Keyboard courage is the act of saying nasty or hurtful things in an email or online forum that you wouldn't normally say to someone's face. In terms of friendship, this means you use the computer as a kind of shield where you can say what you always wanted to, but without seeing the person's face. This gives you the illusion that it's okay to let out your feelings or vent without having to argue with someone face-to-face.
How Keyboard Courage Hurts a Friendship
When one friend hides behind a computer to "get something off their chest," it can cause an even bigger rift than if they just sat down in person to talk things through. Seeing a friend attack you through email or elsewhere online can leave you feeling betrayed. One of the keys to keeping your friendship a safe place is to work through your arguments in a private and personal manner. This includes avoiding bringing up an issue in a public forum, through email, or even on places like Facebook.
Passive-Aggressive Behavior and Keyboard Courage
Using keyboard courage to vent is generally considered "passive-aggressive" type of behavior. Making snide remarks repeatedly over time or even having one nasty outburst directed at someone is the aggressive part. Doing it from behind a computer screen is the passive part.
People who avoid conflict or have a hard time expressing themselves in a friendship may resort to keyboard courage, but it is every bit as hurtful as any other type of betrayal.
If you practice keyboard courage, you're breaking an unspoken confidence that you put in each other that you're not going to make the other person "look bad" in front of others, or that you're not going to air your dirty laundry (arguments or other issues) in the online world. You're also indirectly telling your friend that you don't care to hear their side, since "yelling" or ranting online does not give your friend the same type of opportunity to respond as a direct method would have.
What to Do If You Used Keyboard Courage to Attack a Friend
If you're the one guilty of keyboard courage, it doesn't mean that the friendship is over. However, like any offense, you need to take responsibility for it in order for your friendship to move forward. If you behaved poorly in an online forum like Facebook or Twitter, you should apologize there. Then, also apologize privately to your friend. Avoiding trying to placate a friend without really apologizing, though. If you give a non-apology, or try to lessen the impact of your rant ("I didn't really mean it that way" or "I was just upset"), you won't heal the damage your act of keyboard courage caused.
If You're Attacked Online
If you were the victim of keyboard courage, you might feel tempted to match your friend's level of hostility online, but don't. You may even want to share "your side" if your friend wrote about you in front of others. Even this can make you look bad, however.
First, you need to decide if you want to save the friendship. If you want to remain friends, tell your friend (privately) how hurt you are and ask them for an apology. If they won't apologize, or give you a non-apology, you then know that your friendship wasn't that important to them and you should move on.
If they do want to work things out, give some thought to the things they said. If your friend has been angry with you for a long time and never told you until they blasted you through email, ask them why they felt the need to do this. Allow them to explain their motive. Did they feel that you wouldn't listen? Or that you'd attack them?
If you feel that the attack was out of character for your friend, listen to their explanation and try to move forward from there. You may find that your friendship has changed after a bout of keyboard courage. It may never be as close as it once was. Some things just cannot be taken back once they are said. However, it doesn't necessarily mean the end of your friendship. If your friend takes responsibility for the attack and you are able to talk through the blow up, you can go back to being good friends once again. If not, give yourself time to grieve the relationship, but do move on to someone who will treat you as a friend should.
"Johnny got a case of keyboard courage and made some snarky remarks to Mike on Facebook. It was pretty embarrassing for all of us. I wonder if they'll still be friends after that. If I were Mike, I'd block him and forget about the whole thing. Who needs that?"