Something very strange can happen when we go online and engage in social media: we become completely different people.
Correspondent David Pogue asked, “So there’s a Jekyll and Hyde thing happening?”
“Oh, definitely,” said communications teacher Paul Viggiano. He can tell you that from experience. “Well it was election night 2020 and I was on Facebook. And it grew sharper as the face grew redder and the anger increased. I think I may have actually said, ‘You’re an idiot.'”
“To someone you know?”
“On the whole that was pretty mild!” said Pogue.
“But for me it wasn’t. I mean, it was pretty tough for me.”
“And you actually teach communication?”
“That’s the embarrassing part!” Viggiano laughed. “One of the courses I teach is Interpersonal Communication!”
Counselor and psychologist Mary Aiken specializes in forensic cyberpsychology, “which is the study of criminal, deviant, and abnormal behavior,” she said. “And I’m really busy!”
She lists four ways online conversations differ from face-to-face conversations.
First, you can see yourself in real life (“Well, I look at your visual cues, I can read your body language. We’re losing all of that online”); Second, online exchanges may not be real-time (“someone posts something, someone else comes back later, things can be misinterpreted”); Third, most online discussions are public (“If I insult you now, it will increase the shame and humiliation and feeling of being attacked”); and finally, online anonymity means there are no implications for being nasty.
Add it all up and you get what psychologists called the online disinhibition effect (ODE): “It dictates that people do things online that they wouldn’t do in the real world,” Aiken said.
This online effect can impact relationships in the real world.
“Sometimes you have to tell stupid people the truth, and that’s usually where it starts,” Robyn said. [She asked us not to use her last name.]
Pogue asked her, “Will you shoot right back when the time comes?”
“I just nudge the bear depending on my mood,” she replied. “Just to see where it’s going, you know?”
“Have you ever cut ties with people you’ve known online?”
“I have, I have,” Robyn replied. “Some who were friends. I had a family who unfriended me because of politics.”
But the recent report by Mary Aiken suggests new artificial intelligence filters could soon help.
She said, “We found evidence of a burgeoning billion-dollar sector dedicated to finding technology solutions.”
Pogue said: “We could probably also realize that never in the history of the internet has someone’s mind been changed by being shouted at.“
“No, that’s true!” She laughed.
Paul Viggiano knows another election is coming up soon. He plans to play this one differently: “I’m trying to separate the person from the idea. So my mantra was, ‘Hate the idea, but don’t hate the person.’ So I’m hoping to get to that point by then.”
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Story produced by Gabriel Falcon. Publisher: Emanuele Secci.