Avoid the Twitter tirade: Negative social media rants often backfire on senders

DAVIS, Calif. — Social media is a popular place for people to vent their anger, but a new study finds that doing so can hurt the venter far more than it does the target of the tirade.

It probably comes as no surprise that positive online posts produce upbeat results and negative rants create the opposite. What may be shocking is how long the effects of negative rants extend, and how the negativity ultimately comes home to roost with the sender.

Researchers at the University of California-Davis looked at hundreds of millions of chat room messages where youth were playing online social games. They found that positive chats bloom for just a few seconds, but negative chats spew out a stream of negativity that goes on for many minutes.

“It’s not just that this negative chat has a long life,” says the study’s lead author Seth Frey, an assistant professor of communication at the university, in a statement. “But it has a longer effect on the original speaker. Negative people are really hurting themselves.”

Researchers followed 600,000 conversations and hundreds of millions of chat room messages posted in a popular online social game site over several months. Most of the approximately one million participants were children from all over the world between the ages of 8 and 12. A sentiment analysis toolkit that is normally used for short Twitter posts measured the positive or negative weight of the chat content.

The results indicate that there is such a thing as online karma. That is, when someone sends out a positive message, it creates a circuit of positivity that returns to the sender. The ripple effect of a sender’s positive message begins returning dividends in just two seconds that continue for 60 seconds.

But when chats are negative or strongly or emotionally charged, the returns continue for an average of eight minutes. One instance of negativity results in a “feedback loop” that fuels and grows itself. This is why negative rants last so much longer than positive messages.

Frey points out that the research was conducted in chat rooms where messages are exchanged rapidly among youth. Results would most likely be even longer-lasting on platforms like Facebook or Twitter, where participants are older and have more complex emotions and political opinions.

The findings are an indication of the differences between emotional ripples online verses the emotions expressed in face-to-face conversations. Frey says, “It’s really about isolating the effects that your angry and distasteful actions have on you in the future.”

He believes the study “can expand the scope of social-influence-based public health policies and ultimately help young people respond maturely to social influences, whether positive or negative, online or offline.”

When we consider the ramifications of what we express, both positive and negative, we may begin to understand when and how online messages need to be monitored and when a helpful administrator might need to step in and intervene.

Findings were published October 10, 2018 in Behavior Research Methods.

Follow on Google News

About the Author

Terra Marquette

Terra is a Denver-area freelance writer, editor and researcher. In her free time, she creates playlists for every mood.

The contents of this website do not constitute advice and are provided for informational purposes only. See our full disclaimer


  1. I believe this idea that negative or positive comments online create different results is wrong. Or perhaps there might be a slight effect, but it is insignificant.

    My biggest question is how many online presences are actual people and not bots or AI programs being tested?

    For instance for things that have to do with money – like people, products, movies or TV is it a coincidence that often I will turn to the comments sections and every single comment is glowingly positive and there is not a single mention of any criticism at all.

    The newest ads/commercials are fake reviews, and they are most positive about the item when it first debuts. Like movies that come out that eventually are considered not that good often debut with multitudes of 10/10 or 5/5 reviews until the real people can see whatever it is and weigh in.

    My belief which I cannot prove is that the massive Republican wave is due to negative media directed at liberals or Democrats and that the negativity is not important to the commentors because so many of them are either fake or paid for. Years and years of constant insults that have divided this country come from a few sources, but are very loud and emotional.

    Reports say that Right-wing money is creating or taking over local media and pretending to be the voices of local people, and most of us don’t know and cannot tell or cannot prove this – so it makes everyone thing that these loud negative voices are the norm. Psychological experiments from 100 years ago show that people are influenced and their beliefs are reactions to what they see around them – mostly to try to move towards the center of what they say.

    Meanwhile our own democratic values seem to undermine us in our own country and the world.

Comments are closed.