People Aren’t Just People

By On 12, Dec, 2008 |  In: Social Media Marketing | Tags: , ,  | 3

I was reading a blog post written by ‘smoothspan’ called Social Media: The New is the Old, People are People. This post talks about if you have a new piece of social media technology that you find might appear alien, he says compare how it would work in the real world. He says that “There is a real world analog for most any Social Media”. ‘Smoothspan’ backs up his arguments with blog post, Twitter accounts, forums, and groups. He says that although twitters 140 characters might seem weird, if we were to have a real conversation in real-life, then we would probably not go over 140 characters because other people would be talking back and forth. Blogs allow for comments at the bottom, and forums and groups allows for similar discussions. He likens them to group talks where you can comment after the person has spoken. He says that although social media changes things a little, people are still people and they interact in much the same way. However, although he brings up good points, I have to admit that I rather disagree with ‘smoothspan’ on his argument.

For a while now I have been reading up on the psychology of cyberspace. Conversations that occur through social media, however similar they appear to real life conversations, are not. The online disinhibition effect plays a major role in how humans interact with the Internet. There are several points to the disinhibition effect, such as dissociative anonymity (you don’t know me) and invisibility (you can’t see me) that affect how we interact with each other on the Internet. It is well known that people say and do things online that they would normally not face-to-face. Time is a huge factor that needs to be taken into consideration. Face-to-face, people have to react and act on the spot whereas online, responding to a person can be delayed and thought out well before a response is actually sent. A person’s personality and the mood that they are in at a particular moment will also hinder how the person behaves and reacts online. Shy people, tend to feel safe and secure behind a computer and thus interact differently with people online as opposed to people offline. The Internet is not actually a space at all, but a made-up world we created.

Interacting with the Internet does mimic to a certain degree how we interact in real-life, only because as humans we know no other way. However, disinhibition factors play a huge role in the way in which we communicate online. So to say people are people and interact in the same way is a bit of an over statement. I asked my Twitter followers what they thought and here are the responses I got.

@Xgalien: on the internet people are more spontaneous, less inhibited, you see more of the inside of them…

@anthonyidem: Geez, I hope not..

@chapin55 My interest is personality. Schizoids and introverts are much more outgoing online. I’ve heard some freaky things regarding online experiences.

I will be discussing more on this later next week.

3 comments on “People Aren’t Just People

  • You’re right about the inhibition, but what do you want to do about it?

    My advice that people are people still holds. Disinhibition, as you call it, gets more people into trouble than anything. If those overly dis-inhibited people had taken my advice and thought about the Internet as being equivalent to a conversation, they would’ve avoided posting that seriously career-limiting memo.

    Companies, moreover, would be even more advised to treat their online social interactions in this way. You’re writing about marketing solutions on this blog. Would you advise your marketers to act without inhibition, or to treat people as people no matter the medium? Put another way, what do you think Seth Godin would do?

    The disinhibition comes about when people allow themselves to forget that there is a person at the other end of whatever artificial meeting they’re communicating with, and it is often a mistake to allow yourself to go too far down that path.

  • Thanks Bob, you do have an extremely valid point and I do believe Seth Godin would agree with you too. Although I agree with what you say, I think that it is just the surface.

    My view is I would tell companies to be conscientious of their social media approach. Of course it is only ethical for companies to treat ‘online’ people the same as they do ‘offline’ people, however for a company to understand the online disinhibition effect can be helpful. To some of us, this might seem obvious however, to others it might not.

    In online communication you do not have visual or auditory cues that we have in real life. In person, we can see facial expressions, body language, and hear the tone of the persons voice. You can say the exact same phrase so many different ways in person, yet barely detect the difference in written form. How a person interprets a message depends solely on how THEY read it and wish to interpret it. Factors ranging from how you grew up, to your personality, to the mood you are in at the moment of reading the message will affect how you react back. We all know how conversations or arguments online can get heated and misinterpreted fairly quickly, where as they might not have in person.

    The point to take away is that online communication has a lot more confounding variables that affect how we communicate. Sure the fundamentals are still there; yes it is a conversation, however, there is a bit more to it.

    For example: A person writes an email with the intent of being kind and sweet, yet their reader thought they came across as condescending. Who’s fault is it? Neither.

    I would agree with you and say be careful you don’t go too deep down the rabbit hole, however, it can benefit companies to keep this information in mind.

    I will be writing a blog tomorrow about online conflict resolution for conversations that do go a bit sticky.

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