Anger on the Internet: What’s a Rant-Site?

You don’t have to look too hard to find anger on the internet.  Whether through weblogs, social networking websites, or online discussion forums, people use the Internet to express their anger on a variety of topics. Online news sources routinely allow for public comments, often providing a venue for reader anger. Likewise, there are entire websites, called rant-sites, dedicated to allowing people to vent online  and a series of studies I and three other authors presented at the 2011 Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association Annual Convention explored the use of these websites, including what people get out of expressing their anger in such a way.

Rant-sites are exactly what they sound like.  They are websites designed for people to rant or vent about any topic they choose.  For an example of one of the most popular rant-sites, go to www.justrage.com.  Be warned, however, that such websites are not for the faint of heart.  Much of what you read there is offensive and some of it seems to qualify as hate-speech.  Though Just Rage has a policy against racism and hate speech, that policy doesn’t appear to be well enforced.

The project we presented included two studies exploring different facets of rant-site use.  We decided to start this line of research because so little is known about how anger is expressed online and what writers seem to get out of it.  We choose rant-sites because we thought that what happens on these websites is part of a bigger problem that is happening on social networking websites, discussion forums, etc. Our hope was to better understand why people express their anger online the way they do and what they perceive as the value of such expressions.

The first thing we did was to look simply at the content of the rants on several of these websites.  We found that, more often than not, rants are directed at a specific person, usually a spouse or romantic partner.  When not a particular person, rants were almost always directed at a large subgroup like a religious group or a political party.  By far, the most common reason for the rant was some sort of pet peeve or daily irritation (e.g., people who complain, spouse being late all the time, having to install toolbars on their web browser when they download computer software).

The second study surveyed users of such websites to learn more about how/why they use the website along with how they experience and express anger in general.  What we found was that every participant responded by indicating that they usually feel calm, relieved, or relaxed after writing their rants.   This finding alone is a bit surprising as catharsis, the act of venting or “letting it out”, is well known to have unhealthy long-term consequences.  The reports of decreased anger, then, could likely indicate that they are feeling angrier as they write the rant and that anger decreases when they are done.  They interpret that decrease as feeling relaxed and don’t recognize the increase in anger they experienced while writing.

Another interesting finding here is the sense of community that seems to develop on some of these websites.   Most participants were hoping for some sort of interaction through comments on their rants.  They reported wanting people to validate their feelings, make them laugh, or even to disagree with them.  In some ways, you could think of these websites as anonymous social networking sites where people know each other by their usernames (though, they don’t all have user names).

One of the more striking findings is that visitors of rant-sites are a fairly angry bunch in general with approximately 60% of them scoring above the 75 percentile on a measure of anger.  Likewise, approximately 10% of them reported having had a physical fight in the last month and almost all of them reporting a having a verbal fight in the last month.

Unfortunately, there is still a lot that we don’t know about online anger.  Frankly, the big problem with this line of research is that it’s very hard to find participants.  We tried to attract them with the possibility of winning a drawing for a gift card.  Though we had enough participants to do some basic analyses, it was very hard to attract people who were interested in participating.  They are posting anonymously for a reason and are not interested in providing too much information.  We had a similar problem when conducting another study on news discussion forums.  Participants just don’t want to provide much information about themselves and, until we solve that problem, we aren’t going to know much about this type of anger expression.

By Ryan C. Martin
Special thanks to my three co-authors for this presentation: Kelsey Ryan Coyier, Leah M. Van Sistine, and Kelly L. Schroeder

9 comments

  1. Hey great article. I also used to rant online, on a social networking site. But now i don’t do it anymore, ’cause once you get pass that anger and got back on your normal mood, you will realize how embarrassing it is to vent your emotions online. 😀

    Good luck. Great posts.

  2. Many should think fully before posting comments on sites such as rant online and other forms of review websites. These can break a company’s reputation, especially in the travel industry and practically the hotel market where guests can have different ideas as to what constitutes a good or bad level of service

  3. I don’t vent or rant on facebook anymore for that exact reason Raina… instead I use Ventibate dot com
    It feels so good to anonymously get it off my chest!

  4. Anger sites aren’t just a place to vent. They are a place for likeminded individuals to congregate and discuss issues with their lives. They can be cathartic to those who use them as much as they are confusing and despicable to those who don’t understand them.

    I run a ranting community and find that many people are tightly drawn by the ability to let their feelings out and say what they feel in complete anonymity. Not many other sites let you do that.

  5. I want to know because this has been bugging me for a while now. It wasn’t THAT long ago that we had plenty of community-driven anger sites online like justrage, iampissedoff, badharvest, foolsoverture and a whole bunch of others. These were fully fledged sites with tons of people who would gather to ramble on about their lives and nitpick at eachother. There was tons of discussion. For anyone who doesn’t remember those days or who joined these kind of sites after, those sites were like a place where you’d go to talk to your [i]family[/i]. Except of course, they weren’t your family.

    I remember conversations would go on for ages. There was a slew of dynamic and bold characters and people actually created topics that everyone engaged in. It was self fuelling. It was great! You’d imagine nowadays with circumstances the way they are, people would be on these sites venting more than ever. But it doesn’t pan out that way.

    I really don’t know what caused the change since then and now but when you look at any of these sites nowadays, there’s [i]hardly anything[/i] going on at all. Nobody is posting anything worthwhile, it’s just rehashed versions of stuff that’s been posted a billion times before. And people are hardly commenting or getting engaged! It’s got so bad that if you look at some of these sites, it’s evident that there’s just two or three people there doing 90% of the posting under different profiles and synonyms. It didn’t used to be that way!

    People didn’t put so much emphasis on profiles or characters. Sure, you had one but it was just there as a portal to join the site. It wasn’t your identity. Your identity came from the posts you made, how you interacted with people… the advice you gave them. I haven’t been able to pull a decent bit of advice from anyone on these rant sites in years. The only people you get there are obsessed posters from beyond who haven’t caught up to the fact that nobody is listening or kids who are just seeing this as an opportunity to spam a site to death, belittle other members, destroy a community and force everyone to move on to other things.

    The chat rooms used to be teeming, the message boards were bursting with comments and there was a general respect for eachother. People didn’t tolerate others spamming or attacking them, they acted on it to protect their community. There was a system in place that was invisible but it worked. That doesn’t happen nowadays. If a site starts getting spammed to holy hell, people just move on to the next site. They have no loyalty. Otherwise those same message boards and chat rooms would still be packed. Has our attention span diminished so drastically? Or maybe we just don’t care any more.

    It makes me sad because at the end of the day, regardless what some people might say about rant sites being full of weirdos and dangerous folk and their claims that you can’t get to know anyone from an anger website, those sites played a big part in some of our lives. I know that I spent more time on JR, IAPO and FO that most other sites because the stuff that was going on there was so compelling. And it was fun. As a collective, we shared good moments. We laughed about it. I don’t think I’ve felt that level of enjoyment from a rant site in years. I pop into them every now and then hoping to see something has changed, that perhaps the community has picked itself up and things are getting back together but I don’t think it’s going to happen now.

    I don’t know why people don’t give a shit anymore. Maybe the internet has given us the security of being able to say whatever we like without any repercussions. It feels like maybe some people have overdosed on that privilege and they’re the same ones going around now spamming sites up, coming back with worthless comments and just trolling not because they’re even enjoying it… because they’re [i]addicted[/i] to it. Smartphones have come about in the time these sites have been active, and I can imagine that’s taken away some viewership from the rant sites as everyone goes around with their eyes glued to their facebook or twitter these days. I suppose a lot of things contribute to the lackluster state of rant sites but this is just me ranting about the state of it all.

    I don’t think it’s ever going to make a comeback either. We may as well remember those fun times and just feel good that we got to enjoy them because communities like these are dead and over.

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