Social (Media) Discourse

April 26th, 2013 by Andrea Bennett

A new survey indicates social media users are taking digital disagreements to the next level – real life.

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

Have you ever had a real-life relationship damaged by a virtual argument? Increasingly, chances are that you have, according to a new survey from corporate training advisers VitalSmarts.

The survey was conducted after a series of high-profile online run-ins, such as British soccer player Joey Barton calling another player an “overweight ladyboy” on Twitter, a comment for which he was disciplined by the French soccer federation’s ethics committee.

Nearly 80 percent of the 3,000 respondents to the survey believe that discourse on the Internet is becoming increasingly rude. Now, it appears that virtual aggression is spilling over into people’s actual lives; one in five people reported having intentionally reduced their face-to-face contact with someone due to a virtual altercation, and two in five have severed ties entirely.

VitalSmarts’ co-chairman, Joseph Grenny, claims that 19 percent of people have blocked, unsubscribed from or “unfriended” someone because of an online disagreement. As he told Reuters, “The world has changed and a significant proportion of relationships happen online but manners haven’t caught up with technology.”

The problem, Grenny says, is that social media grants people the instant gratification of tackling grievances impulsively and head-on, without mulling over any possible consequences. The lack of peer pressure to be polite in the semi-anonymous online arena reinforces people’s lack of social restraint.

Grenny’s suggestions for avoiding online run-ins that could lead to real-life confrontation include avoiding monologues, replacing judgmental words and eliminating personal attacks, particularly when emotions are running high. If you feel that an online conversation is getting too emotionally charged, you’re probably right. Take it offline and, if possible, face-to-face.

Do you feel like you have more ability to vent your frustrations with other people when you’re online? How can the social standards of polite discourse transition from real life to the Internet? Weigh in here.