Does social media make people ruder? One survey says that is the case. More than 75 percent of the people surveyed say they think people are more likely to be insulting on-line, and almost 20 percent say they have seen people end their “real” relationships after a social media spat.
I don’t know how scientific the survey is, but the results really shouldn’t surprise anyone. Incivility increases with each step we take that is farther away from face-to-face interaction. That is because it is not easy to be hurtful and insulting to someone’s face. You see their reaction, physically, and you think that you wouldn’t want someone to say something mean to your face, either. The natural tendency therefore is to tone down the rhetoric. It’s somewhat easier to be rude over the phone, but even then you can hear the hurt in the other party’s voice.
But as you move away from immediate, personal contact, the visual and verbal cues that encourage civil behavior vanish. Any employment lawyer or HR manager will tell you, with a shake of their head, that people write incredibly harsh, stupid, and ill-advised things in email messages, and the same is true of social media. People act in the heat of the moment, without reflection or any brake on their offensive impulses, thinking they are being clever when they are really just being crass. Discourtesy and angry reactions are the inevitable results.
Social media has a lot of advantages as a means of keeping in touch with people, but it also provides a ready mechanism for thoughtlessness on a large scale. We’d all be better served if we paused before hitting the “post” button and considered how wounding our words might be.