I’ve upset someone on the net (for example Facebook), now what?

So, you’ve just found out something you said or did has really upset someone.  Maybe it was a post you thought was funny at the time, maybe it was “liking” another mean comment about someone else, maybe it was posting an embarrassing photo of someone, maybe it was ignoring someone on chat or some other thing that hurt someone.

Maybe you knew deep down, that what you did was going to hurt them. You did it because you were mad.  Or maybe you had no idea that it would end up like this. Either way, here are some of the ways you might be feeling:

Angry:  Perhaps you are mad at them for something they did first. Or you might be feeling mad that someone (like a teacher or parent or friend) are criticising you about this. You might feel frustrated that this is turned into an issue and think that it’s not fair you are getting flack for this when other people also did something wrong. 

Regretful:  Maybe you feel sorry that someone is so upset. You wish you hadn’t said/done what you did.  Perhaps you feel guilty and uncomfortable. You don’t really like this side of yourself and you don’t like thinking about it.

Worried:  You might feel anxious about what is going to happen now. Worried that there will be payback of some kind. You might be feeling a bit nervous about whether parents/teachers are going to do something, or what other people will think of you. You might also be worried about how upset this other person is.

You might feel all of these things, or just some of them. You might feel other things too. In any case, it’s not a fun situation to be in.  Let’s also look at the other side of the situation. 

Here’s some things the person who is upset might be feeling, read through and see which ones you think apply to the person you said/did something to:

Embarrassed:  Perhaps a few (or lots) of other people saw what you said and did and now this person feels like they have been publicly humiliated. They might feel like they can’t face people now, or that people think differently about them. They might feel embarrassed in front of family, teachers and friends.

Hurt:  Maybe this person is surprised at you having said/done this. Perhaps they thought you were friends.  They might feel betrayed.

Worried:  It is possible this person is worried about what other people think of them now.  Maybe they feel like people will treat them in a different way. They might feel anxious about what is going to happen next.

Can’t trust people:  When people get hurt by others, sometimes they start feeling distrustful of everyone.  They start to think other people are going to say/do bad things to them

Depressed:  Sometimes people who have been hurt or upset on Facebook start to feel depressed about their life.  They cry a lot and start to feel like staying home and not doing anything or talking to people.

The person you hurt might be feeling all of these things, or just some of them. They might also be feeling other things. So for you – and for the person you have hurt, this is a cruddy situation.  No-one feels good.

The question is what to do about it now?

Let’s consider the options. First, you could ignore it, and hope it goes away. This is what a lot of people (both adults and teens) do when they have upset someone – and it is understandable.  It’s definitely the easiest option in the short term. But although it is easier, unfortunately it also means that the person stays hurt, people stay mad at you and it takes longer for your own guilt and upset to go away.  It also usually means you will end up feeling worse in the long run and even more likely to do this again.

The other option is to face up to the situation….and try to make it better. This is really hard to do, and only a small number of people have the courage to do it. But the advantages are that in the long run, you feel better, other people feel better, and it is less likely to happen again.  How do you do this? Here are some ideas.

How to Make it Better

Remove the post – the first obvious thing to do is to remove as much evidence of the hurtful thing as possible. Delete the post. Remove the picture. Delete the link. Anything you can do to make this disappear – do that.

Apologise or Say that you are sorry – the next most important thing is to acknowledge that you upset them. This will make it better, and help you feel better even if they did something to hurt you/someone else first or even if what you did was accidental. Apologies seem hard before you do them, but actually they aren’t that hard. Here are some words that might work:

  • Hey, I’m really sorry about that.
  • I guess that was a bit stupid, sorry.
  • X told me you were upset and I feel bad about it. Sorry.
  • I’m thinking it was a dumb thing to say X, sorry.
  • Sorry about that last post, I wasn’t really thinking.
  • Kind of stuffed up that whole thing, hope you are okay.

You might do this face to face. Or you might call them up and say it. These options are usually best because they feel the most sincere and real. But if you can’t face doing it like that, you might also do it via email, text or in a Facebook message. 

Be kind – after you have apologised, you can also make it better by being kind to the person.  You don’t have to be friends with them necessarily, especially if you weren’t friends before.  But try to find little ways to be kind.  Even if they still hate you, you can open a door for them at school, not react if they are still mad, stick up for them if your friends are criticising them and be careful not to gossip about them. If they don’t hate you, then you can find other ways to be kind.  Be a good friend now and go out of your way to say nice things, be helpful and complimentary. 

While you are being kind, remember that it takes time for people to feel better. Don’t expect them to be happy about this – it might take them some time to get over this. But be determined to be kind, whatever happens.

Check with someone else to see if there is anything else you can do – depending on your situation there might be something else that is important and/or really helpful to do.  Sometimes the people involved in the situation can’t figure out what these things are.  Ask another friend, parent, teacher, school counsellor or someone else – what do you think I could do to make this better.  They might have some good ideas.

Spread the word about people careful about posts – now this has happened to you, you are an expert in problems on Facebook.  Unlike some people, you have had firsthand experience of the things that can go wrong, how to avoid them and what to do.  Use this experience for good!  Spread the word, tell your friends about what went wrong and how they can avoid this happening to them.  Be extra careful in the future and show other people how to do the same.  Now this cruddy situation might actually be something that you can use in a positive way in your life.

So that’s it. BUT…..

I know some of you might be thinking, “I could do that stuff, but I don’t want to because …….”

1) They shouldn’t have done X.  They started it right by doing this.  Why should I try to make it better when they aren’t doing that – they don’t deserve it.

I know that you have been provoked in some way.  Usually people don’t do this stuff totally out of the blue.  But the thing is, trying to make things better is worth doing anyway.    All the benefits of doing this that I’ve talked about will happen even if they started it.  Maybe even more so.  Plus you will feel better.   

2) There’s nothing I can do now anyway

Well, that’s not actually true.  If you remove the posts, apologise, be kind, check if there is anything else you can do and spread the word - you will make a huge difference.  You will make a difference both to the person you hurt and other people who have seen it happen.  You can turn something negative into something potentially positive.  By trying to make it better instead of ignoring it, you remind other people that it is not okay to upset someone and give them an idea of what to do if they do the same thing.  You help the person who is hurt to get over it.  You remind yourself not to do it again in the future.  What you do now is almost more important than what you did in the past.

3) It’s just too hard/embarrassing/scary to do that stuff

Yes it is.  It sucks that it has come to this.   I know the times I’ve stuffed up and hurt someone, and then had to make it better were really awful.  But I also know I felt so much better after I’d done these things and also that it did work.  The fact you care enough to have read all the way to the end of this article tells me you are a strong, courageous person.  I believe you can do it. 

Good luck!