Ask Trish: Being Funny vs. Mean, Online Edition

Dear Trish: My friends and I love to joke around online. But recently one of my friends said something on…

Nov 2, 2021

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Dear Trish: My friends and I love to joke around online. But recently one of my friends said something on social media that actually hurt another friend’s feelings. How can we tell if we’re being mean or funny online?

Hi there! Thank you for the important question. Let me start by saying that you and your friends are definitely not the first folks to experience this challenge; in our increasingly digital world, it’s gotten harder and harder to read between the lines, and the fact is, a joke said aloud is just super different from a joke typed as a comment on social media. Without all of the context that comes with being funny in-person, it’s easy to mess up and “be mean,” even if inadvertent. With that said, I applaud you for wanting to learn more about how to navigate being funny vs. mean. And the good news is that there are actually some common-sense strategies you can use.

As I overview in this week’s TikTok, I recommend a 3-pronged approach to make the differentiation: the 3 Ws — who, where, and why! When you’re thinking of being a little ~witty~ online, always begin by asking yourself: who’s going to receive this message? If it’s a family or friend, there’s a much better chance that they’ll appreciate more subtle humor, inside jokes, or sarcasm. Even then, though, as your situation highlights, there’s still potential for trouble. So try and dig a little deeper: you might consider how that person’s doing, for example. Maybe you want to post a funny comment on your sister’s Insta…but you also know that she recently went through a break-up (ouch). In that case, it might be worth thinking twice, or at the very least, ensuring that your message doesn’t remind her of ex. 

Next up is where: where is this message going to go? There’s a huge, huge difference between sending a funny message to a friend as a DM and posting a funny comment on a friend’s public photo, for all to see. It’s often the case that what we find funny or hilarious when it’s just us and our friend can be embarrassing or even hurtful in other contexts. Imagine, for example, a friend who always wears the same t-shirt on Wednesday. You often tease him about it in a way that’s friendly (which he knows!), and he’s cool with that. But when he posts a pic on Insta of him in the shirt, and you tease him in front of everyone he knows, it feels a little less nice, and a little more rude. (And that’s totally understandable.) All that’s to say: when in doubt, try to limit the audience that might see your funny comment. This way, you eliminate any potential your friend is doubly humiliated or harmed.

Last, but not least, ask yourself — and try to be as honest as possible — why are you sending this message? Very rarely do we take the time to question our intentions online, but my hypothesis is the digital world would be much kinder if we did. Are you sending this funny message because well, it’s hilarious, and you really think the recipient will think so? In that case, I think you’re in the clear! If that’s your motivation, the odds are, you’re also pretty confident that what you’re saying actually is funny/something that the receiver will find funny. On the other hand, if you’re sending the message, because, well, your friend looked just a little too good in school the other day, and now you’re feeling passive-aggressive…maybe take a moment to pause and chill out. It’s a lot less likely in that case that what you’re saying is actually funny/will be interpreted that way. So save yourself some drama, and just give internet humor a rest.

As always, thank you so much for reading along! If you’ve found this post helpful, you can keep the conversation going by sharing any internet-related questions, thoughts, or perspectives here, and your topic might be featured in an upcoming TikTok/blog post! Remember, not only will you get some valuable advice, you’ll be doing our online community a huge service: there are almost certainly tons of young people — just like you — experiencing the same things. And on that note, don’t forget that you should never be afraid to share whatever’s on your mind: we’re all here for it, no matter what it is. 💙

Until next Tuesday,



This week, I tackle being funny vs. mean online. If you’re #confused and looking for some tips 👀, head to the link in the bio! #AskTrish

♬ Sorry – Justin Bieber

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