Say it to my Facebook

Occasionally, you come across someone in life who you simply can't stand. They may not be outwardly rude or aggressive, but there is something about them that gets under your skin in a way that isn't easy to explain. Perhaps it's pheromonal.

Whatever the case, every time you run into them or their name comes up in conversation it makes you inwardly cringe. Yet, due to social mores or plain cowardice on your part, instead of making your feelings known you put on your best fake smile and nod politely.

However, there is one place where you can indulge this ugly, hateful side of yourself unfettered – the internet. Home of many things both positive and negative, the voyeuristic solitude it offers is a breeding ground for spiteful vitriol, both silent and articulated. And nowhere offers as many opportunities for the former as Facebook.

It is here that you can nurture your dislike for an individual without interruption. Sometimes it's even the source of your burgeoning loathing, offering you an endless smorgasbord of opportunities to feed the beast.

Between the narcissistic and relentless posting of self-portraits to banal or offensive updates you find that instead of defriending your object of disaffection or hiding their posts, you keep them on your feed solely because you secretly love to hate on them – checking their page every other day as if it were your private soap opera.

"Facebook can become like a reality TV series of your very own, depending on the friends you have. The voyeur in us may see this as a cheeky way of being entertained, and not wanting to miss out on the juicy gossip," said Nicole Greentree, CEO and founder of Empower Social Media. "I have heard of many unfortunate stories that have been a result of inappropriate Facebook posts. Relationships being ended with embarrassing explicit photos being posted, jobs lost due to employees whinging about their employer, friendships being lost due to misinterpretation of a post... I believe it can become an obsession."

A modern-day interpretation of glancing into a neighbour's living room as you walk past their house under the cover of night, at what point do you cross the line from casual observer to Facebook's version of a malevolent neighbourhood peeper?

A friend explains that she logs on to find out what's been going on in the online life of those she doesn't particularly like and finds that these people often hold her interest more than genuine friends – though she can't pinpoint exactly why.

"I wonder why I do it to some and get rid of the feeds of others that annoy me. If I have a cohort who gets just as annoyed by a particular person's feed as I do I find joy in complaining about how outrageous their postings are today," she said. "I guess it's the equivalent of passing notes around class bitching about someone. I know it's wrong and a waste of time but there is some satisfaction in it."

Adding that she's always polite and civil when interacting with these people in person but would never actively seek out a connection otherwise, she's unsure whether her animosity is driven by annoyance, jealously or a gentle blend of the two. Though she finds that the common link is usually a seemingly wilful display of arrogance.

"There is one particular person that I will always seek for their annoying take on their day, maybe a part of me is jealous, I don't know. I am not sure, why it gets to me so much," she said. "They are in the same line of work and seem to be quite successful, I guess I don't like that they make broad statements as if they are the first to discover something, somewhere or someone and urge the rest of us to do ourselves a favour and check it out – such arrogance. They often put up quotes from writers or the like which I find annoying. I'm not a fan of the Facebook quote in any form."

But what starts off as a bit of idle backstabbing can quickly descend into something more closely resembling a fixation. Where you were once checking their page every other day it begins to occur more frequently until you find yourself monitoring their activity as part of your regular routine. A behavioural trap that is all too easy to fall into when you work with computers as part of your everyday.

Beyond being a little bit depressing – presumably these targets don't spend nearly as much time thinking about you as you do about them – clinical psychologist Jo Lamble says fostering such behaviour often reveals more about you as a person and warns that it can lead to a lack of contentment in other areas of your life.

"The lower your own self-esteem, the more likely you are to engage in this sort of behaviour. That's because people who don't feel great about themselves can feel the need to rip others to shreds in order to feel better about themselves," she said. "Unfortunately, social media is encouraging narcissistic behaviour in some people and narcissism is all about feeling superior to others because of low self-worth... I see it as a very negative activity. Judging others is not good for us. It's the opposite to compassion and compassion leads to greater happiness and contentment than being judgmental."

She adds that a simple way to gauge if things are getting out of hand is to take stock of how much mental energy you are expending on this person. If you find that you're often thinking about them and the urge to check their updates grows so strong that you feel you are unable to stop it's a clear indication that things have gotten way out of hand.

Though we may feel fear around defriending someone because it sends a clear message about the direction of the relationship, if it's grown into an obsession Lamble strongly recommends that you take the plunge. Or in the event that doing so might cause complications – if they are work colleagues, for example – you should hide all updates from this person in a bid to break away from the unhealthy behaviour.

"There are all the excuses in the world for not defriending someone, such as the fact that they're colleagues," said Lamble. "But, as I said, hating or judging others is so bad for your own mental health that it's time to ditch the excuses and do something more positive with your time."

It's advice that my aforementioned friend has taken to heart. Feeling that she was spending far too much time focussing on the perceived faults of others, she noticed it turned on a faucet of negativity that was hard to turn off. Since culling unnecessary individuals from her friend list and hiding the updates of the ones she's unable to at the present time she says she's never felt better.

"I am finding that I do it less and less now. I used to have more people on my feed but got rid of them," she said. "I was in a hate spiral once, checking a page that particularly pisses me off and reading all the comments underneath which could go on for hours. I felt dirty afterwards so I unsubscribed from their Facebook feed and now it doesn't enter my life."

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