“Do you call that a haircut? I hope you didn’t pay for it.”
“Oh please this is rubbish, you’re a disgrace to yourself and your profession.”
These are just two examples of comments that have followed articles I have written in my career.
While they may seem benign compared with the sort of violent and vulgar comments that are synonymous with cyberbullying, they are examples of the uncivil and antisocial behaviour that plagues the internet.
If these comments were directed at me in any of my interactions in everyday life — when buying a coffee or at my monthly book club — they would be incredibly hurtful and certainly not inconsequential.
Drawing on my own research, as well as that of researchers in other fields, my new book attempts to help us understand online behaviours, and outlines productive steps we can all take towards creating safer and kinder online interactions.
Steps we all can take
Online abuse is a social problem that just happens to be powered by technology. Solutions are needed that not only defuse the internet’s power to amplify abuse, but also encourage crucial shifts in social norms and values within online communities.
Recognise that it’s a community
The first step is to ensure we view our online interactions as an act of participation in a community. What takes place online will then begin to line up with our offline interactions.
If any of the cruel comments that often form part of online discussion were said to you in a restaurant, you would expect witnesses around you to support you. We must have the same expectations online.
Know our audience
We learn to socialise offline based on visual and verbal cues given by the people with whom we interact. When we move social interactions to an online space where those cues are removed or obscured, a fundamental component of how we moderate our own behaviour is also eliminated. Without these social cues, it’s difficult to determine whether content is appropriate.
Research has shown that most social media users imagine a very different audience to the actual audience reading their updates.
We often imagine our audience as people we associate with regularly offline, however a political statement that may be supported by close family and friends could be offensive to former colleagues in our broader online network.
Understand our own behaviour
Emotion plays a role in fuelling online behaviour — emotive comments can inspire further emotive comments in an ongoing feedback loop. Aggression can thus incite aggression in others, but it can also establish a behavioural norm within the community that aggression is acceptable.
Understanding our online behaviour can help us take an active role in shaping the norms and values of our online communities by demonstrating appropriate behaviour.
– Renee Barnes
Image source – Flickr.com