The Attraction of Incivility and Online Bullying

New study explores the lasting effects of social media negativity on people.

Posted Oct 25, 2018

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Just a generation ago, an embarrassing gaffe might have been written up in the local paper or gossiped about over backyard fences until it was old news. But today is much different. The internet has eternal life and boundless reach, and victims of a digital disaster must learn to live forever with the implications of that high-tech “tattoo.”

Researchers at the University of California-Davis recently conducted a study that explores the lasting effects of negative social media comments. 

The glass half empty

One of the most significant findings from this study was that negative messages had the ability to affect everyone—including the sender. While negative messages lingered throughout a chat for an average of eight minutes, positive ones will linger for just one minute.

The author of this survey, Seth Frey and his researchers, caution people to reconsider what they post online since the study points out that words can be very powerful. 

Online can be reality

Some will let their fingers fly with the protection of a screen between them and the receiver of their message. The researchers remind us that online communication can be very different than face-to-face settings, and this can be where our words can turn to into weapons. 

Taken altogether, this phenomenon is known as the online disinhibition effect, the notion that people behave far differently online than they would in reality.

John Suler, Ph.D., a psychology professor at Rider University who was the first to formally tackle this issue in a 2004 research paper, explains that the lack of a physical link between the attacker and the victim makes it easier to say things one wouldn’t in person.

When this disinhibition turns toxic, or toward attacking others, it could be for several reasons: the online poster may not know exactly who the victims are or see them as a real people, there are few consequences for this nasty behavior, and there is always the ability to hop off the discussion at any time. “We live in an age when people feel frustrated and angry,” Suler observed in an interview. “The online disinhibition effect causes people to act out that frustration and anger.”

It's your reputation

Are you in the habit of using your cyber-friends as cyber-therapists? Using your social platforms as venting machines?

It's a big risk today with both colleges and corporations using social media as their digital human resource aid. Most institutions and businesses consider workers, students and applicants an extension of their brand—offline and online. In other words, your online behavior is never off the clock.

If you're someone that rants on social media, since it's likely you will receive more negative attention that way, be aware of the potential financial consequences as it pertains to your career, job or if a teen is applying to schools. The majority of workplaces and universities have social media policies in place, we're all potentially a click away from an exit door. 

What happens if you're bullied or shamed online?


What name were you mocked or teased with when you were younger? Maybe you're a target of online shame

In a recent Pew Research survey, offensive name-calling was the most common form of cyberbullying followed by fear of false rumors online.

In an effort to empower those that have been belittled, bullied or struggled with hurtful names, a powerful PSA was launched, #DefyTheName by Monica Lewinsky and her team

5 ways to rethink how you post online:

1. Is it necessary? Are you social sharing for your platform or oversharing for your ego?

2. Emotional sharing. Having a bad day? You may want to consider a session of whine and wine with a friend offline.

3. Inappropriate sharing. There's never a good time for profanity, sexual content or other irresponsible post that can haunt you.

4. Constructive sharing. Yes, you can have healthy (constructive) debates, however when you feel the tone is getting nasty or combative, it's time to click-out.

5. Know your audience. Who are your friends? Colleagues, boss, students, children? Write as if the world is watching and never assume your words won't get twisted. This is the online world now.

You can never go wrong with being kind online.


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