Why Does Social Media Often Bring Out The Worst In Us?

Most social media platforms run rampant with insults, bullying, misinformation, and other unpleasant behavior. Why?

The Internet promised to revolutionize society. It provides a publishing platform to anyone who wants one. Collaboration, even among geographically distant people, becomes simple. A previously unheard of amount of information is available at our fingertips, at any time of day or night.

All these things are true — along with other benefits — but there is a dark side to the Internet as well. After more than a decade since the introduction of social media platforms, our society is more divided than any time in recent memory. People live in echo chambers of their beliefs, and emerge only to call others names. No one actually talks to people with differing viewpoints, and on the rare instances that they do, no one listens.

Listen to a podcast where Michael and Lee discuss a related question: ‘How can we encourage debate?’ We also discuss a bonus question: ‘What is the value of inefficiency?’

There are many possible reasons for this. The Internet in general, and social media outlets in particular, allow for anonymity. This shields individuals from the consequences of their speech, emboldening them to lash out. Even if your name is attached to everything you say, typing on the keyboard of a computer is different from saying the same thing to someone else’s face.

And while the Internet makes it easier to meet people with similar hobbies or interests, it also makes it easier for those with bigoted or prejudiced ideas to find like-minded individuals across the country.

These are just some of the reasons people are nasty to each other online. Can you think of others? Have there been times when you said something online you would later regret? Why do you think that is?

Why does social media often bring out the worst in us? What changes could be made to improve things?
Related questions: What do you get out of social media? What makes us comment on social media? Why do we hate? How can we encourage meaningful conversation?

2 thoughts on “Why Does Social Media Often Bring Out The Worst In Us?”

  1. To use the inverse of Ted Lasso’s guidance, we choose to be judgmental, not curious.

    While ‘isms, prejudicial remarks, and bullying need to be called out in any setting, some remarks that we lash out at are valid opinions, political views, and simple off-the-cuff statements that deserve exploration. Unfortunately, our impulses to publicly be heard and be right seem to override better approaches, which include demonstrating grace and interest. In fact, anyone can step back and think about how they can present their viewpoint in a non-confrontational way while asking the other person what leads them to believe something we disagree with or don’t understand. But this takes work, work that so many of us chose to ignore quite often.

  2. Social media appeals to our need to reach out to others, to be part of society. Because civilization needs and is is built on cooperation and interaction. And mostly that works to good effect. Our institutions are built on it – schools, governments, businesses, scientific endeavors, and all kinds of organizing for a better life. But there is also a human need for individuality, for personal recognition, for personal liberty. I think there is a dichotomy between cooperation and liberty. Finding a balance between the two is one of our greatest challenges. Both are powerful motivators. I believe that social media highlights this struggle and challenges us to either learn to advance, to recognize and reconcile both needs – cooperation and personal liberty. Or tear us apart.

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