Wednesday, May 18

Nice in person, monsters on the Internet: why do people go bad on social networks?


According to a Plan International report, nearly 60% of girls and adolescents suffer online harassmentone in four feels that their physical integrity is in danger and almost half agree that the harassment they suffer on social networks is more intense than the one they suffer on the street.

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But it’s not just about teens. Insults are common on Twitter or Facebook, even among people who hold positions of responsibility and have high public visibility. One of the reasons is that the medium itself favors confrontation.

Last October Frances Haugen, a former Facebook employee testified before the senate of the United States denouncing that the algorithm that decides what news and content to show to network users selected the most extreme, and that the company put “its profits above controlling hate speech.” The same thing happens on Twitter, where according to several studies, the tweets with the most negative and aggressive content, both from the right and from the left, are more likely to be shared.

But there is more than just algorithms dedicated to maximizing the number of clicks. Studies have proven that our brain works differently in social networks and our personality changes and becomes less human.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Twitter

Surely, we all know someone who has a split personality. In person they are affable and courteous, and yet they become a hydra in the comments on Facebook or Twitter. Turns out there’s a name for that phenomenon: the online disinhibition effect.

This effect was formulated by the psychologist John Suler in 2004 and results in the “reduction or abandonment of social restrictions and inhibitions found in normal face-to-face communication when electronic communications are used at a distance”. That is, on the Internet we feel free to misbehave with other people. The causes of this phenomenon, according to Suler, are varied:

  • Anonymity: In social networks it is easy to remain anonymous and for people not to know who we really are, and in this way there is no responsibility for our actions.
  • Invisibility: When we visit a website or a social network, and just look, we are like ghosts. Traffic control tools count our visit, and perhaps our habits, but they do not know who we are. This allows people to visit sites where questionable topics are discussed and hate is incited, because they don’t feel watched.
  • asynchrony: communication in social networks does not occur in real time. Responses may arrive hours or days later. This lack of synchronicity allows people to send hurtful messages and elude an immediate response, the online equivalent of hit-and-run.
  • solipsisitic introjection: This unpronounceable technicality refers to the fact that in social networks we do not have an idea of ​​the voice or appearance of the person who sends a message, so our brain tends to form an image of this person in its head, and even maintain conversations with this imaginary adversary for the rest of the day.
  • dissociative imagination: People on the Internet and social networks can unconsciously come to the conclusion that everything is a game and the comments they read are characters from cyberspace, to whom the same rules of respect and consideration are not applied as to human beings who find in the real world.
  • Minimization of status and authority: In real interactions, status is communicated through clothing, non-verbal language and the environment, this makes us behave humbly with the bank manager or professor, but those signals do not exist on the Internet and people feel free to address equal to equal and minimize the merits of others. although they do not have enough knowledge to justify this attitude.
  • Individual differences and predispositions: personality and even underlying mental disorders influence the lack of containment in social networks. The most emotional people will have more open behaviors but also more aggressive than those with greater self-control.
  • Changes between intrapsychic constellations: With this tongue twister, Suler refers to the fact that on the Internet people tend to release the deepest aspects of their personality, and even feel that they are “more themselves” than in the real world, where they have to “play a role” .

All of these causes make it more likely that we succumb to our impulses and negative emotions on social media, where there are no consequences, than in person, where we think twice before upsetting our friends or family.

This also makes fights on the Internet carry over into real life, and that the “moral outrage”, so easily provoked on social networks, break friendships and divide families. A situation that has only worsened with the pandemic, which has forced many people to maintain virtual relationships.

There are also people who psychologically feed off the conflict in the networks: the famous trolls. A study of the popular online forum Reddit found that these especially hurtful people, who take a twisted pleasure in manipulating and getting on their nerves, often correspond to the so-called “dark triad” of personality traits: Machiavellianism, psychopathy and narcissism, combined with Schadenfreude, a German word that means to enjoy the evil of others. These people tend to be more pessimistic, unhappy, and less stable than average, more quickly giving in to anger, more quickly becoming defensive, and attacking others in an attempt to maintain control.

Few of us are immune to these effects of Internet communication on our personalities, and as is often the case, the first step is to make yourself aware and ask yourself, would I tell you this in person? If the answer is no, maybe it’s better not to hit the submit button.

* Darío Pescador is editor and director of the quo magazine and author of the book your best self Posted by Oberon.

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