Why does conflict flare up so quickly on social media compared to other forms of interpersonal communication?
Responding publically on social media platforms is easy. Easier than writing a letter, or showing up to a meeting where the target might be speaking or mingling. And I’m sure very few people agree that an online melee would have equally happened in a room, somewhere, with people around. I’ve been on social media long enough to know that the liberties people take there aren’t transferrable to a physical environment. You may snap at me in a comment, but if you meet me at a post-conference cocktail party, you’re unlikely to behave the same.
Communicating on social media is as remote and mediated an interaction as it can be. Faces (despite Facebook’s ironic branding) dissolve into pixellated avatars and personal, binding names into ‘handles’ and other cute euphemisms. It’s true, Facebook insists on keeping our own names on, but that may be more out of a concern for surveillance than a willingness to bring the platform closer to offline communication modes. The risk and consequences we usually associate with conflict tend to disappear on platforms where the worst that could happen is to get insulted or threatened in writing. As it’s not a big deal, anything goes.