The Real Cause for the Hostile Discourse on Social Media

For the most part looking into social media will reveal to you that the vast majority of people are not really all that willing to have any kind of civil discussion whatsoever. It seems that the advent of social media has allowed cultural and ideological divides to be deepened further rather than to be narrowed down, and for the most part this is attributed to individuals behaving badly online and this is actually a pretty valid reason for why such a thing might be occurring on a regular basis.

However, it is important to note that there might be another reason why discourse online tends to be so hostile and partisan, and that might have something or the other to do with the manner in which social media platforms tend to be designed in the first place. A recent study conducted by the people over at The Conversation involved a survey of around 257 social media users, and the features that they felt helped or diminished their ability to argue effectively online.

While the findings of this research should be taken with a grain of salt since the researchers received funding from Facebook, the results are nonetheless quite intriguing since they tend to implicate social media design a lot more than had previously been taken all that seriously. We will be looking at the research findings for three major platforms, namely Facebook, WhatsApp and YouTube.

Social media use and prevalence of arguing
Starting with Facebook, respondents that had taken part in an argument on the platform felt that because of the fact that their argument was on full display and had an audience of their Facebook friends and connections, they felt rather limited with regards to the things that they could actually end up saying. Also, the manner in which comments are curated and summarized in the initial view was found to be a bit of a problem since it prevented people who started engaging in the debate to obtain the fullest possible information on the subject that was being discussed at present.

This contrasts to the kind of experience that people had on WhatsApp with similar kinds of behavioral phenomena. Unlike Facebook, WhatsApp is simply a private messaging service which meant that people that wanted to debate could talk about their real beliefs without having to feel judged by a large number of people. 76% of survey respondents said that they had argued on WhatsApp in the past and this was the highest percentage seen for any of the social media platforms that respondents were given questions about.

When it comes to YouTube, however, only about 6% of respondents said that they had taken part in an argument on the video streaming platform. While YouTube’s comment moderation policies have been a bit of a mixed bag, for the most part the sheer number of comments meant that users could express themselves freely and the chances were rather low that someone or the other would see their comments let alone start an argument over them.

This shows that how social media platforms are designed greatly impacts how freely someone or the other might express their views on them.

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