It’s no surprise that to many people ‘social media’ often feels a bit of a misnomer with some of the most anti-social sentiments one can think of being expressed online.
When one considers the psychological effects of such online negativity, it is important to acknowledge its impact on both the writer and the reader.
“Nice parking you f**king w**ker! Go die!”
This was the hand-written message tucked under my windscreen wiper about ten years ago, back when I drove more regularly. It was written on the back of an A5 flyer and, to imagine the handwriting, it was penned in a ‘Jack the Ripper’ letter style scrawl (though, to be honest, I can’t really talk with my handwriting!) What is more relevant was that the medium itself probably contributed to the level of aggression and hostility being shown. Put simply, we find it much easier to write
bad than say
bad. Now, add in the other ingredients of anonymity and physical distance from me (since I was inside a store shopping and they presumably drove off) and you have the recipe for a perfect storm, just like the ones witnessed so often online.
Negativity Hurts the Sender
It is fair to say that no one who is genuinely happy, fulfilled, living each day with meaning and purpose and in a degree of comfort directs hostile negative comments to people online. The people who do so are trying to vent and simply projecting their own fears, frustrations and insecurities onto an easy target. As we have established, one that is usually distant, cannot easily identify them and whom they can connect with via the medium of writing. However, note I said trying
to vent. It’s not really venting because the negative feeling within them does not go away. If anything, it grows, as any reaction they receive empowers them in the negative behaviour even further. And all of this moves them further and further away from a positive life, with meaning and purpose, etc. As they are focusing on the negative, they get more of the negative. It’s like posting sh*t through someone’s letterbox with your bare hands and then eating a bag of crisps to celebrate. Still feeling clever? ‘Victory’ taste as good as you thought?
Effects on the Reader
Negativity spreads negativity. I am taking the reader to mean not just the recipient of the online negativity but also anyone that reads such comments if they are shared with a wider group or the public. A reader’s perception of a subject can be affected by the presence of such negative comments and a study
from the University of Duisburg-Essen has also shown that hostility increases in the reader themselves when reading them. If this manifests itself as a hostile reply to the original hostile comment then this is negativity being spread in a very real sense.
Top Tips – Staying Positive Online
Here are my top tips to give online negativity a swerve and ensure you are only engaging positively.
- Before writing anything to or about someone online, I ask my myself a simple question – is my intention positive? Am I looking to add to a debate, to help a wider group, to help the individual themselves, etc. or is it just a rant or aggressive venting.
- Before posting, I re-read my words to check that they truly reflect the above positive intention and that I have expressed myself respectfully. I have to satisfy myself that I am not sending this message from a negative place.
- I overcome the dissociative nature of the medium by imagining myself saying what I have written to the person’s face or to a group. Would I feel proud and confident in my choice of words?
- If entering into an argument or debate, keep it calm and classy. Practice remaining as unemotional and balanced as you can. Don’t become hostile or attack people personally. If you receive such negativity, simply disengage and refuse to ‘feed the trolls’.
So, have compassion for anyone unhappy enough to send you unacceptable negativity online or via social media. Simply disengage and refuse to spread their bad ‘vibes’ any further as you spread your own positive messages and energy online.