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Psychology & Social Media

The internet keeps us tapped in and our lives are fuller for it. But, as we are all aware, online communication is a mixed blessing.

My kingdom for a context. Context is so critical – it can be absent from many online postings. What is the background? What happened right before that YouTube clip or what is really going on with that person? Why is there such hostility on a post comment? Further, we often lack nuance and information that clues us into intention, such as tone of voice, personality, relationship of involved parties, as well as facial expression and body language. We make instantaneous judgments – and they’re not always accurate.

Someone is being so passive aggressive right now. With the ability to vent publicly in a fast moving stream of communication, being passive aggressive just got a whole lot easier. The blurring of public and private lines complicates matters too. You’d like to vent about a coworker or about a recent conversation with a client, but the other party is following your communication, and so the message gets disguised. Sorta. Or you delude yourself into thinking that your words will propel another party into action. I have a friend who posts frequently on Facebook to her boyfriend about how she is feeling about their relationship. Only it’s not directed at him. And it’s thinly veiled. Still, something like, (and I’m making this up) “someone better clean up his act or he’s gonna get dusted” tells us everything – while accomplishing

Time is the friend. It is often said that time heals all wounds. Lack of time, in my opinion, rubs salt into them. Recently, I was part of an unfortunate public internet exchange. It was on a forum where I had a duty to address. The rapidity of the communication form created an urgency to respond. In the thick of it, I was lost on how to handle authentically and would have preferred time and space to
process and act properly. Admittedly, I still might have made similar mistakes but, with time to consider, hopefully less.

To clarify, I’ll continue. And continue. Addressing matters publicly isn’t always effective – or the best option. True, social sites make it possible to have a open discussion and valuable debate. At the same time, it encourages protracted conversation. And with character limits not all of what needs to get said gets said. Which leads to more postings, which further escalates and creates that false sense of urgency.

In my quest to be more Replicant. backspace. logical, I frequently read psychology books and articles. (I also gave an informal talk on its relation to social media recently.) There are particular issues with the online space as well as offline problems that are heightened by online communication.
This series looks at some of these in relation to social media. As well as some of the ways in which psychology proves the gains of our participation.

The series will begin April 1st.

Note: If would like to recommend articles or books, please feel free to suggest in the comments, or contact me through my blog or on Twitter.


  1. LK
    LK March 15, 2010

    Hiya Monica, There was a fantastic article about Social Media in Scientific America Mind Edition last month.
    Looking forward to your posts!

  2. Monica Hamburg
    Monica Hamburg March 15, 2010

    Thanks, LK! You know I read that and liked it – and then promptly forgot most of it. Thank you, I will be rereading it!

  3. Glenn Hilton
    Glenn Hilton March 25, 2010

    Great post Monica. Thoroughly enjoyed your presentation on psychology and social media at #VanSMP. Looking forward to your series!

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