Spend enough time on social media networks and you will see a variety of negative online behavior. During the last few years on Twitter, I have observed such bad social media practices as:

  • A live-in couple breaking up via back and forth tweets
  • An adult harassing a child as the child’s mother responded in a state of terror
  • An individual being targeted and antagonized repeatedly by multiple people with various troll-like behaviors

Beyond these two-way online attacks, there is another distinct strain of online vigilante attacks. This troll-like behavior involves certain individuals (usually an online expert) waging an attack against bad social media practices the online vigilante has labeled wrong, harmful, or disingenuous, all in the spirit of protecting (and supposedly educating) others.

Attacking Bad Social Media Practices?

I watched one of these play out recently.

A self-appointed online vigilante went after a competitor (and certain employees of the competitor) for disingenuous social media behavior. What started as a post bemoaning the competitor’s bad social media practices (supported by an uploaded screen grab of the competitor’s site) triggered supportive comments from the online vigilante’s followers. This was followed by the online vigilante’s more pointed invective. Finally, an employee at the competitor under attack responded with a mea culpa and a request to put a stop to the feeding frenzy underway.

While the original comment was a valid opinion about the competitor’s presence, it was a situation where the parties KNOW each other. Rather than pointing out a competitor’s weakness to the online vigilante’s large follower network (under the guise of being shocked by the competitor’s shortcomings), it could have been handled privately. Or even ignored completely. There was no compelling reason to call out a competitor’s bad social media practices - other than to belittle the competitor in the eyes of potential clients.

I might have believed the online vigilante’s claim that no harm was ever meant in the original post except I’ve seen the same type of attack in several venues. And each time, the same motivation is claimed: to simply point out something the online vigilante found surprising or incredulous about a competitor’s social media practices.

Acting on Our Behalf?

Looking at this situation and others, online vigilantes are characterized by a rather unsavory set of personality traits and behaviors, including:

  • Being disingenuous (which is why they like to call it out in others)
  • Sarcasm
  • Vindictiveness
  • A strong sense of personal superiority
  • Detraction
  • Narcissism

Sounds like someone you’d want to hang out with, doesn’t it?

There are certainly other and more appropriate ways to wage social duels and fight with some level of online etiquette. Yet in this case and others, online vigilantism seems to attract thousands of followers in spite of, or heaven forbid, because of their negative online behavior.

And to that, I guess all I can say is, if we’re following them (and I obviously am), then we, as an audience, get what we deserve.  – Mike Brown

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