Are we real online?
Why social media is so full of exaggerated opinions, and inflated egos.
Social media is full of garbage, we all know this. Social media is also full of very anti-social people, and this is important to keep in mind. If you ever met someone terribly judgmental at a party, railing against people they don’t like, trying to convince you to share their resentment, you’ll understand who these people are instantly.
There’s only one problem: you don’t know who they are, and they aren’t listening to you anyway.
In the real world, when someone makes a remark, they expect an immediate reaction, if that reaction makes them feel guilty or sympathize with you, they will likely back down from their position. They might even apologize, though perhaps not often these days, where any semblance of respect for others is hard to find.
Online is an entirely different story. People feel the cloak of anonymity protecting them from scorn, people feel comfortable in their darkened computer rooms, people are angry at the world at large. Studies have shown that people behave very differently, and interpret words very differently, when they don’t have the visual cues of seeing the human at the other end of the conversation.
Research seems to be a bit lacking, and I’m going to blame the psychological profession’s inherent need to dramatically subdivide traits, instead of grouping them as patterns. Freud, the P.T. Barnum of psychiatry, helped the science grow, and likely damaged any chance of a holistic approach.
A handful of studies point out that neurotic people are more likely to lash out online. So, what they mean is, pretty much what you expect in public then. Astounding work people.
Yet more studies linked extroversion with increased social media usage. Again, simply brilliant. Who would have thought that people, who won’t shutup in real life, would ever consider looking online for an even larger audience?
Then with many dead trees printed on, many cheap pens bitten, and many spectacles breathed on, the super geniuses discovered, that on average, people are less intense versions of themselves online. See this stunning piece of research.
So science says the internet should be a very moderate place. If the majority of people rarely express vivid opinions on topics not related to the 5 taboos, how bland would they be with even less interest? We should be approaching a level of stupor online on par with the average zombie in The Walking Dead, no? But we aren’t.
As we learn from drug and alcohol users, there are people who react strongly in the uncommon direction; like when a depressant makes someone hyper, or anti-depressant makes someone suicidal. You might think these over-educated adults would connect the dots, but maybe connect-4 was just too childish for them growing up, and today they lack this important skill?
The answer is probably just too vague for scientists. They’ve certainly seemed to discount a feeling of invincibility as a reason, a sense of power or influence when others listen, as well as a feeling of achievement from creating drama or solving a problem. Sure, the earliest studies did mention aggressive behaviour was most prevalent where there was no expectation of interaction, which roughly translates to trolling, but nothing more precise. The Urban Dictionary sums it up nicely.
Being a prick on the internet because you can. Typically unleashing one or more cynical or sarcastic remarks on an innocent by-stander, because it’s the internet and, hey, you can.
Guy: “I just found the coolest ninja pencil in existence.”
Other Guy: “I just found the most retarded thread in existence.”
Isn’t that really what social media is all about?