TECH
12/03/2015 14:52 GMT | Updated 12/03/2015 14:59 GMT

Social Media 'Road Rage' Is Very Real

Social media "Road rage" on Facebook and Twitter is now affecting so many Britons that some experts are even classing it as a syndrome.

A survey of 1,000 social network users in the UK found that more than four out of five (84%), admitted they become more easily exasperated, annoyed and enraged at others when online than they would in person.

Thirty-five per cent said they had posted a reply, comment or tweet in anger that they later regretted. Online journal site Pencourage, which commissioned the survey said the result didn't surprise them.

computer anger

"The concept of 'Road Rage' on the superhighway hardly comes as a shock to us. What is surprising however, is that most social networks are putting young people in the driver's seat - then abdicating any responsibility for tough policing," said the site's founder Peter Clayton. Pencourage is known as the "anti-Facebook" for its tradition of truth telling and rewards for positive feedback.

"Social media can be like a high octane drug that fuels less than stellar behaviour, we see it every day. On the one hand you have the invulnerability of no direct human contact, the equivalent of flipping the finger to another driver, on the other, being on the receiving end of this new social norm of aggressive behaviour. It polarises how the average person normally reacts, exaggerating the way people would interact in real life."

The news comes in the wake of a new TV advertising campaign from Facebook, the world's largest social network with more than 1.3 billion users, where the ability to make new connections is celebrated. Clinical psychologist Dr Richard Sherry said that the distance from others makes social media users feel more entitled to get angry.

"The mission of the world's biggest social media site may well be to make us 'more open and connected', yet somehow this is not working in the way it is supposed to," he said.

"This research shows that, if anything, the online space seems to be robbing us of some of the most fundamental aspects of our humanity. When using these sites, people are less likely to feel empathy, patience or compassion towards others; they are significantly quicker to judge and more dangerously reactive in their anger than they ever would be in a real life situation.

"Traditional road rage involves a strong sense of entitlement, which triggers a heightened sense of anger or rage at feeling wronged, for example, if someone cuts one off. The self-centred sense of power - the street is somehow an extension of 'our space', and we are safely protected by the anonymity of our vehicle - makes it seem our 'right' to act out. And just like on the internet, we don't see up close the faces or reactions of other drivers.

"This is why we can become so emotionally reactive when behind the wheel, for example making a rude gesture or swearing, when we would rarely do this face-to-face. These aggressive outbursts; whether resulting from being cut off at a junction or being confronted with an online status that somehow seems to directly rile us; tend to be grossly out of proportion with the situation - we overpersonalise a perceived slight, react impulsively and later might feel remorse or embarrassment."

Dr Sherry also referenced research from the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA) in 2014 that found that the ability to develop social skills, form relationships and identify emotions was hindered by the use of social media.

"We know that people with a close network of (real) friends live longer, have healthier brains, survive disease better, and get less colds. Clearly, social media isn't going anywhere but what we need is to make sure we have a minimum, prescribed amount of face-to-face, eye-to-eye, real life contact to avoid detachment, isolation and prevent hurtful online 'road rage'."

He added; "This is what in health terms is called a 'behavioural vaccine' - the more human contact we have offline, the healthier we can be online."

"Facebook recently changed its term 'user' to 'person' - quite frankly, they should also reconsider their use of the word 'friend'. The connections might be links or acquaintances; but if the attributes of authentic friendship need to include affection, sympathy, honesty, compassion, trust, the ability to be and express oneself without fear of judgment, I would say that many online communities seem to foster the exact opposite."

Of those questioned in the survey, 47% said they were less tolerant online. In 2014, two people were jailed for sending Twitter abuse to campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez after she led an online campaign for a female figure to appear on a Bank of England note.