File this one under basic human emotions that marketers need to be aware of.
When a global slowdown, national tragedy or random event hits, people look for someone to blame. If there's no one to blame, sometimes they look for someone to hate, even if it is ultimately self-destructive.
A novice computer user downloads viruses, interacts with spyware and encounters a system crash. He calls tech support for the word processor he uses and lets them have it with both barrels.
A flood hits a town and innocent people die and buildings are destroyed. The widows and bereaved families take it out on the insurance adjuster or government official who has come to help.
The economic downturn hits a town hard and some residents attack, quite personally, the hard-working school board members who had nothing to do with the bad news and in fact represent one of the best ways to ultimately recover.
In each case, the person being hated on is precisely the person who can do the most to help. And yet sometimes, we can't help ourselves. It takes significant emotional maturity to separate the event from the people in proximity to the event, and any marketer or organization that deals with the public needs to embrace the fact that just because you're close to where the bad thing happened doesn't mean it's your fault.
That software tech rep, the one who didn't cause your viruses, she's the very best person to calmly explain how to get rid of them.
That insurance adjuster might be able to get you some money to help you start to rebuild your life.
And the school board? Well if the only asset of value you still own is your house, destroying the school that gives your house its true value to a buyer seems like a version of cutting off your nose to spite your face.
I've never once heard someone say, "things are really lousy, but I got a chance to really devastate someone today, deliver some choice barbs, some personal attacks, some baseless innuendo and ruin their day, perhaps even their career. Boy, I feel great."
People don't remember how you behave when everything is going great. They remember how you behave when you're under pressure, stressed out and at wits end.
Emotional maturity is underrated.
PS when confronted with misplaced rage, the proper response is not to point out the misplaced part. It's to acknowledge the rage part. One big reason that vilification occurs is that the angry person feels as though not enough attention or sympathy is being paid.
The long term solution for marketers (and those that believe in civil society) is to make it socially unacceptable to vent like this. Acknowledge the rage but cease to engage, whenever possible.