We are not made for online praise and blame

We are not made for online praise and blame September 19, 2018

Social media is the caldron of praise and blame. Yet, honor and shame are social concepts originating from the interaction between people. What happens when human relationships move online?

How does the web affect our response to praise and shame?

In Terri Apter’s recent bookPassing Judgment: Praise and Blame in Everyday Life, she explores this and other interesting issues (such as the place of praise and blame in romantic relationships.)

Building on her work, a recent article asks, “Why we can’t handle online criticism?” Apter

stresses that “we never really don’t care at all what people think”—even if we might pretend otherwise…“You only have to see how damaged people are when they’re subjected to repeated denigration and shame,” she says. “It’s very hard for them to live without some kind of praise.”

This is something I’m keen to ask her about: after all, if what she says is true and we can’t turn off our need to monitor what people think about us, then surely the cacophony of something like Twitter is bound to be exhausting, if not outright damaging?

“People” don’t write posts

With the built-in need to acceptance (and therefore sensitivity to praise and blame), the web creates a distorted social environment.

For Apter, it’s the hollowness of social media—rather than the volume of information it gives us—that makes it particularly risky: “The trouble is, posts aren’t actually from what we think of as ‘people.’”

That means that we’re less likely to be able to tell whether praise, or blame, that we receive online is legitimate, because we don’t know whether to trust the source.

It’s also certainly true that we’re more likely to remember the one nasty comment someone has made than potentially dozens of supportive ones….

Add to this the unreliability of social media, and you have a toxic combination. Like many people with a small public profile, I’ve had difficulty dealing with more mean-spirited criticism—particularly criticism which I think misinterprets what I’ve said, or what kind of person I am….

Again, she says, “You don’t have the face-to-face, voice-to-voice interaction. All the ways we have developed very subtle cues for monitoring other people’s judgement don’t work on social media, because it’s just a post.”

Strangely, problems arise when we think of online-people as though they are in-person-people. In a way, this makes sense given the fact humans are made for face t0 face interaction.

I suspect Apter’s observations only scratch the surface of this issue. What other implications do you see for relationships, for ministry, or any number of social problems?


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