How do Disputes Arise in Social Networking

It is a common myth that disputes arise in social networking because of the lack of human physiological referents: the raised brow, the smile, or even the look in the eye that signals a joke or sarcasm.  The reality is that an individual’s “voice” can have many indicators of intent and emotion, when people are paying attention. It is the rare case when a misread or misunderstanding actually is the true cause of an escalation into a full blown on line interpersonal dispute.

The first and most common reasons for interpersonal disputes in social networking is that the communicators simply do not like each other, or do not like what is being expressed. In the real world, there are options, on a rising scale which range from leaving the conversation to a vehement and angry dispute. In between, we have silence, polite disagreement, refusal to engage, changing the subject, and a host of physical signals of agreement or disagreement.

On line, there is the option of expressing oneself with more gusto and even vehemence than the real world may allow. There is also the option of ignoring the statement and moving on, or politely disagreeing. In some extreme cases, a politically polarized duo will engage in a lengthy and bitter dispute. Some participants thrive on testing the patience and tolerance of everyone who has to deal with them.  In other cases, there are personalities who love the art of argument for argument’s sake. They tend to tire people out with their ploys for continuing a discussion long after it is dead.

The next myth of internal disputes on line is that participants are anonymous and therefore more likely to behave aggressively or rudely. Participants are anonymous in the sense that they can conceal their real world identities, but they are far from anonymous as long term and established members in the group or the overall site. As a result, there is still some caution that is exercised by many participants to maintain a certain reputation and image in the virtual world, or an episode of bad behavior will follow them around everywhere at the site. Others simply maintain multiple personalities and use the more controversial ones to express their resentment, dislike, disagreement or anger in more forceful ways than they normally would.

Another myth is that friendships do not form on line, or that normal group behavior does not apply. The truth is that there are cliques that form at every site and in almost every group. Members of such cliques convince themselves that they have some form of ownership or higher standing at the site or in the group due to having been there from the beginning or having been there for a long time.  Other cliques form, usually under the leadership of a charismatic individual. However they form, cliques begin to demonstrate an arrogance and an inability to tolerate the complaints or inputs of newcomers, often crossing the line into vicious attacks and rude comments whenever they come across something that they do not like. This creates an atmosphere that is like group bullying or gang activity, which identifies the clique, it’s more bullying members and which eventually creates ongoing disputes.

There are also the best hustlers and grifters who lurk inside the worlds of social networking. The best of them manage to ingratiate themselves and several confederates at a site, appearing to be well established and long time members who have lots of friends. They manage to convince others that they are nice people and manage to make more friends. Then they begin to discuss their personal problems, usually involving lengthy sob stories and culminating in a successful campaign to get members to send them money. These scams and grift operations usually cause incredible battles for three reasons: the hustlers are sociopaths who cannot give up the game and stop their incessant talking; the challengers are savvy people who are a real threat to the hustlers; the rest are confused as to who is telling the truth.

Finally, there is the polarization of opinion and politics that virtually sets up forums as “either” “or” or “neither” forums, where disputes can arise based on political orientation, social standing, or even being off topic for a group that has clearly prohibited political and social discussion.  There is also polarization of personality, where the more obnoxious personalities roam the internet, defined as “trolls”. These individuals can become identified and marginalized, but who are never without supporters and friends.

In summary, richer than expected relationships develop on line, anonymity of personal information is not the same as anonymity in a site persona. As a result, the causes of on line disputes are not as limited in comparison to real world causes as expected.