When social media violence flows over into real life.

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Social Media Violence

The results were tragic.  One teenager killed, one injured and a 16-year-old boy charged with murder.[1]  According to police, it all started with a series of aggressive social media messages between two groups of teenagers.[2]

What is it about social media that allows violence to escalate so quickly? 

There are several factors built into how we use social media that facilitate this occurring.  One is the speed both at which interactions take place and the speed in which they can spread.  An argument which begins between two people can quickly spread to involve friends of the two people initially involved.  A practice known as flaming.

It is not just the speed at which disagreements can spread, there is also the time factor.  Online there is no natural cut off as would occur in a face-to-face interaction.  Comments, unless deleted, once posted remain in cyberspace and can be responded to at any time.  This means hostility and verbal aggression can continue to build like a cyclone.

Another factor is anonymity.  If I cannot see you, I don’t have to worry about how I look or sound when I type something and I don’t have to factor in your responses to what I have just said.  In face-to-face interactions there are subtle and sometimes not-so subtle physical and verbal responses to what we are saying that generally allows us to moderate what we are saying and its tone.  These subtle cues are not present in on-line messaging.

Consequently, the young person, particularly if it is a young male feel disrespected and angry. By the time young people do meet in person, their pre-frontal cortex is so swamped by the strong emotions of anger and feeling disrespected that rational thinking or decision making is compromised.  The consequence sadly is often violence.  Police acknowledge, social media-fuelled violence is escalating.[3]

It is important to encourage young people to balance the time they spend online with face-to-face engagement with friends in real time.  As parents, and older people in the lives of young people we need to model the importance and value of human interactions and that online connection are not the same.

It is also important to teach young people how to manage and deal with flaming and on-line arguments.  Sometimes, we do need to take a deep breath, pause and walk away before responding.


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