Recently, I wrote a LinkedIn post about how comments and responses on social media have become unnecessary, lack constructive feedback, and are downright mean. Instead of offering guidance, helpful resources, or words of encouragement when someone is job searching, the trend has become snap judgment, unfounded assumptions, and hurtful comments.
There are several reasons contributing to social platforms devolving into their current state. The absence of non-verbal communication, the occurrence of deindividuation, and the takeover of disinhibition are at the forefront of most issues. This combination allows individuals to scroll and comment without fear of repercussions (if any) while avoiding social norms and the actions that would occur if the veil of the screen wasn’t separating them from the real world.
A lot of what we communicate during live interaction is non-verbal. It comes across in body language, eye contact, speech tone, and language patterns. When these non-verbal cues match the words we hear, clarity, trust, and meaningful interaction occur. Additionally, nonverbal cues are often instinctive and hard to fake, allowing for authentic communication. When we eliminate face-to-face communication and a screen divides us, anonymity and lack of eye contact occur, causing people to feel more comfortable being rude. This creates a dangerous wild west mentality as there is a seeming lack of consequence or empathy to sensor people’s actions.
Disinhibition is a lack of restraint regarding social norms, impulsivity, and poor risk assessment. That certainly describes the behavior of many online social media users today. Disinhibition is the opposite of the interpersonal skills that effective communicators like critical thinkers, and leaders possess. Interpersonal effectiveness in its simplest form is how people interact with others. People who exhibit good interpersonal skills show empathy, value others, and approach activities like social media posts, with the intent to add value. People need to pause before they make a nasty comment on a post. As disinhibition increases, current or future employers are watching – and it could cost someone their job.
Deindividuation occurs when someone loses their sense of responsibility and self-control – similar to a mob mentality that can occur during some sporting events. If you were the only fan in a crowd, would you behave that way? Unlikely. Similarly, social media allows for that same ‘mob mentality’ where people feel entitled because of the total anonymity provided by their keyboard and screen. The screen removes any responsibility an individual may feel and causes them to disregard acceptable social norms that they would typically exercise if they were having a 1:1 discussion.
How can you ensure your online interactions are constructive rather than destructive?
- Ask yourself: how would I feel if someone said this to me? It’s often easier to relate when you put yourself in their position. If someone says they have interviewed for multiple jobs but haven’t received a single offer, you shouldn’t lead with the comment, ‘you probably are a terrible interviewer.’ Instead, put yourself in their shoes and suggest they try looking for learning content or articles on how to nail their next interview.
- Ensure your feedback is constructive and helpful. Feedback that is high in specificity is preferred to general feedback. Contrary to what many may think, direct constructive feedback is often better received. Expanding on the previous interview example: Rather than simply suggesting they take a course, personalize your response by providing them with a link to a specific course or blog that you found particularly helpful in the past. Your personal endorsement can be just what the person needed.
- Focus on ways to lift people up rather than pile on the negativity or destructive comments.
If you struggle with the above three considerations; you lack empathy and kindness; or you do not have the desire or willingness to help a person when they need it most, you may as well keep scrolling.