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.
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?
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.”
The online disinhibition effect is 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:
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.
Being safe from trolls and from becoming one online means practicing kindness in all your interactions and working on letting things go.