As social media use has increased across diverse demographics, it’s likely that you’re friends with your great aunt, distant cousins, and old college roommate on Facebook. Toss in the trending news feature and a tense political climate, and we’ve got trouble.
Getting into squabbles on social media isn’t necessarily a recent phenomenon. A Pew study back in 2012 found that adults were only seven percent less likely to end relationships due to Facebook postings than teenagers were. We can expect that to have trended upward since the platform is now frequently accessed via smartphone.
Now, Facebook fights are something we’re all getting accustomed to. We may even see a married couple have it out in the comments section. It’s unsurprising, but this is a bad idea, and researchers are cautioning us against getting too cozy with social media smack downs.
Research from the University of Chicago and UC Berkeley conducted last year put Facebook fights to the test by having hundreds of subjects read content, some of which could be considered unfavorable or inflammatory to the person reading it. What they found was that people were incredibly dismissive about opinions they didn’t like – but only if they were reading it.
The research article is aptly titled, “The Humanizing Voice: Speech Reveals, and Text Conceals, a More Thoughtful Mind in the Midst of Disagreement” and it highlights the disconnect we experience when we react to what someone posts online. This is especially relevant to comments we direct toward individuals we don’t know in real life, like that person who shared their political viewpoint under a news article.
The study reveals that when we actually hear someone speak these viewpoints, we’re doing more listening and less judging. When we’re scrolling through and reading it, however, we’re chock-full of judgments that make us disregard their point of view. So if you haven’t verbally spoken to that third cousin or hometown friend in, say, 20 years, you might have trouble processing what they type in a more considered way.
This is also an important point to mull over if you’ve ever been on the receiving end of some intense comments. You can try and engage or drive your point home by providing more information, but the person on the other end isn’t listening. They’ve already framed you as an adversary. We may regard online conversations as “conversation”, but a large part of the human element is missing, leading us all into a losing battle.
Yes, that’s right. You might get other commenters on your side, but your written discourse isn’t truly winning any hearts and minds. The time you spend formulating that scathing response is fuel for the fire, not food for thought.
We’ve long been conscious of the fact that getting hostile on the internet is easier because we don’t have to deal with the consequences of a face-to-face exchange. But if we fully accept how futile it is to get roped into online arguments, we can avoid wasting our time on fights that, at best, lead absolutely nowhere, and at worst, make family reunions pretty awkward.