The Psychology Behind Social Media Hate: A Veteran Explains

Dehumanization of a person or group is the first step to genocide. History proves that over and over.
The Psychology Behind Social Media Hate: A Veteran Explains
(Jacob Mosolf, U.S. Air Force)
Battlefields Staff


One piece of advice I heard a while back was to never read the replies to your social media posts. I have found that input to be very valuable. But the problem is that I gain some sense of validation from seeing that people have enjoyed what I’ve written, or found some value from it. In all truthfulness, probably 95 percent of the comments are positive, but there are a few negative ones that can be discouraging.

It’s not that I’m particularly hurt by them, but being a keen observer of human behavior, I find myself wanting to understand what causes people to blurt out some of these hateful comments. At a basic level, they’re unnecessary and completely uncalled for.

Yes, I’m a proponent of free speech, but I sometimes wonder about the mindset leading people to make these often venomous responses. Please keep in mind that stating disagreement, in and of itself, is not hateful. There’s a big difference between, “I disagree with your point because ….” and “You’re an idiotic moron for thinking that.” Open discourse is good and builds a nation, insulting speech is just plain destructive.

One recent example was in reference to an article that I had written that was reposted as part of The Epoch Times “Battlefields” series. One individual commented, “I think these opinion pieces are garbage.” On another article about a personal life event, a person out and out called me a liar, saying that the event never happened. Apparently, this individual, who is a first termer in the military of 2023, just couldn’t believe that such a thing was possible in the U.S. military, even though the event happened in 1983 or so. I guess she just couldn’t grasp that societal constructs change over the decades. But, in all truthfulness, I suspect that she was just offended by the article and didn’t want to admit it.

The harsh reality is that if you are a writer, or artist, or content creator (yes, I do that too on a few Facebook pages and websites) then you set yourself up for criticism and hateful comments. Paris Hilton found that out the hard way recently after she posted a picture of her young infant. The social media trolls decided to make hurtful comments about the shape of her child’s head. I really don’t understand the mentality that goes on behind publicly making fun of a child.

Those events led me to dig a little bit further into the psychological maladjustment behind hateful comments on social media. Rather than do tons of verbatim quotes from psychological journals, which really get wordy and high-falutin’. I have taken the liberty of boiling them down for the sake of readability and have identified them with quotation marks.


“In the area of online interactions where anonymity often prevails, individuals may succumb to a range of psychological maladjustments that embolden them to engage in the posting of hateful comments. This behavior stems from deep-rooted insecurities, unmet emotional needs, and a desire for power and attention. The digital environment allows these individuals to shed their inhibitions and exhibit maladaptive behaviors that they may not display in face-to-face interactions. These people feel shielded by the virtual world and the perceived absence of consequences for their actions. Hateful comments are often rooted in feelings of inadequacy and a need to assert dominance. These people are often seeking to compensate for personal shortcomings by denigrating others, holding onto the belief that tearing others down will elevate their own self-esteem.”

The key takeaway here is that these folks are psychologically damaged people who hide behind their computer screens and try to make themselves feel better by tearing others down. Note the keywords: “deep-rooted insecurities, unmet emotional needs, desire for power and attention, and deep-rooted feelings of inadequacy.” The ultimate expression of this maladjustment can be seen in many of the world’s past and current megalomaniacs and dictators. A few years ago, I was “chatting” with an Air Force member who openly admitted that he loved getting people upset and that he would say whatever it took to do that. It didn’t matter what the topic was, he worked hard just to push people’s buttons to get them to lose their temper. In fact, he thought it was all quite hilarious.

(Ayomikun Onafeko, U.S. Air Force)
(Ayomikun Onafeko, U.S. Air Force)


“The virtual world encourages a sense of detachment, allowing people to disconnect from the impact of their words on others. This creates an environment where individuals can indulge in negative behavior without immediate consequences or accountability. As a result, hateful comments become a means of venting frustrations, seeking attention, and gaining a sense of power in a virtual space that lacks moderation or interpersonal repercussions.”

Mike Tyson once said, “Social media made y'all way too comfortable with disrespecting people and not getting punched in the face for it.” There’s not a troll out there who would go to a downtown Memphis club and say the things they do online, since there is a high probability that it would be their last words. Ultimately, they talk big but they are actually cowards.

“These individuals may experience deep-seated anger, resentment, and a sense of powerlessness in their own lives, which they project onto others in a harmful manner. The act of posting hateful comments becomes an outlet for their pent-up emotions, reinforcing their feelings of control and superiority even though it’s at the expense of others’ well-being.”

Most everyone has seen this maladjustment in action on any social media platform where politics is being discussed, especially at the national level. A simple Facebook statement of “I like Biden” or “I like Trump” will unleash a veritable firestorm of personal insults, attacks, and hatred.

Social Validation and Low Self-Esteem

“Envy, aggression, and a need for social validation can drive individuals to participate in online hate. A person who chronically compares themselves to others and harbors feelings of inadequacy or resentment may find solace in putting others down. Moreover, the need for social validation and a desire to fit into certain online communities can lead individuals to adopt hateful attitudes to gain acceptance or recognition from their peers.”

What are these people? Insecure teenagers trying to fit in with the cool kids? The short answer is sadly yes. Some of the fights on social media remind me of two young children fighting. “Is too!” “Is not!” “Is too!” “Is not!” “Mom!!!” We laugh at the kids for such a juvenile inane back and forth, but we see it with adults on social media all the time.

And what does this behavior say about a person who makes fun of the shape of the head of Paris Hilton’s baby?  For a society that in recent decades has worked so hard to bolster children’s self-esteem, we seem to have fallen horribly short. Perhaps the “everyone gets a trophy” program has had the opposite of the desired effect.

“Another psychological maladjustment is low self-esteem. Bullies may have deep-seated insecurities and feelings of inadequacy, which they attempt to compensate for by putting others down. By exerting control over someone else’s emotions through their hurtful words, they temporarily alleviate their own feelings of worthlessness. They often lack empathy, struggling to understand and connect with the emotions of others.”


“Another psychological factor that contributes to the prevalence of hate speech on social media is the phenomenon of deindividuation. These individuals detach from their real-life identities and adopt an anonymous persona. The detachment from persona and personal responsibility, combined with increased anonymity, can lead to a loss of personal identity. Moreover, the lack of nonverbal cues and context in online interactions can dehumanize others, making it easier for individuals to engage in hate speech without considering the consequences and impact on the receiving end.”

Just a quick comment here. The dehumanization of a person or group is the first step to genocide. History proves that over and over.


To sum all this up, psychological factors such as insecurity, low self-esteem, and a need for power or control can contribute to a person’s motivation to post hateful comments. Individuals who engage in cyberbullying or hate speech may be attempting to alleviate their own feelings of inadequacy or project their own insecurities onto others. By demeaning or attacking others online, they momentarily experience a false sense of superiority or validation. However, this behavior ultimately perpetuates a toxic cycle of negativity which can lead the person into deeper psychological issues, some of which can become severe and debilitating.

Please keep these thoughts in mind if you regularly post hateful or insulting comments, because it’s a sign of possible psychological maladjustment. Or just blow it all off and call me an idiot, racist, narrow-minded, phobe, misogynist, or whatever epithet makes you feel better about yourself.

I have an old saying about how to handle toxic people and bosses. Treat them like trolls that live under a bridge. Toss them a sack of garbage and while they are eating you can cross the bridge.

The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.

Dave Chamberlin served 38 years in the USAF and Air National Guard as an aircraft crew chief, where he retired as a CMSgt. He has held a wide variety of technical, instructor, consultant, and leadership positions in his more than 40 years of civilian and military aviation experience. Dave holds an Airframe and Powerplant license from the FAA, as well as a master's degree in aeronautical science. He currently runs his own consulting and training company and has written for numerous trade publications. His true passion is exploring and writing about issues facing the military, and in particular, aircraft maintenance personnel.
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