This is my column this week in the New Zealand Herald, which is published in the digital edition every Thursday morning Click here for the original article…
“I have a friend who posts things on Facebook they regret, often late at night, sometimes when they’ve been drinking. Why do they do this?” Via Twitter
We all have a filter in our head that stops us saying all the things we think. There are individual differences in people’s ability to filter, we all know someone who tends to say more than they should.
The filter itself is located in the part of the brain called the “pre-frontal cortex”, just above the eyebrows. Most people know alcohol tends to make all of us less likely to filter.
The thing is, social media can too.
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The tendency to say too much, or say things we’ll regret, when relating on social media has been labelled the “online dis-inhibition effect”. Essentially it means the very nature of online relating makes us less likely to filter what we say.
But why is this, and how can we avoid making a fool of ourselves on Facebook and Twitter?
When humans communicate face to face, we rely upon all the ways we signal to each other what we’re feeling and thinking as we talk. Whether it’s a tilt of the head, looking down at certain moments, how we hold ourselves, or the glisten of a tear in the eye. these micro-expressions – many of which we read unconsciously and may last a second or less – often tell us more than the words do about how our communication is being received.
All of this is missing when we tap away at a keyboard.
The feedback we get when communicating with people face to face helps us to censor ourselves from saying too much as well as saying hurtful and bullying things. It increases empathy and helps us self-monitor boundaries and limits.
Without this feedback we’re all capable of saying the wrong thing online. And it can be hard to know where that “line” is.
However if how you’re talking and responding on social media is causing you problems it may be worth trying to be less impulsive:
• Drink less. Or if you do drink shy away from the keyboard and put the phone down
• Slow down. If you do write something, make yourself walk away for five to ten minutes and re-read it before you send it
• Ask yourself if you would you say this to the person (or people) face to face?
• Scan your “friends” list. Look at the faces and think about whether you want all these people to know what you’re about to write
• Think about what you’re really wanting. Is it understanding, validation, connection, reassurance? Is there a better way to get what you need?
• Don’t be afraid to delete posts or responses. It’s OK to take it back, we do it all the time face to face
• And don’t be afraid to apologise for things you say online. If it’s really important, do it face to face