Is Social Media Making People Rude and Outrageous?

In most social situations calling someone fat, ugly, or disgusting is unacceptable and just flat out rude. But the digital age has opened up a new social platform (social media) and we come across these sorts of comments quite often without many, or any, repercussions. The veil of a computer or phone screen has emboldened people. From something as small as reaching out to your crush for the first time to cyber bullies that plague platforms like Twitter and Instagram toxic, the anonymity of a profile can make people feel secure in speaking their mind no matter how frank the thought.

The Art of Trolling

If you’ve spent any time on social media in the last five to ten years, you’ve probably come across a “troll” or the term “trolling.” If you haven’t, scroll through any celebrity’s Instagram comments. There is always a pesky “troll” making unsolicited or controversial comments with the clear intent of provoking a reaction or starting a fight.

According to The Experience of ‘Bad’ Behavior in Online Social Spaces survey, 66% of the respondents reported they often experienced bad behaviour online. Only 1% thought that it seldom or never occurred.Because of the frequency in which inappropriate and insulting comments are made online many don’t even view it as problematic.“It amuses me… Sometimes it’s like watching a soap opera.” Admitted one respondent. Despite some being used to trolls the study concluded that bad online behavior hinders regular user’s overall enjoyment on social platforms.

But what is it about social media or the digital age that makes us feel like this behavior is normal or acceptable?

Lack of Self-Control and Non-verbal Cues

According to a study by researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and Columbia Business School, our self-control is lowered whenever we log on to social media. This is because we receive encouragement and validation in the form of likes and comments on our posts. The subsequent self-esteem boost has been proven to negatively influence self-control both on and offline.

Beyond inflating our egos, social media has fostered a new form of communication without any verbal cues, like eye contact. There’s a reason why we’re taught to maintain steady eye contact while interacting with people in the real world. It is one of the most important body languages for effective communication.

In a recent study from the University of Haifa in Israel, it was revealed that the absence of eye-contact online makes people feel more comfortable in being particularly rude. The results suggested that out of three independent variables: anonymity, invisibility, and lack of eye contact — the third was the “chief contributor to the negative effects of online disinhibition.”

Online Disinhibition Effect

The online disinhibition effectis defined as the “loosening of social restrictions and inhibitions that are normally present in face-to-face interactions.” John Suler, a professor of psychology at Rider University, published an article in 2004 which analyzed characteristics of internet interactions that contributed to this.

According to him, there are two primary types of behavior that fall under the online disinhibition effect; the benign disinhibition and toxic disinhibition.

Benign disinhibition is when people disclose more on the internet than they would in real life. They share what they ate for lunch, where they plan on going that particular day, and sometimes disclose personal issues like relationship statuses. This type of disinhibition is harmless to most and but annoying, to say the least. I’ve found that the “Unfollow” and “Mute” features come in handy with these types of people.

Toxic disinhibition describes the behavior which consists of rude language and threats. Trolls and trolling fall under this category.

According to Suler, the online disinhibition effect is brought about by six factors:

  • Dissociative anonymity– On the internet, it is possible for us to interact with others completely anonymously. This creates a disassociation between our online and offline personas allowing us to not “own up” to our behavior.
  • Invisibility– Most communication that happens on the internet is through text. Behind the screen, our inhibitions are lowered making it easier for us to say things that we don’t normally say in person.
  • Asynchronicity– On the internet, we have a choice to not respond immediately to posts and messages and this synchronization (or delay in communication) can lead to disinhibition. This is the reason why it’s easier for us to share something personal online because we can just log off to escape a potentially negative response and deal with it later.
  • Solipsistic Introjection– Without non-verbal cues, you are supplementing the communication gaps in your head. You begin to see your online interactions as a part of your psyche formed by your personal needs and expectations. Because of this, we start to feel like we know the person on the other end very well (even if we don’t) leading to disinhibition.
  • Dissociative Imagination– The internet can feel like a make-believe space and a lot of people actually believe that what happens in cyberspace is not affecting real people or real-life situations.
  • Minimization of Status and Authority– Authority figures express their authority through body language and their environment. But online, it’s difficult to establish authority because of the lack of non-verbal cues. The internet offers an equal playing field for everyone, where “weaker” people can express anything to “authoritative” figures without repercussions or remorse.

How to Not be a Troll

Trolls are terrible and one toxic aspect of social media. A great way to minimize their impact and existence is to not become one yourself. Here are a few things to be mindful of whenever you are engaging with someone online.

  • Imagine that that person is in front of you and think about what you were about to say. Would you say it to their face? If not, then it’s best to keep your fingers from typing.
  • Online interactions are prone to misinterpretations. Before posting anything, take a minute to think about what you are trying to say and construct your message in a positive manner.
  • Is it necessary for you to engage? Or is it better to walk away? Don’t stoop down to a troll’s level because honestly, they’re not worth your time. If a feud really needs to be addressed, then do so through private messages.

Being safe from trolls and from becoming one online means practicing kindness in all your interactions and working on letting things go.


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Delfina Forstmann

Delfina joined BOLDFISH in November ’18. Prior to that she was a writer at a renowned travel blog. Delfina writes to gives her generation a new take on tech.