We’ve all done it. We’ve all used social media to purge our negative feelings. And why wouldn’t we? It takes no more than a few minutes to spill the beans on a status update and with all the supportive messages and the “U OK hun? X” comments from friends that follow, it feels like the perfect remedy. But don’t hit the keyboard just yet, as new research from the University of California – Davis scientists suggests that the negative messages we put out on social media – even in private chats – can hurt us, and for much longer than we think. The findings were published in this month’s edition of Behavior Research Methods.
Researchers analysed hundreds of millions of messages from over 600,000 messages over a period of several months between young users playing an online game. Most of the messages used in the study came from users aged eight to 12 and the effects of the exchanges were assessed using a sentiment analysis toolkit.
The results of the study showed that negative exchanges had a lasting effect on their audiences as well as the senders. Such messages have been found to create a “ripple effect” because the negative feelings generated from them can ripple back from the audience for an average of eight minutes. They create a cycle of negativity where one negative exchange leads to more negativity that affects everyone in the exchange and continues perpetuating itself.
Although positive exchanges have been found to have a similar impact, their effects don’t last as long. The effects of positive exchanges have been found to only last an average of one minute.
The lead author of this study, Seth Frey, who an assistant professor of Communication at UC Davis says that although most messages in this study come from people younger than many social media users, older users may feel the effects of negative messages more strongly. He says that this is because older users tend to have more complex emotions and opinions – particularly on political topics – and are more computer literate.
No one’s life is all sunshine and rainbows, and while you might want to blow off some steam, have a think before choosing your Facebook page to do it. No one denies that sharing the bad and the ugly with your friends can feel cathartic and healing, but while everyone loves the occasional rant, being a bit more discerning about what you put out there isn’t such a bad idea. I’m not sure that any of us will ever be able to completely do away with ranting (whether on social media or to our friends) but maybe we can be more mindful about it.
By Tesneem Ayoub