Come on, admit it, you have “googled” yourself haven’t you? You just wanted to find out were you top of the list and also to take a sneaky peek at what other people might be saying about you. And when you log onto Facebook, I bet you check out who tagged you. After all, you want them to say something nice, don’t you? And as for Twitter, there’s a chance you check your “@mentions” stream pretty regularly, just in case someone has said something nasty about you.
This isn’t really paranoia, of course, but it runs close. Paranoia is an anxiety-induced condition where individuals believe irrationally that other people represent some kind of threat to them. It is the classic “they are out to get me” syndrome.
Nowadays, though, it can be much easier to think this, what with all the chatter about each other on social networks. Plus, with the huge competition for search engine ranking it can sometimes seem like other website owners are conspiring to keep you off that front page of Google.
Perhaps, though, we can worry too much. Indeed, new research from London Business School shows that when we worry that we are being gossiped about we end up being gossiped about as a direct result of our worry. It seems that when we suspect or fear people are “out to get us” we then start behaving in such ways that makes them end up talking about us, even if they weren’t in the first place.
Online this can easily be seen on Twitter and on other social networks. Someone worries that others are “out to get them” and they start commenting on their feeds or Tweets, serving to sometimes annoy the hapless recipient of such feedback. This then makes them negative towards the individual who then has “evidence” that the person was ought to get them in the first place.
And it is not just on Twitter that you can see the problem. It’s there on Google too. Someone thinks that other firms are conspiring in some kind of way to stop their website from appearing on the front page. So, the “aggrieved” individual undertakes underhand search engine optimization techniques to “defeat them”. They succeed for a day or two, but Google soon notices the tricks being played, demoting the site completely. That in itself is enough then to “prove” that the conspiracy was taking place.
However, if the black hat techniques had not been attempted, Google may well have promoted the “victimised” site. Equally, if the Tweets or Facebook comments from an individual hadn’t happened, the “counter attack” would also not have taken place. In other words, online – rather like the office politics study from the London Business School – is a fertile ground for creating people “out to get you” as a result of your own behaviour.
So what can you do about it? Well, if you feel people are out to get you then you need to develop a thick skin and make the assumption they are not doing so. Paranoid feelings often disappear when you follow the advice for dealing with depression and anxiety – plenty of regular exercise, fresh air, balanced diet. So, one of the reasons why some people might be somewhat paranoid online is simply because they are spending too much time in front of their screens. So, come on, get up, go for a walk; it will do you good.
- Twitter in account suspension row (bbc.co.uk)
- Paranoia or intutition? (theramblingsoffightingcal.wordpress.com)
- Blogger Paranoia and Gratitude. (raemegoneinsane.wordpress.com)
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+