The Plight of Pettiness

My Instagram and Snapchat feeds are usually filled with selfies and other harmless posts that keep me updated on my friends’ lives. Yet every once in awhile, I’ll come across a post with a passive-aggressive caption that directly — but discreetly — targets someone. Posts like these never mention the targeted person by name, but their intention of calling that person out is always clear.

I wholly understand the desire to express frustrations through social media. Receiving likes and comments on your posts is validating and can make you feel “heard” by your followers. This “eye for an eye” mentality of targeting someone online, however, no matter what they did to you, is unacceptable. Regardless of a person’s wrongdoing, passive-aggressive public shaming over social media is petty, immature, and frankly cowardly. These posts are a passive form of cyberbullying and are by no means a viable solution.

The emerging culture of indirect confrontation that has been enabled by social media is becoming more popular and normalized in society than face-to-face conflict. Social media is now the platform of choice for personal expression because one can publicly communicate their feelings and angers without dealing with immediate, direct reactions from people they post about. In fact, people become encouraged when they receive likes and comments in support of their post. The satisfaction of garnering immediate positive feedback on their post reaffirms their cause, while blinding them from foreseeing any negative or hurtful consequences. With technology creating a protective shield around us, an impulsive passive-aggressive post is something we often don’t even think twice about. That is, until we get caught.

As a post acquires more attention, the targeted intentions behind it will, most likely, eventually be deciphered. You may begin to receive negative feedback on your post or even worse: your target might view it, or may even decide to post about it. The immediate regret and embarrassment you feel when the person you posted about confronts you about it can be easily avoided. Talking directly to the person who upset you, before you post, may help you understand his or her perspective and could impact the way in which you deal with the issue.

I do not deny that it can be daunting to confront someone directly, especially in an age where many of our interactions occur digitally. Reaching out to the person that upset you is the more mature choice, however, and is always more effective. When talking face-to-face, you can present you opinions in a more personal way that may help the other person better understand your side and how he or she made you feel, more so than a discreet yet scathing post is able to do.

The degree of how serious the wrongdoing is can also pose as a challenge in deciding whether to confront the person directly or not. Sometimes posting may seem like the easiest or best solution, especially when dealing with seemingly trivial issues. But this mindset is destructive, for online posting will most likely never address the root cause of your conflict, and your posts can be screenshotted so you lose control over who sees them.

Directly confronting people is one way to help dismantle the culture of indirect confrontation, and another is by being a conscientious follower. If followers stop liking and commenting on posts that are obviously intended to target others, or maybe even stand up for the person being targeted, the cycle will become much less perpetual.

I admit that I am not exempt from the pettiness of posting or liking passive-aggressive posts. But I have felt the regret that follows receiving negative feedback, as well as having seen how hurtful these posts can feel when they are targeted at my friends or myself. This is an ugly culture that I urge our campus to abstain from. After witnessing the negativity that these posts produce firsthand, I can wholeheartedly say that a few likes are not worth the harmful repercussions.

Susan Yun is a four-year Senior from New York, N.Y.