unnamed jerkface missed your morning meeting?

I wasn’t that surprised by the results. Most people are nice enough to keep our gripes private, and to not air our grievances in public, and the numbers bore this out. Out of 107 responses to Question 1:

  • 80 people (74.7%) said they would email their friend privately to point out their problems.
  • 12 people (11.2%) would call out the incident, but not name the person.
  • 11 people (10.2%) would do absolutely nothing at all.
  • 4 people (3%) would call that person out by name.

I was intrigued that the number of people who would do absolutely nothing to tell the other person what they had done was nearly the same as the number of people who would point out the bad behavior but not name any names.

When I’m in public, and someone does something annoying, I am more likely to:

Friends vs. Strangers

Question #2 was about whether people would point out something annoying that someone else did, but not to them: When I’m in public, and someone does something annoying, I am more likely to:

  1. Point out their bad behavior on a social network, including pictures or video. “Check out this jerkwad being an ass to his wife.”
  2. Point out their bad behavior, but give them their anonymity. “Some guy next to me is being an ass to his wife.”
  3. Email a friend privately and relay the story to them.
  4. Absolutely nothing.

The results were a little more dramatic this time compared to what people would say to their friends. Out of 106 responses (someone missed this one):

  • 57 people (53.8%) said they would email a friend privately to tell them about the stranger’s behavior.
  • 32 people (30.2%) said they would call out this stranger’s behavior, and include pictures or videos
  • 11 people (10.3%) would call out the behavior, but not include any identifying information.
  • 6 people (5.7%) would do absolutely nothing.

When a stranger does something annoying in public, I am more likely to:


This is the stuff that intrigues me, and really makes me wish I had paid better attention in stats class in grad school. Because there are some interesting correlations between what we consider acceptable behavior toward friends versus complete strangers.

  • Most people (nearly 75%) will tell friends privately about their own bad behavior, but 40.5% of these people will publicly call out bad behavior from a stranger.
  • Compare that to 3% of people who would call out a friend by name on Twitter or Facebook. This tells me that most people are nice, and a few can be rather cut-throat and nasty.
  • Surprisingly, more people — 30.2% vs. 10.3% — will point an accusing finger at a stranger by including evidence of their bad behavior than will give them anonymity.
  • 94.3% of people will tell someone about a stranger’s bad behavior, whether it’s publicly or via email.
  • The number of people who would point out bad behavior but protect the person’s identity in either situation is nearly the same: 10.3% will talk about a stranger versus 11.2% who will call out, but not identify, friends (11 people vs. 12 people).
  • The percentage of people who will do nothing when a friend wrongs them versus a stranger nearly doubled — 10.2% versus 5.7% respectively, or 11 versus 6 people.


So what does all of this mean? Are we people with a strong sense of moral outrage who will point out the failings of other people, but only when they’re not anyone we know? And do we hold back out of fear of retribution or respect for our friends’ feelings? Or do we have an overwhelming sense of schadenfreude, but refrain from doing it at inappropriate moments?

What about you? What do you think? What conclusions can you draw from this study? What do you think this tells us about ourselves, as it relates to social media?

The rest of the questions:

Question #3: When I am having an argument with a friend or family member, I will start/continue the discussion on a social network.

  • Yes (2 people)
  • No (105 people)

Question #4: Which social network do you use the most?

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    About Erik Deckers

    Erik Deckers is the President of Pro Blog Service, a content marketing and social media marketing agency He co-authored four social media books, including No Bullshit Social Media with Jason Falls (2011, Que Biz-Tech), and Branding Yourself with Kyle Lacy (3rd ed., 2017, Que Biz-Tech), and The Owned Media Doctrine (2013, Archway Publishing). Erik has written a weekly newspaper humor column for 10 papers around Indiana since 1995. He was also the Spring 2016 writer-in-residence at the Jack Kerouac House in Orlando, FL.