Social networkers are usually quite nice people; they are, after all, social. Even though in the corners of Facebook or the alcoves of Twitter you’ll come across a nasty piece of work, generally the vast majority of people you meet online are easy to get on with.
One of the features of crowds is anger and violence; put loads of people together in one place and arguments soon break out, sometimes leading to violence. Football stadiums are not the only place to have witnessed the crowd effect. You see it at public demonstrations, for instance, and even recently at an Oasis concert. Wherever large crowds of people gather there is always the potential for discord.
So why is there so much comparative harmony on social networking sites? True you see the occasional disagreement or discussion. True you see the nasty comment from time to time. But the level of conflict is much lower than you might expect for such a large group of people all thrown together. So what is happening?
You need to go back to a pivotal psychological study which was performed at the end of the 1980s – before the Internet was born and before the inventor of Facebook had even started school. This research was conducted in Louisiana and looked at why some business teams were often in conflict, whereas others seemed more harmonious. What they found was the fact that when there was conflict it was always associated with a lack of social ties. The people in conflict groups were often comparatively isolated.
However, the harmonious groups were those with plenty of strong social ties. In essence, the people who had good strong networks of friends and colleagues tended to be the people who got along with others more easily. Whereas the people who had few social ties, were the ones who ended up in arguments.
If a business needed a reason to consider using Facebook or Twitter it is this; by doing so they are likely to increase harmony within their staff and reduce the potential for conflict. Letting staff grow their online contacts, friends or followers contributes to the potential for reduced argument in the office. Even if the online activity does nothing from a marketing perspective, it could do wonders for productivity.
The fact that so many people who use social networks have extensive lists of friends, followers and contacts is the reason why there is an apparent outbreak of harmony online. Merely having a large network of social contacts is enough to make you into a really easy-to-get-on-with person.
And those people who make all the nasty comments? Well they probably don’t have many friends, which is why they are so argumentative. And after their comments, they probably won’t get many more friends either, making them even more troublesome for the rest of us…!
Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist who studies the way people use the online world, in particular how people engage with businesses. He uses this knowledge to help companies improve their online connections to their customers and potential customers and offers consultancy, workshops, masterclasses and webinars. He also speaks regularly at conferences and business events. Graham is an award-winning writer and the author of 32 books, several of which are about various aspects of the Internet. For more information connect with me on Google+