Does this sound familiar?
You post an opinion on your favourite social network and the result is a flood of aggressive replies that proceed to get out of hand. Suddenly, your initial point is lost and you’ve wasted hours, even days, arguing with a stranger who was never going to change their mind. Alternatively, maybe you were the person who replied in a blind rage.
I call this social shadowboxing. This is a reality of the modern connected world. Users are not only connected to their friends, family and that guy they had one class with in university, they are connected to strangers because these networks are designed to collapse barriers, geography and time zones.
We need to realize the impact that each of us has while participating in online conversations, and strive for empathy while trying to avoid the pitfall of jumping to conclusions. Most importantly, we need to build connections, not deepen our own confirmation bias.
Just because you read that the ant weights more the elephant, it doesn’t mean that is the case
Confirmation bias is when someone interprets all information as evidence that their opinion or theories are correct. It creates a hypersensitivity to information which conflicts or disproves our own opinion. Social media has evolved confirmation bias in an interesting and dangerous way. By liking, following or friending people with similar backgrounds and viewpoints, we create an echo chamber where our own voice is heard the loudest.
The dark side of social media is best exemplified by how it offers bullies a new avenue to belligerently, and sometimes anonymously, attack their prey. When we imagine cyberbullies, our minds might drift to teenagers immaturely mocking another. This isn’t always the case. Cyberbullies can just as easily be an adult who publicly attacks another for their political belief or simply sends a mean-spirited private message.
If you look at the cyberbullying statistics put out by i-SAFE Foundation, the a leader in e-safety education, you’ll see that cyberbullying occurs across multiple platforms and communication channels.
Besides the obvious of being more open-minded and empathetic, the best solution is to speak up if you see an user being bullied. By doing so in a public and civil way, you are not only calming the fire, you are providing a strong example for others to emulate. Ditching the bystander effect is one way to make social media a democratic place for ideas and content. Of course, you’re allowed to disagree with another user but if you wouldn’t make the same comment to that user’s face (and most wouldn’t), then you shouldn’t hit send.
Realizing the impact of our online activity and personality is the first step towards understanding the responsibility that comes with such a powerful global network.