Confusion, Personal Comments and the mystery of the offline Jekyll vs the online Hyde

I spent the early part of this week at the IFP conference in Wales. It was great to meet up, share ideas with and listen to some great people who provided me with some fantastic ideas on how I can further develop my business. Whilst the few days were overwhelmingly positive I had an interesting conversation on the Monday night  I want to share with  you.

In the bar, and as is usual at these types of events, I got talking to someone….I’d met this gentleman once before very briefly and found him (both the original time I’d met him and on that Monday night) to be genuine, generous with a fantastic sense of humour.

However I was confused.

I knew this particular individual had written some disparaging comments about a couple of the contributions I’d made to discussions on Linkedin. I’m a firm believer in accepting criticism. I actually love having my ideas challenged as it provides me with an opportunity to learn where I might be going wrong and improve an aspect of myself or my business. However the comments made weren’t about the comment. They were personal.

So here I was sharing a beer with a guy who’d made personal comments on someone he didn’t know (I hadn’t met him at the time he made the comments) and I couldn’t resist the opportunity to ask him…

“You’re obviously a really good guy. What motivates you to make such personal comments online about individuals you’ve never met and know very little about?”

He gave me two reasons. Firstly he felt it was his duty to highlight and battle against pretentious comments (and although I didn’t admit it at the time I’m probably guilty of a little bit of pretentiousness at times!) and secondly it was his right in a free society to say whatever he wanted about whoever and whatever he liked (which I actually agree with).

However I’m still not convinced that ever justifies making personal comments about someone he doesn’t know. Not because of me (I’m big enough and ugly enough to look after and defend myself!) but because of the impact  it has on our profession.

Let  me be clear. I’m up for constructive criticism of business models, strategies, investment approaches and ideas. I just don’t believe that professionals should ever make it personal.

We’ve seen recent examples of personal criticism of Ed Miliband’s (via casting aspersions about his Dad, which for me, and regardless of whether you like his politics or not, was a step too far) and within our profession most of the recent comments on a article about Martin Bamfords return to advice was frankly ridiculous.

But surely as a profession (and to paraphrase Ed Miliband’s recent speech to the Labour Party Conference)…..

We can do better than this.

Me and this really nice bloke didn’t come to a resolution on Monday night. He stuck with freedom of speech and his fight against pretentiousness and I agreed with this but felt that his online comments didn’t reflect his personality and did a disservice to not only our profession but also him personally.

But, and this is why I’ve written this and need some help, I’m both confused and curious.

What motivates nice people in real life to make disparaging comments online? What is it that pushes them to feel the need to make comments which reflect  on both them and the profession badly? Why do some people get that the online world should be an extension of their personalities and others have a “Jekyll” in the offline world but “Hyde” online?

As ever I’m interested in hearing your thoughts….