Why You’re An A$$Hole On Facebook

By Len Kendall: Game Director of Devil’s Advocate

  1. Perceived Anonymity — Most psychologists and cyber-bullying experts agree that the anonymity that some social media sites and online comment boards allow makes it easier for people to believe that they will be able to dish out a mean comment to someone free from the risk of negative consequences (either an insulting retort or disciplinary/legal consequences). On Facebook you’re not neccessarily anonymous, but when commenting on a post that belongs to a news publication it’s unlikely that any of the thousands of other people in the thread will personally know you. For all intents and purposes, you may feel anonymous.
  2. Self esteem paradox — Some psychologists have argued that social media encourages excessive self promotion and an artificially inflated system of reward (such as “Likes” on Facebook). For example, if you passed your driving test in 1989 you probably got a few high fives from your close friends and family. If you passed it today and quickly posted about it on Facebook, you could end up with hundreds of “likes” in a few hours. This can contribute to inflated self-esteem, feelings of invulnerability, and a corresponding decrease in impulse control. Feeling “full of yourself” you might post a snarky comment on someone’s else’s profile.
  3. Mob mentality — It’s easier to “pile on” online and this can encourage one-upmanship when it comes to pillorying someone on the internet. This kind of cyber-bullying is increasingly common among adults. See this article about the woman who after making a regrettable Tweet found herself shamed by tens of thousands of Twitter users and ended up losing her job and temporarily going into hiding.
  4. Insecurity — The internet magnifies everything. Just as insecurity plays a big role in offline bullying, it is also a factor in cyber-bullying and meanness. It takes a fraction of a second to give a celebrity’s red carpet look the thumbs down in an online poll. It might not seem to be a big deal, but you’ve just made a negative and deeply personal comment about someone that you would not have made to their face. Do that over and over again and you become desensitized — suddenly making a mean comment on a friend’s Facebook page doesn’t seem like a big deal.
  5. Undeveloped Debate Skills — Besides the issues above, I think that people are just simply getting worse and worse at having an intelligent and empathetic debate. And thus default to insults and nastiness. Being sick of this, I designed a game called Devil’s Advocate that is designed to help people have more thoughtful “discussions” over silly and serious topics.