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Why do we like to point out other people’s mistakes?

Chuck and Beans misspell something, Shoebox Blog

There’s a trend going around and it’s one that I’ve had the fortune and misfortune of being on both sides of the table. It’s the one that’s illustrated above and if you aren’t like those bunnies that did it intentionally, it can be embarrassing or infuriating when someone calls you out on it.

I’m talking about mistakes. Not the ones that you make quietly and no one but your inner critic notices, but BIG and little mistakes that everyone notices and brags loudly in a public forum.

And what really sucks about the state of the Internet is when we see things as small as a misspelled word or as large as an inappropriately timed tweet, we’re are so ready to jump out and publicly declare it to be a fail.

Mistake #1: Grammatical Errors

There are two sides to this story – the first is a grammatical mistake. Those are simple errors that anyone can make and can be solved with a simple, private email that points out the error in the same way as a good public servant would.

Editors are the biggest participants in calling out this kind of mistake. If they could live off of the errors they find in marketing collateral, they would.

An editor is motivated by one thing and that is saving and protecting the English language. Grammatical mistakes and misspellings are black and white. Those things have rules that should be kept and rules that should be broken. And if you see one happen, be a decent person and send an email or a private message to the person who made the error instead of calling them out publicly.

Mistake #2: Social Media Fails

But then there are the larger missteps that are usually labeled as “social media fails.” These are the tweets, Facebook posts, and blog posts written by people who apparently don’t “get it” and the mistakes they make are at the expense of the brand they represent. The innocent fails like Red Cross getting slizzard or Discovery Channel’s long commute are usually powered by an overworked, multitasking social media manager who forgot which profile they were logged-in as.

@Discovery tweets: God, I love my job, but this 2:30 hr commute is the pitts :p

Then there are the epic fails that are usually the result of a team executing a strategy that is restricted by corporate policies that came before the brand started playing in social media. And as a result, the repercussions from those kinds of fails can be detrimental to the brand.

Why do we like to point out other people’s mistakes?

Mistakes in social media happen very publicly, painfully, and usually before anyone can get the resources they need to handle it “correctly” before the crisis spreads like wildfire. I’d say that social media fails spread faster than social media successes.

I understand why editors have the desire and need to point out grammatical errors, but what about the rest of the population who are quick to call something a fail and label it as a mistake? What motivates them?

So I ask, why are people so quick to point out when someone is wrong?

Photo Credit: Shoebox (comic)

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  • Really good point. We ALL make mistakes, so why is it such a big deal when people and companies do so? I think what more we should focus on, is their reaction after-the-fact or the way they “fix” that mistake. Are they honest? Do they ignore it? Do they make it a humorous situation making fun of themselves? That’s more of what I prefer to highlight and see.

    I think in general, somehow, we feel we are invincible so it’s unfathomable to see mistakes. Maybe it makes us feel good that we aren’t the only ones…that big companies we respect (or dislike) mess up too. We’re also a culture of ball-busters, it’s true. Lots of poking fun. Take politics for example, that’s all over TV/radio/print.

    Great thoughts in this post 🙂

    • As a brand manager, I’m morbidly curious with how companies react after a mistake happens. As a consumer, I’m curious to see how they react as a way to tell me how much they care about their community.

      In response to your general feeling, I’ve never thought of it that way. My gut reaction is that we like to point out other people’s mistakes as a way to cover up or take attention away from our own..but I like your interpretation better.

      Thank you for your thoughts, Grace!

  • I’m glad to see someone writing about this issue!  We’ve developed into this society who feels it necessary to say whatever they want whenever they want meanwhile hiding behind the anonymity the internet provides. Individuals who are, perhaps, normally quite cordial seem to forget that there is a human being behind that blog post, article, or status update.  The inability to empathize with our fellow computer-users is a serious social deficit as of late.  Perhaps posts like this will make people stop and think about their behavior. Well written!

    • Thank you, Sarah. I’ve been guilty of calling mistakes out as well, and then remembering that we’re all human. Maybe that’s why we like to comment on the mistakes that brands make? Because brands are powered by humans and it reminds us (albeit not in the nicest way) that we are all humans?

  • A post I wanted to share the other day had great content but was written so poorly I almost didn’t post the link. I did end up sharing it, though to a much smaller, targeted audience and couldn’t rave about it because of the typos.

    I think there is a big difference between an honest mistake or typo versus something that is clearly lacking effort or not proofread before posting. The former I usually just ignore, the latter tends to drive me crazy.

  • Columbusgals

    Interesting that the cartoon has a grammar mistake: words ending in “ly” are exceptions to the hyphen double words rule.