Online social networks have been hailed as a humanization of a Web that otherwise would be a collection of pages and apps. But, according to a new study, human behavior filtered through social media is leading to a rise in rudeness. The results could indicate issues not only with personal social media communication, but with the rising use of social networks within business.
The online survey of 2,698 respondents by corporate training and organizational performance firm VitalSmarts found that 78 percent of users believe online incivility is rising, and 2 in 5 users have blocked, unsubscribed or unfriended someone over an argument conducted via social media.
Seventy-six percent of respondents have witnessed an argument on social media, 19 percent have reduced their in-person contacts with someone because of an online conversation, and 88 percent believe people are less polite when they communicate via social media than in person.
'No Immediate Feedback'
Another 81 percent say that difficult, social media-based conversations they have had in the past remain unresolved. The study cites the experience of one respondent, Laura M. Her brother posted an embarrassing picture of her sister, and refused the sister's request to remove it -- and then he sent it to his entire contact list. The result: a full-scale family war, with the brother unfriending all of his siblings and no personal contact between the siblings and the brother for the last two years.
Joseph Grenny, a co-author of the report, said in a statement that, "sadly," social media platforms have become "the default forums for holding high-stakes conversations, blasting polarizing opinions and making statements with little regard for those within screen shot." He added that online situations often have "no immediate feedback or the opportunity to see how our words will affect others."
Brad Shimmin, an analyst with industry firm Current Analysis, said there was a "distinct distancing online, a separation that allows you to engage in behavior you wouldn't if you were standing in front" of someone.
Working Toward 'Common Goal'
He added that, even as the use of social communication and collaboration platforms grows within businesses, there are usually constraints in those environments that keep behavior within check. For one thing, employees use their real names, know their conversational partners, expect to run into them someday, and/or are wary of their reputation within the company.
Shimmin pointed out that, in addition, conversational partners within a company have "learned to adapt" to the distancing effects of media they are using, and people are "working toward a common goal." Few of these factors come into play, however, in most social circles, or in open social environments. Social media also have tended to encourage what Shimmin describes as "taut, terse commenting," whose quick, thumb-typed comments sent on a smartphone standing somewhere can often be misinterpreted.
VitalSmarts offers some tips on communicating via social media. These include watching whether your motives are a healthy dialog or intended to promote controversy, keeping an eye on the use of offensive words, pausing to keep emotions in check, pointing out areas of agreement before noting the disagreements, and taking offline those conversations that are getting too emotional.