Confusion, Personal Comments and the mystery of the offline Jekyll vs the online Hyde

I spent the early part of this week at the IFP conference in Wales. It was great to meet up, share ideas with and listen to some great people who provided me with some fantastic ideas on how I can further develop my business. Whilst the few days were overwhelmingly positive I had an interesting conversation on the Monday night  I want to share with  you.

In the bar, and as is usual at these types of events, I got talking to someone….I’d met this gentleman once before very briefly and found him (both the original time I’d met him and on that Monday night) to be genuine, generous with a fantastic sense of humour.

However I was confused.

I knew this particular individual had written some disparaging comments about a couple of the contributions I’d made to discussions on Linkedin. I’m a firm believer in accepting criticism. I actually love having my ideas challenged as it provides me with an opportunity to learn where I might be going wrong and improve an aspect of myself or my business. However the comments made weren’t about the comment. They were personal.

So here I was sharing a beer with a guy who’d made personal comments on someone he didn’t know (I hadn’t met him at the time he made the comments) and I couldn’t resist the opportunity to ask him…

“You’re obviously a really good guy. What motivates you to make such personal comments online about individuals you’ve never met and know very little about?”

He gave me two reasons. Firstly he felt it was his duty to highlight and battle against pretentious comments (and although I didn’t admit it at the time I’m probably guilty of a little bit of pretentiousness at times!) and secondly it was his right in a free society to say whatever he wanted about whoever and whatever he liked (which I actually agree with).

However I’m still not convinced that ever justifies making personal comments about someone he doesn’t know. Not because of me (I’m big enough and ugly enough to look after and defend myself!) but because of the impact  it has on our profession.

Let  me be clear. I’m up for constructive criticism of business models, strategies, investment approaches and ideas. I just don’t believe that professionals should ever make it personal.

We’ve seen recent examples of personal criticism of Ed Miliband’s (via casting aspersions about his Dad, which for me, and regardless of whether you like his politics or not, was a step too far) and within our profession most of the recent comments on a article about Martin Bamfords return to advice was frankly ridiculous.

But surely as a profession (and to paraphrase Ed Miliband’s recent speech to the Labour Party Conference)…..

We can do better than this.

Me and this really nice bloke didn’t come to a resolution on Monday night. He stuck with freedom of speech and his fight against pretentiousness and I agreed with this but felt that his online comments didn’t reflect his personality and did a disservice to not only our profession but also him personally.

But, and this is why I’ve written this and need some help, I’m both confused and curious.

What motivates nice people in real life to make disparaging comments online? What is it that pushes them to feel the need to make comments which reflect  on both them and the profession badly? Why do some people get that the online world should be an extension of their personalities and others have a “Jekyll” in the offline world but “Hyde” online?

As ever I’m interested in hearing your thoughts….

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19 thoughts on “Confusion, Personal Comments and the mystery of the offline Jekyll vs the online Hyde

  • I think his has to do with perceived anonymity; it’s the same thing that leads to aggressive behaviour in cars. Ad hominem attacks are easy and don’t require engagement with the topic – far more impactful surely to play the ball, not the man. And I’m not sure who voted this fella to be on pretentiousness patrol…

    However, fair play to your correspondent – at least you knew his real name. Many of the attacks on the Bamfords are done anonymously – one nasty little troll even left a comment in my name a while ago, which I wrote about here: http://langcatfinancial.co.uk/2013/09/trolling-deep/. We’ve said it here before but it’s time all the trades cracked down on this in the same way as Adviser Lounge has.

    Reply
    • Thanks for the comment Mark.

      I’ve got to admit I had to google “Ad Hominem” but now I know what it means….I love it!

      The problem is that there are many who believe that playing the man is more powerful. Whilst I believe that to be a slightly lazy way to make a point it could be argued that emotionally driven arguments are more powerful (and therefore more dangerous) than logical ones!

      Interestingly I’ve got a lot of respect for the fact that my correspondent did use his real name and engage with me….but I’m still confused about why he felt that would be an appropriate way to behave online is he wasn’t prepared to do it face to face.

      Reply
  • Really good points made Chris with which I’d concur. Why do people need to be nasty?
    Mark’s response is also spot on (but hey enough of this politeness….”ad hominem” how’s that for pretentious !!).
    I think the analogy with car driver behaviour is also interesting.
    Isn’t it really about power without responsibility? Certainly in the case of the Anon brigade.
    Which then brings us to to why are the publishers not more rigorous in their vetting? Could it be that they don’t really mind?
    Could it be that anything that increases the amount of activity surrounding an article is viewed as a win?
    Its a genuine question and one which I leave for them to answer.

    Reply
    • Some interesting points here Stewart.

      I don’t think publishers do mind. Comments are made, this generates more ‘heat and light’ and therefore the article and the online magazine get’s more popular….it’s probably one of the reasons that The Daily Mail is the most read UK newspapers (especially online)…..as they say “Any publicity is good publicity”.

      However the publishers goals and our goals will be different. I’m not worried about ‘eyeballs’ but more worried about the ‘eyeballs’ seeing our profession for what it should be.

      Reply
  • Firstly, Chris – I love your humility here…nice (unless of course you are being pretentious about it!!)

    In all seriousness, I write 300 words for citywire each week – it’s hard putting stuff out there to be criticised, but criticism happens and I’ve learned to live with it pretty well.

    Everyone is entitled to an opinion and the constructive criticism is great but yes, the personal ones can really grate.

    As Martin Bamford said, you sometimes want to sit them down and ask them, ‘why are you so angry?’

    Reply
    • Thanks Damian. It was genuine humility, tinged with a degree of pretentiousness! (I’ll let you decide how much!) 😉

      Weirdly the online anger isn’t reflected in the offline persona….which is the bit that confused me.

      Also as we move into a world where collaboration between professionals within the same sector increases due to increased specialisms surely it’s slightly short sighted to do this.

      Reply
  • Thanks for the mention, Chris.

    There is a lot more than meets the eye in respect of the ‘anonymous’ individual who was trolling the IFAonline story about my return to advice this week (including that it appears to have been one individual responsible for at least ten of the different ‘anonymous’ identities!). I’ll comment further on this once we have finished identifying the individual and dealing with them appropriately.

    In most circumstances, I will simply ignore anonymous comments. This becomes harder to do when those comments are malicious and lies need to be corrected.

    What I hope we see in short order is all trade press websites removing the ability for people to comment anonymously (if you have something to say and genuinely need to protect your identity, speak to a journalist off the record?) and also implement tougher comment moderation policies.

    I’m all for sensible, grown-up debate around important topics. I’ve got no time for sad little spineless trolls with nothing better in their lives than creating multiple online identities to subject me and my business to malicious harassment.

    Reply
    • Hi Martin,

      I hope you don’t mind the mention. I just thought some of the comments made (and not for the first time) were inappropriate and highlighted the issue.

      I’m all for removing the anonymity of comments totally. However I’m not sure what the right move would be in terms of tougher comment moderation policies and how you can restrict the conversation to an intelligent, sensible, grown up debate and not restrict the freedom to make controversial comments…..something I think Adviser Lounge seems to do really well!

      Reply
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  • I think his has to do with perceived anonymity; it’s the same thing that leads to aggressive behaviour in cars. Ad hominem attacks are easy and don’t require engagement with the topic – far more impactful surely to play the ball, not the man. And I’m not sure who voted this fella to be on pretentiousness patrol…

    However, fair play to your correspondent – at least you knew his real name. Many of the attacks on the Bamfords are done anonymously – one nasty little troll even left a comment in my name a while ago, which I wrote about here: http://langcatfinancial.co.uk/2013/09/trolling-deep/. We’ve said it here before but it’s time all the trades cracked down on this in the same way as Adviser Lounge has.

    Reply
    • Thanks for the comment Mark.

      I’ve got to admit I had to google “Ad Hominem” but now I know what it means….I love it!

      The problem is that there are many who believe that playing the man is more powerful. Whilst I believe that to be a slightly lazy way to make a point it could be argued that emotionally driven arguments are more powerful (and therefore more dangerous) than logical ones!

      Interestingly I’ve got a lot of respect for the fact that my correspondent did use his real name and engage with me….but I’m still confused about why he felt that would be an appropriate way to behave online is he wasn’t prepared to do it face to face.

      Reply
  • Really good points made Chris with which I’d concur. Why do people need to be nasty?
    Mark’s response is also spot on (but hey enough of this politeness….”ad hominem” how’s that for pretentious !!).
    I think the analogy with car driver behaviour is also interesting.
    Isn’t it really about power without responsibility? Certainly in the case of the Anon brigade.
    Which then brings us to to why are the publishers not more rigorous in their vetting? Could it be that they don’t really mind?
    Could it be that anything that increases the amount of activity surrounding an article is viewed as a win?
    Its a genuine question and one which I leave for them to answer.

    Reply
    • Some interesting points here Stewart.

      I don’t think publishers do mind. Comments are made, this generates more ‘heat and light’ and therefore the article and the online magazine get’s more popular….it’s probably one of the reasons that The Daily Mail is the most read UK newspapers (especially online)…..as they say “Any publicity is good publicity”.

      However the publishers goals and our goals will be different. I’m not worried about ‘eyeballs’ but more worried about the ‘eyeballs’ seeing our profession for what it should be.

      Reply
  • Firstly, Chris – I love your humility here…nice (unless of course you are being pretentious about it!!)

    In all seriousness, I write 300 words for citywire each week – it’s hard putting stuff out there to be criticised, but criticism happens and I’ve learned to live with it pretty well.

    Everyone is entitled to an opinion and the constructive criticism is great but yes, the personal ones can really grate.

    As Martin Bamford said, you sometimes want to sit them down and ask them, ‘why are you so angry?’

    Reply
    • Thanks Damian. It was genuine humility, tinged with a degree of pretentiousness! (I’ll let you decide how much!) 😉

      Weirdly the online anger isn’t reflected in the offline persona….which is the bit that confused me.

      Also as we move into a world where collaboration between professionals within the same sector increases due to increased specialisms surely it’s slightly short sighted to do this.

      Reply
  • Thanks for the mention, Chris.

    There is a lot more than meets the eye in respect of the ‘anonymous’ individual who was trolling the IFAonline story about my return to advice this week (including that it appears to have been one individual responsible for at least ten of the different ‘anonymous’ identities!). I’ll comment further on this once we have finished identifying the individual and dealing with them appropriately.

    In most circumstances, I will simply ignore anonymous comments. This becomes harder to do when those comments are malicious and lies need to be corrected.

    What I hope we see in short order is all trade press websites removing the ability for people to comment anonymously (if you have something to say and genuinely need to protect your identity, speak to a journalist off the record?) and also implement tougher comment moderation policies.

    I’m all for sensible, grown-up debate around important topics. I’ve got no time for sad little spineless trolls with nothing better in their lives than creating multiple online identities to subject me and my business to malicious harassment.

    Reply
    • Hi Martin,

      I hope you don’t mind the mention. I just thought some of the comments made (and not for the first time) were inappropriate and highlighted the issue.

      I’m all for removing the anonymity of comments totally. However I’m not sure what the right move would be in terms of tougher comment moderation policies and how you can restrict the conversation to an intelligent, sensible, grown up debate and not restrict the freedom to make controversial comments…..something I think Adviser Lounge seems to do really well!

      Reply

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