Social Media Shows Hostility on the Rise

What happens online doesn’t always stay online.

More than three-quarters of users in an online survey said social networks are becoming more hostile—and angry encounters that began on a site seem to be spilling over into real life.

A majority of users (78%) surveyed reported a rise in online incivility, with 40% blocking, unsubscribing or “unfriending” someone over an argument that took place on social media.

Findings include:

  • 76% have witnessed an argument over social media;
  • 19% have decreased in-person contact with someone because of something said online;
  • 88% believe people are less polite on social media than in person; and
  • 81% say the difficult or emotionally charged conversations they have held over social media remain unresolved.

“Tensions, arguments and hostility on social networks spill over into real life,” the study found.

Individual respondents further detailed potential problems with such online communication. One “is still reeling from a family rift that began in cyberspace,” after her brother posted an embarrassing picture of her sister, who asked him to remove it. (He refused.) Another reported that a frustrated co-worker posted a message about wanting to “handle co-workers like we did in the old days,” followed by some descriptive and violent detail.

Joseph Grenny, co-author of the book “Crucial Conversations,” says these tensions arise and go unresolved in part because online conversations provide a unique set of challenges that are seldom taken into consideration when people begin typing their frustrations. And as research indicates, younger people are four times more likely than Baby Boomers to prefer having these emotionally charged conversations over social media.

VitalSmarts, a company in Provo, Utah, specializing in corporate training and staff performance, surveyed 2,698 respondents online about their online activity and relationships.