Okay, most of us have been there. And by"there" I mean in a social media battle. And I don't mean posting this or that news topic of import, supporting or "liking" this or that cause or political person by way of sharing. I mean Facebook/Twitter/etc. fighting. I know I have, and I almost lost a dear friend over....uh...I don't really remember, actually. But it seemed really important at the time.
So what boils our britches when it comes to social media? Why are people more likely to fight over social media than face to face? I have a theory on that, one that I wish to name "Traffic Tantrums." When I discuss social media in my Human Development courses, I always compare social networking fights/rants to traffic assholes. You know what I'm talking about. There's always those people in dense traffic who drive on the shoulder, won't let others merge, honk at others when they try to merge, ride people's bumpers when they could just pass, flip people off for almost no reason.
Maybe you've been that person. I know I have, once or twice in my life, probably when I was on a hypermanic role. And I thought to myself, afterwards, I wouldn't have done that in a coffee line. And that's a big part of it, right? When you fight with friends online, acquaintances in the very least, it's like you're driving in your car, an anonymous traffic asshole. I mean, the computer is not you, a person's profile is not them, not really. I think that little bit of physical distance is the first step in creating a setting ripe for flying off the hook. Because those people are not in the room with you. But, here's the thing: you still might see them and they are, in fact, still people on the other end that profile. Ultimately, whether you can touch that person or look them in the eyes, they are still the person you once stayed up all night swapping relationship stories with...right?
Maybe they aren't. Maybe they are just some online acquaintance you followed or liked or friended because it was mutually beneficial: shared friends, needed more likes on your business page or what have you. So, really, they are just other traffic jerks. What does it matter if they are offended by your realness? Well, studies show that Facebook ranting/fighting actually causes people to become more negative and more worked up about the thing that first set them off.
“When you rant, the emotional part of your brain, the amygdala, lights up and overpowers the logical side, your prefrontal cortex — which means that your emotions take over and exaggerate the issue,” explains John Schinnerer, Ph.D. (Self.com)." What this means, ultimately, is that no matter how satisfying it might seem to argue with someone whose logic, morals, actions offend you, it's not helping to rant about what has happened or to continue an online argument. When you allow yourself to become outraged and participate in a rant, your emotions overpower your logic.
Not me, you argue. I don't get worked up. I share links, stay steady, keep cool, and try not to be emotionally involved. Okay. How is that working for you? Are you, at the end of a debate, say, feeling better? Honestly, don't you still feel frustrated? Okay, sometimes you will be debating with a friend who you love and you'll come to what amounts to a friendly pat on the back. Let's let bygones be bygones. But how do you then feel about that person? I am going to take a stab and say that a film of frustration covers your relationship after a "friendly Facebook fight."
NYDailynews.com suggests, "One in five people have reduced their face-to-face contact with someone they know in real life after an online run-in." The same article on rudeness in social media claims that people are aware the rants and argumentative conversations are not a good idea, but that the immediacy of social media makes it convenient to vent, so they do.
I think I understand why this is happening, apart from the need to just shut our computers, put our phones away and breathe. It's because we are more in the know. That is, there is so much information at our fingertips, so many news stories, jokes, pictures, videos, relevant motherhood memes, etc. that we cannot help but click and share and be offended by the clicks and shares of others. Even if it was a harmless, quick thing. But especially if it is not. There are the big issues that divide friends, too: cultural, religious, racial, political fights. What do you do? Stop posting about those things? I wish I had the answer to that. As a person who has a lot of people in her life who do not hold the same political, social, fairly liberal views she holds, I think about this issue a lot.
But all I really know is that I've never changed anyone's mind when I posted in anger. Not once. And my anger is so easy to agitate, at times, that I feel like the in-fighting is dangerous for me, for my relationships with others. So what do I suggest? How do we deal with these duels? Try thinking about the person as if they were seated right next to you. How they look. If they are hurt, happy, devastated...And breathe. Maybe call them or write them a note, but wait to send it. Ultimately, most experts say that you should get away from the fight, think and calm down.
So, if your boss pissed you off, stay off your devices. Don't post that public fireable rant. If a friend posted something that offended you online, remember him as a person and think about how you want to respond to a person you care about, if you want to post anything or if it might be better to talk to them in person. Relationships, if not acquaintances, are worth fostering carefully. And your persona (your online legacy) is worth considering, too. How do you want to be seen by your employers, friends, family, or even random acquaintances? I doubt most will say: I want to be a traffic asshole. So think before you write, and I promise to try to do the same. Friends? Okay.
H.M Jones is the author of B.R.A.G Medallion Honor and NIEA finalist book Monochrome, its prequel Fade to Blue, the Adela Darken Graphic Novellas, Al Ravien's Night, The Immortals series, and several short stories.