Ain’t Misbehaving – Or Are We? Ethics & Morality in the Age of Social Media
About this time last week, social media sites throughout the nation were aghast at a video showing teenagers taunting an elderly bus monitor to the point of tears. The video, uploaded by one of the youngsters, was downright heartbreaking to watch as the kids mercilessly made fun of the bus monitors weight, poverty and even clothing bringing her to the point of tears. Even then the tormenting didn’t end but continued for at least 10 minutes.
The story was quickly cited as evidence not only of the lack of respect among today’s younger generation but also an example of the use of social media elicits bad behavior. But within hours yet another phenomena began to make an appearance…the kindness of total strangers made possible by social media. The video had gone viral and thanks to the quick thinking of a Reddit Editor who established a fund to help send this woman on a much deserved vacation, not only was the original goal met but soon took on a life of its own as an outpouring of support replaced the original goal with that of providing a retirement fund for the aging widow. Within 2 days major television networks picked up on the story and what started as a gut-wrenching 10 minute video of merciless juvenile taunting, teasing and verbal abuse ended in a nationwide outpouring of support.
So, what is the real story? Does social media make some people act out and if so why? As a social media management firm, we have seen our fair share of good and bad behavior but it’s not as unpredictable as you might think. in fact, researchers have discovered several warning signs which can be used as early alerts to prevent bad behavior from going too far or even turn things around entirely.
Age Related Response
The question of bad versus good behavior online isn’t exactly simple but there is one common trait shared by many who misbehave online; age. More specifically, youngsters. When researchers studied kindness versus hostility on social networks, 85% of adults reported that people were “mostly kind” versus only 69% of teenagers. Of greater concern, 20% of teens rated people as “mostly Un-kind” versus only 5% of adults! Clearly, underage impressions of people and social media interaction in general is vastly different than that of adults but why?
The difference becomes immediately apparent; teenagers tend to talk about personal situations much more than adults. Getting in trouble at school or work, a personal dispute, family problems or relationship issues are all common topics among teens. Not only does this open teen social media users up to personal attacks but they are more likely in general to be the recipient of bullying, bad behavior and overt negativity. In fact, only 11% reported “Never” having been subjected to mean behavior from others online (versus nearly 30% for adults). Sadly, 12% of teens report they are “Frequently” subjected to verbal abuse online (versus only 7% of adults). Unfortunately, teenagers are often not able to properly handle this type of personal attack which may lead to additional problems, rebuttals and escalating crisis communications.
Immaturity Coping Mechanism
Not only are teenagers more likely to be subjected to bad behavior online but once attacked, they lack the maturity to handle offensive behavior in a mature manner. Instead, they tend to attack back and become more verbally abusive or act out in person at a later date. Adults have extensive practice ignoring inciting behavior as well as a natural tendency to respect different opinions; traits many teens have not yet fully developed. Additionally, many teens do not have a fully mature sense of personal responsibility for their own being much less the world around them. Take for instance the response of teenagers involved in the bus monitor situation mentioned above; no other students stood up against the verbal abuse however several others joined in apparently due to peer pressure. On the other hand, adults in the community and throughout the nation were rightfully appalled over the incident and felt the need to reach out, take personal responsibility and correct an abuse on behalf of the community at large.
What to Watch
So, what does this mean for business owners? First of all, those that work with teens or young adults should recognize the early signs of verbal abuse, negativity and personal attacks in order to intervene as soon as possible.
Second, don’t ignore the early warning signs! Instead, realize the lack of mature coping mechanism leaves many teens and/or young adults unsure of how to react or responds in a positive manner.
Third, use positive peer pressure to set an example of the proper response! Many teens want to do the right thing but don’t want to stand out from the crowd in a negative manner. By demonstrating proper behavior – online and off- teenagers have positive alternatives.
Fourth, don’t assume the problem is limited to teens and young adults. Some older people thrive on acting out online in order to get attention. Don’t engage or argue – instead, move quickly to dismiss bad behavior and point out positive alternatives instead. Illegal or dangerous attitudes should be immediately reported with the offending party removed.