On Calling People Out: What Happens When You’re the Jerk

There's a fine line between hero and jerk.


So my good friend Andy Hayes and I were sitting in Champions having a drink and some nosh, while decompressing after a day of SXSW, this past March. Our conversation centered around a couple of people who were well known in the blogging/Internet marketing circles whose behavior offline didn’t match up to what they pretended to be online.  There was quite the scandal going down and it was the talk of Austin.

“Why don’t more people know about this?” I asked Andy. “No one wants to say anything,” Andy said. “No one wants to be the a**hole.”

For the sake of keeping it clean, I’m changing Andy’s term to “jerk.”

I’ve been thinking about this ever since our discussion.   In this business, there are users, divas, narcissists , whiners, rabble rousers and money grubbers and yet so many people look up to them as being influential or thought leaders. It’s all part of our world.  Like in any profession people gossip. We hear things.  But we don’t tell you, and do you know why?

Because we don’t want to be the jerk.

It’s more than that though. Some people enjoy being jerks because they think it makes them look like heroes to their online communities. They pride themselves on their edginess and their ability to call people out. But if you’re going to be a jerk, there are some things to consider.  Being a jerk has its repercussions and if you’re going to go this route, you best be prepared to have your facts straight and that  you’re not just acting on rumor, gossip or your own personal bad feelings.

What Happens When You’re the Jerk

You know what happens when you’re the jerk?

  • You gain a reputation – Jerks may enjoy their reputation as calling it as they see it, but they make a lot of frenemies in the process. No one wants to be the next victim. Their so called friends walk on eggs because they know if they misstep the Jerk may publically call them out on it.  Jerks don’t have as many friends as they have people who are afraid to get on their bad side.
  • You lose some of your community – The only people who want to hang out in a hotbed of negativity and drama are people who thrive on negativity and drama.  All the people who are there for  intelligent discussion eventually leave for a more positive place.
  • People don’t always want to do business with you – Sure you may have clients, but if you weren’t so outspoken, you’d probably have more. Clients don’t want to be called out publicly either. What if they get on your bad side? Public callings out are unprofessional.
  • If you’re wrong you look like an ass – If your facts are wrong, or you’re wrong about the other person’s intentions you run the risk of looking bad. Very few people who call someone out ask the subject of said calling out for their side of the story before posting it.
  • If you’re right you look like an ass – Did you really need to call this person out? Are you truly being “heroic?” Or is there some other underlying issues like, oh, I don’t know, jealousy? Not saying you are, but when you’re the jerk, that’s what it looks like and that’s what people will say.
  • No one trusts you anymore – Very few people confide in you or want to tell you truthfully how they feel.  If you bust people on your blog, no one wants to tell you anything for fear of being next.
  • There’s life beyond your community – The people in your community may applaud your jerkiness, those that stuck around through all the negativity. Everyone else? Well, they think you’re a jerk too. But in a different way.  Sometimes we have to think about life beyond our communities too.

Yeah I just called out jerks. I must be one too.

What else do you think happens when you’re the jerk? How do you feel about “calling out” posts? Are the bloggers heroes or just looking for attention?



  1. Jerks are people on reality tv shows who say, “I have no filter. I’m just saying what I think.” 

    Dude, get a filter.

    • Deb Ng says:

      When my nephew was a teen, he prided himself on being “brutally honest” and said it was ok to be rude because he  was telling it like it was.  We had a conversation and he never got that honest is not an excuse for rudeness or hurting someone’s feelings.  Just because we’re online or we’re bloggers doesn’t give us carte blanche to be rude either. 

  2. MaAnna says:

    The only folks I feel moved to call out are those that I know are ripping folks off by taking advantage of a newbie’s ignorance. Instead, I try to educate as much as I can. And, I try to remember that ultimately I can’t do anything for the folks who are naturally drawn to quick-and-easy type scams except be there for them when they are ready for real.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I was rather involved in the aforementioned scandal. By involved, I used to work for something and then drama went down. No-one wanted to be the jerk so I had to reach out to my close friends to actually find out what was going on.

    This is my perspective.

    When someone does something wrong, it is not just their reputations that are affected. In this case, there was a long string of people getting hurt in the process. With me, I was out of work three months before I knew I was out of work. I found out that business plans had changed, and my job was no long required, by a video series. Yeah. No time to make alternate plans.

    I kept up the pretense of being employed and got a lot of email from this persons audience because he wasn’t answering email. It got very, very messy very quickly. I was crying a fair bit and panicking because I didn’t know how stuff would play out if the ‘truth’ came out. Even when it did, I was in fear that I’d be associated with them because no-one was saying anything.

    Imagine being the networking assistant at the conference where all this started. Imagine wondering if things would have been better for this persons family if you hadn’t encouraged him to attend.

    It took a good 6 months for people to talk about it and even then, they did it privately. No-one is going to stand up against the big guns. Regardless of what they did.

    I was very hurt by stuff that had happened but didn’t talk about it. I believe people respect me more for it but people are still getting hurt. Not a great deal. But people were too afraid to be a jerk and piss people off. Ultimately that meant that more people got hurt in the process, and people still live in fear of what will happen if they do or say anything wrong. 

    Last night I nightmared about them. It’s a regular thing.

    I couldn’t call them out. I posted this: http://www.spreadyourinfluence.com/how-to-screw-up-your-brand-in-6-months-or-less so people knew my stance professionally

    This post is me begging for people to call out the jerks when warranted. There is so much more then gossip and scandal. 

    (I’m not trying to be the drama queen here – just openly talk about what it’s like when you are inadvertantly caught up in something and can’t speak up because of employment arrangements)

    • Deb Ng says:

      Hi Jade,

      Though you were right about who I was referring to in the beginning, that’s not necessarily what my post was about. I get why you did some calling out, you were ripped off. There’s a difference between that and calling someone out because you don’t like them or to ruin their reputation simply because you can. You’re not a jerk.

      I’m more referring to the people who regularly call out social media professionals by name because it brings them traffic and lots of comments. They gain a reputation – but not the one they want.

  4. Justmytwocents says:

    So agree. In my particular community (beauty blogging) there seems to be a whole faction of people dedicated to the “witch hunt” of visible figures who do something to upset a handful of people. There are entire websites dedicated to lambasting people who do nothing but write or vlog in their free time (or whose career it is). It’s ridiculous the things these people say and it makes me inclined to avoid them at all costs. It’s the internet, yes, but that doesn’t mean that common sense and decency go out the window. Then again, those things don’t seem to be all that common in real life, either.

  5. Anonymous says:

    No one should do anything just to be considered a hero. You take someone on only when you must do it in order to protect yourself or others who need your protection. Otherwise, it’s not your business. This is not really a just world but most people do get at least some of what they deserve in the end, good or bad.

  6. Jay Dolan says:

    I’ve called people out once when I was asked to review a product and the result was terrible. I would probably never do it again, unless I knew the person and they begged me on the phone. It just isn’t worth it to me to get everyone’s panties in a bunch because I don’t like something and write in my usually flamboyantly over the top style.

    So, when I refer to things that I see that I dislike or I want to call out, I have to refer to that person or event in general rather than the specific. It’s too much for me to deal with the fanboys and the asshats who don’t get me, or realize that I’m just one person on the internet who has a very limited influence.

  7. Dayna says:

    I completely disagree with you.

    So many bad things come out of “keeping your mouth shut” as you suggest. And, honestly, I can’t help but thinking, not only are you failing to point out the bad in people who consider themselves “activists” but you are doing a great job of looking a bit like a pushover p***y by being excessively passive. You are like those people who are the bystanders when crime goes down. Except much, much worse because you do it in day to day life as well.