Texas Standard: Online Outrage Over Racism at Fraternities

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On March 11th, 2015, I did an interview with Texas Standard on “Online outrage over racism at fraternities – how much are official responses dictated by social media?”  For some background on the story, read University of Oklahoma Expels Two Leaders for Racist Singing.

You can listen to the show at Listen: Texas Standard for March 11, 2015.

Survey: How Angry Are You Online?

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Do you ever wonder if you vent online more than others?  Do you ever ask yourself how you compare to others when it comes to sending angry emails, calling people names, or even using social networking sites as a way of getting revenge on people?  Find out by taking the Online Anger Consequences Questionnaire, where you answer just 12 questions about how you express your anger online.  We’ll give you your scores and provide you with information about how those scores compare to others who took the test.

Psychology Today: Opportunities to Feel

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tumblr_m1p3j9qln51qa5woeThis morning, before I had my first sip of coffee, I had learned the following: (1) my friends’ daughter was sick, (2) another friend, more distant, was pregnant, and (3) that legislators in my state have been embracing all sorts of policies I find harmful. That’s right, within ten minutes of waking up, Facebook had provided me with opportunities to feel sadness, joy, and anger. Contrast that with ten years ago, pre-Facebook, when I would have spent that time… staring out the window, probably. Honestly, what did I do while waiting for my coffee to brew before I had Facebook?

Read at Psychology Today

Invisibilia: Our Computers, Ourselves

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On February 13, 2015, my work was discussed on Invisibilia, a podcast on NPR that “explores the intangible forces that shape human behavior – things like ideas, beliefs, assumptions and emotions.”

The episode, Our Computers, Ourselves, asks “are computers changing human character? Is our closeness with computers changing us as a species?”  It can be heard here: http://www.npr.org/player/v2/mediaPlayer.html?action=1&t=3&islist=true&id=64&d=02-13-2015

 

Understanding the “Drive-By Nasty”

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Last week, I did an interview with Christopher Gabriel on WDAY about online anger (you can hear it here). He asked me, specifically, about some angry tweets that he labeled “drive-by nasties.” These are tweets or Facebook posts where the author doesn’t attempt to have a dialogue or any sort of civil discourse but, rather, just says something cruel or hurtful and disappears.

I took a look today and found a couple of examples (I didn’t have to look very hard).

A tweet about the economy from President Obama was met with this.

Tweet1

A Guardian Facebook post about Hillary Clinton was met with this (note how many times it was “liked” as well).

Facebook1

A Huffington Post Facebook post about Washington state’s new marijuana law that says that you can’t sell anything that may appeal strongly to kids was met with this.

Facebook2

And even a Huffington Post Facebook post with cute pictures of dogs and babies was met with this.

Facebook3

I’ve addressed online anger plenty here but these are particularly interesting because the authors don’t seem to want to have a discussion. In many cases, people responded to these posts but the authors didn’t respond back. It’s not that they were trying to start a fight, necessarily. It’s more that they just want to unload without having to deal with the consequences.

So what are these drive-bys all about?

It seems like there are a couple of thing going on. Obviously, we have people who are angry, judgmental, and disproving. They are upset about something and they want to let the world know about it. That’s actually a lot of people, though, and most of us don’t take to Twitter or Facebook to tell people off and then run away from the conflict that follows. What really stands out here is that they don’t want to be challenged in response. They want to be heard but they don’t want to listen.

I can’t help but wonder if at the root of these is a lack of confidence. They have strong beliefs but don’t really feel comfortable in defending those beliefs. People who feel secure in their positions are willing to stick around and discuss them. It’s likely insecurity that drives people away from the post-comment argument.

It’s unfortunate because social networking provides such great potential to have real conversations about complex issues. It could be (and is) used to bring smart people together from across the globe to discuss and solve problems. We can’t do that, though, if people continue to use it as dumping ground for their disapproval and frustration.

Interactive Infographic: Five Facts About Anger on Twitter

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Does it ever feel like there’s a little too much anger on Twitter.  If so, you’re not just too sensitive.  In fact, you may just be perceptive, as almost half of twitter users say they tweet “often” as a way of dealing with their anger and a lot of them hope the people they’re mad at will see it.

See the interactive infographic here for more information about how people use twitter to deal with their anger.

Fivefacts

Mob Creation

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In the interest of full disclosure, I want to start by saying I have no strong feelings about Duck Dynasty as a show.  Until about three weeks ago, I barely knew what it was.  And now that I do, I still don’t really have any strong feelings other than that Phil Robertson is quite the bigot and appears to have some ridiculous opinions about a great many things.

I do, however, have strong feelings about the online mob that was created in response to his suspension.  As an anger researcher who is particularly interested in the way people express their rage online, I watched with fascination as an angry, online mob gathered their pitchforks  and went after A&E, non-Christians, and liberals.

I watched as Twitter erupted with angry tweets from Duck Dynasty fans.  I watched people I’m friends with on Facebook, who almost never post anything, post article after article in defense of Phil Robertson.

It quickly became about much more than whether or not the show would air or whether or not his comments were appropriate. In reading through the tweets, it was clear that to his fans his suspension was an attack on hunters, the first amendment, and all Christians everywhere.

These memes flooded Twitter in the days after his suspension:

One could, of course, go through and pick these apart, as they all defy basic common sense.  Had liberals really been defending Miley Cyrus?  And were liberals the ones who suspended Robertson?   When were his constitutional rights violated, when did this become about Islam, and are you really comparing the Robertsons to the apostles?

Some of this can be explained by basic social psychology.  When members of any group (in this case, hunters, Christians, conservatives, etc.) feel attacked, they tend to lash out at the perceived attackers.  In this case, the perceived attackers were liberals, A&E and the rest of the media, non-hunters, and non-Christians.  Robertson’s supporters circled the wagons and responded the way groups that feel threatened often do.

But some of this was manufactured and that’s the part that concerns me most.  In the days after Robertson’s comments, the following was said by various Republican leaders across the country:

Former Vice-Presidential Nominee Sarah Palin (December 18th, 2013, via Facebook): “Free speech is an endangered species. Those ‘intolerants’ hatin and taking on the Duck Dynasty patriarch for voicing his personal opinion are taking on all of us.”

Governor Bobby Jindal (December 19th, 2013, via a statement released by his office): “I remember when TV networks believed in the First Amendment. It is a messed up situation when Miley Cyrus gets a laugh, and Phil Robertson gets suspended.”

Senator Ted Cruz (December 19th, 2013, via Twitter): “If you believe in free speech or religious liberty, you should be deeply dismayed over treatment of Phil Robertson”

So we have three (and there have been many others) prominent conservatives who are actively working to fuel the fire.  That alone isn’t a problem.  Politicians often try to drum up anger as a way of gaining support (here’s why, by the way).  What is a problem, though, is that they are lying to their followers as they do it.  Robertson’s first amendment rights were absolutely not violated in any way and Palin, Jindal, and Cruz must know that (see here for an explanation of how free speech doesn’t guarantee you a TV show).  I supposed it’s possible their understanding of the first amendment is so limited that they actually think this is a violation of Robertson’s first amendment rights.  But I doubt it.  Their position on this is actually inconsistent with the corporate-personhood cause they have been championing these last years (i.e., if corporations have rights, why doesn’t A&E have the right to suspend an employee for voicing something that may damage the company image).

What’s more likely is that Palin, Jindal, and Cruz knew their supporters would have a knee-jerk reaction to the idea that liberals were attacking the constitution and they deliberately lied to them in order to feed the rage and create a mob.

Such behavior is shameful and dangerous.  To that point, on December 20th, A&E had to increase security at their headquarters due to death threats and “suspicious looking packages” in response to the Robertson suspension.  It’s not fair to suggest a direct link between their comments and these death threats, but it is fair to say that their dishonest comments escalated an already emotionally charged situation.  There are consequences to mob creation.

I’m not asking them to keep quiet.  They have every right to express their opinions on this and anything else.  I’m just asking them to be honest as they do it.  I’m asking them to recognize the responsibility that comes with having so many supporters and not to fan the flames of the online mob with their dishonest rhetoric.

By Ryan C. Martin

Responding to the Angry Email: A Follow-Up

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Last June, I posted on article titled, Avoiding the Angry Email, directed at students who get frustrated with their instructors and respond with angry emails. You can read it here but, basically, it offered an explanation for how email tends to exacerbate problematic expressions of anger and offered tips on how to better handle such situations.

Like many of my posts, I decided to write it based partially on personal experiences. I had been teaching a couple of online classes that summer and had gotten a few angry emails from students who were upset about grades, policies, etc. The topic had been on my mind and, after talking with some colleagues with similar experiences, I decided to write the post. My hope was that it would be a helpful resource for instructors who wanted to share it with their students.

Interestingly, one of my students who I had had a very minor disagreement with over email read it and posted about it the online discussion forum for a class of mine that he was enrolled in. He wanted to know if he had been the motivation for the post and also wanted to express his regret over the original dispute.

Though he had not been the primary motivator for the original post, it did provide the opportunity to get feedback from the students in my class about how they would like instructors to respond when such situations arise.

Here is what they came up with:

  1. Call them on it. They said they do not think students intend on being rude most of the time and probably do not realize how they are coming across. Having an instructor let them know that their email came across as rude is good feedback for them and will help them develop better insight and learn to communicate more effectively in the future.
  2. Acknowledge that they care. One pointed out that a student has to care about the class and his or her grade in order to get angry over it. While the way they expressed it is not a good thing, the fact that they are angry probably is a good thing and it is nice for them to have that acknowledge. Something like and instructor writing, “I can see that this is important to you” or “I appreciate that you care about how you do in the class” can go a long way.
  3. Model politeness and professionalism in response. They felt that one of the best ways to let students know what is expected of them is to model it for them. Make sure your emails to them, whether it is in response to a rude email or not, reflects the courteousness and respectfulness you want them to show.
  4. Invite them to talk about it in person. They acknowledged that sometimes they are intimidated by their instructors and choose email as an easy way out. Having their instructor invite them to talk about the issue in person might open the door to healthier communication.
  5. Do not withhold assistance. One student who had experienced an email dispute with an instructor said that they appreciated that the instructor still addressed the original problem that prompted the angry email in the first place.
  6. Set the expectations ahead of time. They said that part of the problem is that students don’t always realize what their instructors want from them with regard to electronic communication and said they appreciate it when those norms are made clear at beginning of class.