“Hot Letters” — Social Media Lessons from Abraham Lincoln

Barton Dunant
3 min readJul 20

We have unfortunately, as the New York Times described it in 2014, lost the “art of the unsent angry letter”, as President Lincoln had mastered himself more than 150 years ago. In 2021, Niklas Göke wrote a really good synopsis and analysis of Konnikova’s piece on Lincoln’s Hot Letters, for the Times:

The idea is that if you’re upset at something or someone, you write a detailed, liberal response — and then stick it in your drawer until you’ve cooled off.

US president Abraham Lincoln may be the most prominent proponent of “hot letters,” as he called them, but the stashed vent has a long tradition among statesmen and public figures. Harry Truman, Mark Twain, Winston Churchill — the list of admired characters to prove the tactic’s efficacy is long enough.

It serves as both an emotional and strategic catharsis, Konnikova noted. You can “let it all out” without fearing retaliation while, simultaneously, seeing what proper arguments you have on offer — and what’s just nasty, unhinged thought.

- Niklas Göke

I recently attended a workshop led by our NJ State Police department, on how kids need to do the same with their social posts. The concern from that webinar was cyberbullying — one of the most insidious forms of misinformation/disinformation, usually part of a fictitious disaster.

Can adults be guilty of that as well? Absolutely — even in professional conversations online and through e-mail. Some points made at that webinar for kids — and parents — are just as appropriate for adults in the peer-to-peer cyberspace we (almost) all live in. I reworded their advice, slightly for the change in audience here at the Emergency Management Network.

Before hitting “Send” or “Post”, ask yourself:

Who might I hurt with this?

How could this impact my own future

Do I like what this says about me?

Could this get me in trouble?

Would the other people in my life — especially my own children — think this is appropriate?

I am in the middle of one of these diatribes right now within an emergency management association I belong to (if you are a…

Barton Dunant

Emergency Management Consulting and Training. We advocate for safety and security issues at home and the workplace. Visit us on the web at bartondunant.com