The absence of the checks found in human contact make people online more liable to bully, criticise and hurl insults at each other, a survey of 2,000 people has found.
While social media websites are increasingly becoming forums for people to stand up for what they believe in, they can often lead to regrets after pressing the “send” button too quickly, according to the research.
More than half (55 per cent) of the 2,000 people surveyed said that they felt social media had replaced face-to-face interaction, and nearly two in five (39 per cent) people said they used social media to speak up about something they felt passionate about. Of these 39 per cent, nearly half (44 per cent) believed what they said had made a difference, and led to people blogging or tweeting about the issue, or actual changes being made.
However, social media is not without its pitfalls, according to the independent research carried out on behalf of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and released today to mark Holocaust Memorial Day.
More than a quarter (26 per cent) admitted they would say, or have said, something on a social media website they would never say to someone’s face.
A quarter of those surveyed also said they had regretted putting something on a social media site. Some 44 per cent of those regretted it because what they said had been inappropriate, while 27 per cent regretted it because they thought it had upset someone.
The findings, analysed by Robin Dunbar, a professor at Magdalen College, Oxford, also revealed that online bullying was a serious problem, with more than a third (36 per cent) of respondents having witnessed, or been, a victim of online bullying.
Some 41 per cent of these people said they had intervened directly in such cases, while nearly 25 per cent of people who had witnessed such bullying said they had done nothing at all.
Prof Dunbar said: “Our research has shown that people are more prone to saying something on social media that they later regret, because in these digital environments we don’t receive the immediate checks and balances that we get during face-to-face interactions. This can therefore result in a careless or inappropriate tweet, or at worst, cyber bullying.”
The theme of this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day is “Speak up, speak out”. The Holocaust Memorial Day Trust is asking people to consider what they see and hear around them, and to use their voices to speak up against hatred and discrimination.
Yesterday, Labour MP Tom Watson had to apologise after an intern sent a message on Twitter pretending to be him. The tweet said: “I should log out of my twitter so that my intern doesn’t twit-rape me...” Shortly afterwards, the intern sent another message to say Mr Watson was in a meeting and apologising for “a terrible mistake”. The MP and Labour deputy chairman also posted an apology, adding: “A lesson learned for a young intern.”
Meanwhile, users of Facebook will have one week to clean up any embarrassing old posts or pictures before the social networking site makes the use of its new “timeline” feature compulsory. Under the old system, different pages had to be loaded, making searching an individual’s past a laborious process. However, the new timeline will easily display an individuals chronological “life” on single, ever-extending page.