Antisocial Networks? Hostility on social media rising for 78 percent of users

Antisocial Networks Study Infographic

April 10, 2013—Provo, UT—Social networks are becoming increasingly hostile, with 78 percent of users reporting rising incivility online and 2 in 5 blocking, unsubscribing or “unfriending” someone over an argument on social media, according to new research from the authors of the New York Times best-seller Crucial Conversations.

The online survey of 2,698 respondents suggests contentious conversations that begin online tend to spill over into real life. The study also indicates that people are generally less polite and tensions often go unresolved on social media. Specific findings include:

  • 76 percent have witnessed an argument over social media
  • 19 percent have decreased in-person contact with someone because of something they said online
  • 88 percent believe people are less polite on social media than in person
  • 81 percent say the difficult or emotionally charged conversations they have held over social media remain unresolved

One of the survey respondents, Laura M., is still reeling from a family rift that began in cyberspace. It started innocently enough—her brother posted an embarrassing picture of her sister who asked him to remove it. A full-scale family brouhaha resulted when he not only refused to remove the photo, but instead blasted it out to his entire contact list. Ultimately, Laura’s brother unfriended all of his siblings and has denied in-person contact with them for the past two years and counting.

Another respondent, Laura J., has seen the ripple effects of social media at work. A frustrated co-worker posted a message about wanting to “handle co-workers like we did in the old days,” followed by some descriptive and violent detail. The atmosphere in the office has been tense ever since the post was made a year ago. Ultimately, employees unfriended their colleague and avoid her in the office “for fear she’ll come after [us].”

Joseph Grenny, co-author of Crucial Conversations, says these tensions arise and go unresolved in part because online conversations provide a unique set of challenges that are seldom taken into consideration when people begin typing their frustrations.

“Social media platforms allow us to connect with others and strengthen relationships in ways that weren’t possible before. Sadly, they have also become the default forums for holding high-stakes conversations, blasting polarizing opinions and making statements with little regard for those within screen shot,” says Grenny. “We struggle to speak candidly and respectfully in person, let alone through a forum that allows no immediate feedback or the opportunity to see how our words will affect others.”

And as the research indicates, younger people are four times more likely than Baby Boomers to prefer having these emotionally charged conversations over social media, so the need to learn to effectively communicate online is increasing.

“Social media platforms aren’t the problem, it’s how people are using them that is causing a degradation of dialogue that has potential to destroy our most meaningful personal relationships,” says Grenny.

Grenny offers tips for communicating both candidly and respectfully on social media:

  1. Check your motives. Social media hasn’t only changed the way we communicate, it has modified our motives. Ask yourself, “Is my goal to get lots of ‘likes’ (or even provoke controversy)?” or “Do I want healthy dialogue?”
  2. Replace hot words. If your goal is to make a point rather than score a point, replace “hot” words that provoke offense with words that help others understand your position. For example, replace “that is idiotic” with “I disagree for the following reasons…”
  3. Pause to put emotions in check. Never post a comment when you’re feeling emotionally triggered. Never! If you wait four hours you’re likely to respond differently.
  4. Agree before you disagree. It’s fine to disagree, but don’t point out your disagreement until you acknowledge areas where you agree. Often, arguers agree on 80 percent of the topic but create a false sense of conflict when they spend all their time arguing over the other 20 percent.
  5. Trust your gut. When reading a response to your post and you feel the conversation is getting too emotional for an online exchange—you’re right! Stop. Take it offline. Or better yet, face-to-face.

About VitalSmarts: An innovator in corporate training and organizational performance, VitalSmarts is home to multiple training offerings, including the award-winning Crucial Conversations®, Crucial Confrontations®, Influencer®, and Change Anything™ Training. Each course improves key organizational outcomes by focusing on high-leverage skills and behavior-change strategies. The Company also has four New York Times best-selling books: Crucial Conversations, Crucial Confrontations, Influencer, and Change Anything. VitalSmarts has consulted with more than 300 of the Fortune 500 companies, trained more than 900,000 people worldwide and been named by Inc. magazine as one of the fastest-growing companies in America for eight consecutive years.

Note to editor: Author Joseph Grenny is available for interviews. Copies of Crucial Conversations are available upon request.

About the research: The study collected responses via an online survey tool from 2,698 individuals in February of 2013. Margin of error is approximately 2 percent.

CONTACT: Laura Potter of VitalSmarts, L.C. +1-801-510-7590, or