Does Facebook Make Us Rude?

rudeness and Facebook

Yes — and so does online communication in general, as it turns out.

Some food for thought, from The Wall Street Journal: “Why We Are So Rude Online.” Some new research suggests that lower self control coupled with an inflated sense of self esteem could explain the rudeness —

“According to soon-to-be-published research from professors at Columbia University and the University of Pittsburgh, browsing Facebook lowers our self control. The effect is most pronounced with people whose Facebook networks were made up of close friends, the researchers say …

Most of us present an enhanced image of ourselves on Facebook. This positive image — and the encouragement we get, in the form of “likes” — boosts our self-esteem. And when we have an inflated sense of self, we tend to exhibit poor self-control.

Think of it as a licensing effect: You feel good about yourself so you feel a sense of entitlement,” says Keith Wilcox, assistant professor of marketing at Columbia Business School and co-author of the study. “And you want to protect that enhanced view, which might be why people are lashing out so strongly at others who don’t share their opinions.” These types of behavior — poor self control, inflated sense of self — “are often displayed by people impaired by alcohol,” he adds.

More interesting to me was the suggestion that perhaps online communication just seems less consequential; we think with our fingers and thumbs online and therefore are less likely to weigh the emotional consequences. Sherry Turkle (whose book is on my to-read list) weighs in:

“We’re less inhibited online because we don’t have to see the reaction of the person we’re addressing, says Sherry Turkle, psychologist and Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor of the social studies of science and technology. Because it’s harder to see and focus on what we have in common, we tend to dehumanize each other, she says …


Astoundingly, Dr. Turkle says, many people still forget that they’re speaking out loud when they communicate online. Especially when posting from a smartphone, “you are publishing but you don’t feel like you are,” she says.”

“Dehumanizing” seems almost too strong a way to put it — but I have been wondering about whether the way we relate to people online could be similar to our emotional engagement with fictional characters.

But hey, it’s just a hypothesis. And here’s another, from Scientific American: “Eye Contact Quells Online Hostility” (and this makes sense to me).

None of that is to suggest that blaming technology is a good excuse for our own bad behavior, of course.


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I run the ThinkLab at the University of Cambridge, and research digital habits, productivity, and wellbeing.

tyler shores cambridge

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