Why is everyone suddenly unhinged on secondhand shopping sites?

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Seriously, is there anything more energising than bagging a bargain – or making some bonus cash by clearing out stuff you forgot you even owned? Of all the apps on my phone, I hands down spend the most time flitting between Vinted, eBay and on occasion, Depop. More so than any form of social media. But there’s something I’ve noticed at an increasing rate lately: people on these apps are acting quite… unhinged? Honestly, the wildness, the badgering (“why haven’t you posted yet???? It’s been one day!”) and rudeness is kind of… outrageous.

People are deliberately and unnecessarily sassy (see: offering someone £5 less for a pair of jeans they’re selling and them responding with ‘LOL no way hun, you’re actually joking x’). People send paragraphs of rage-fuelled bile over a parcel arriving a day late (the courier’s fault, not mine!). Scammers are also thriving (my vision actually blurs over with fury at buyers claiming not to have received items… babes, there’s literally a photo of the postman handing it to you?). And to top it all off, we’re now submitting these unpleasant interactions to Instagram accounts like DM Drama (formerly Depop Drama) which has amassed 600,000 followers, for others to weigh in on. Seriously, can someone please tell me why people actually bother to message others saying things like “Hi is that dress still for sale? Yeah, I thought so, seeing as it’s actually disgusting!”?

Has it always been this way and I’ve just never noticed, or is the increased popularity of secondhand shopping – and the frequency with which we interact behind a screen – really having an impact on our behaviour when it comes to digital thrifting? That is to say, is our ever-online world turning us into such arseholes that we can’t even shop politely anymore or are other factors at play? I need to know because honestly my blood pressure is starting to peak.


Britt Erlanson//Getty Images

According to Dr Bernie Hogan, an Associate Professor and Senior Research Fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute, these kinds of prickly interactions are actually nothing new (oh!) – “think of Karen’s of TikTok, a litany of really poorly behaved people in real life” – but the online aspect certainly still comes into play. We’re also probably just becoming more aware of these interactions, rather than them actually happening at an expediated rate, he suggests.

Dr Hogan points out that people have always been rude to servers and cashiers IRL, but says ‘online disinhibition’ is very much a legit thing. “Surprisingly, people are more emotional on the internet not less,” he explains. “You can more get emotionally dysregulated online, because there are fewer moderating features helping you assess how to react in a situation… it’s just harder to think of other people as people. There’s no disincentive to not behave poorly.”

Meaning, if you were stood in front of someone in a shop or car boot sale or were buying something from a friend-of-a-friend, our brains far more easily understand the items on sale have a human attached to them and that we should probably be courteous (whether or not we think the dress is minging or overpriced). Online, when the seller is a faceless username, we can get a little… feral, and some are more predisposed to that than others. Also, life is hard and people simply cannot deal with the “emotional labour” of letting others down online, the expert theorises.

Life is hard – people simply cannot deal with the “emotional labour” of letting others down online

Part of me also wonders (and wow, this makes me sound ancient and is really giving ‘old man yells at cloud’ vibes) if these clashes I’ve been experiencing of late are a generational divide. I’m 31 but am now having to engage with teenagers half my age (90% of Depop’s userbase are under-25), who want to buy my old Morgan vest tops. Professor Hogan thinks it’s possible, but in terms of a generational divide… apparently, we all suck as much as one another – and from Boomers to Gen Alpha we all have our crosses to bear and ways of communicating.

There are other triggers we ought to consider with regards to online behaviours too, says Dr Tara Quinn-Cirillo, an HCPC Registered Psychologist, ranging from our current ‘instantaneous’ culture, which leaves little room for patience, to fatigue (see: that aforementioned emotional labour) and the cost-of-living crisis. Basically, we’re all on edge and stressed and overwhelmed all of the time – and that can overspill when trying to hustle someone down over the price of their old Nike trainers.

There’s also a tendency for us to simplify these interactions online; if someone is rude, we decide that is their entire personality. When we’re a little short, it’s because we’ve had a really bad day and our boss is on our case, and God can’t the seller just cut me a break?

Quinn-Cirillo adds, “There’s also the role of attention and influencer ideology. [People who want to] become ‘known’ may use dramatic behaviour as a way of gaining notoriety.” Meaning, the next time someone starts acting *wild* towards you on eBay or insulting your merch out of the blue, you can at least try to take comfort in the fact that they might just be doing it all for clout and to entertain their audience (even if that’s just 100 fellow incels)… and therefore, really, their behaviour has nothing to do with you.

So, should in future someone claim a coat I’ve sold them arrived covered in dog hair (I don’t have a dog) or I feel tempted to pop off at someone who sold me a dress listed as a 10 but arrived as a size 14, I’ll take a deep breath. Our little brains are all just doing the best they can and sometimes they malfunction via Vinted DMs – and besides, I’ll never log off as the thrill of a scoring a pair of vintage cowboy boots at cut price is truly the best balm for all the animalistic arguments.

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 Jennifer Savin is Cosmopolitan UK’s multiple award-winning Features Editor, who was crowned Digital Journalist of the Year for her work tackling the issues most important to young women. She regularly covers breaking news, cultural trends, health, the royals and more, using her esteemed connections to access the best experts along the way. She’s grilled everyone from high-profile politicians to A-list celebrities, and has sensitively interviewed hundreds of people about their real life stories. In addition to this, Jennifer is widely known for her own undercover investigations and campaign work, which includes successfully petitioning the government for change around topics like abortion rights and image-based sexual abuse. Jennifer is also a published author, documentary consultant (helping to create BBC’s Deepfake Porn: Could You Be Next?) and a patron for Y.E.S. (a youth services charity). Alongside Cosmopolitan, Jennifer has written for The Times, Women’s Health, ELLE and numerous other publications, appeared on podcasts, and spoken on (and hosted) panels for the Women of the World Festival, the University of Manchester and more. In her spare time, Jennifer is a big fan of lipstick, leopard print and over-ordering at dinner. Follow Jennifer on Instagram, X or LinkedIn.

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