Associate Professor Pavel Afanasyev talks about social networks, internet freedom and black PR.
The age of Internet communication comes with its own set of problems – one of them is unmotivated bullying and harassment on the web.
One of Tatarstani bloggers recently made a scandalous post on Instagram where he basically condoned the Orlando shooting of June 12th. The post was met with a wave of indignation across Russia and even some other countries. Where do such acts come from?
- Dr. Afanasyev, what do you think is the main reason for such aggressive outbursts on social networks? Why do people vent on the Internet specifically?
- Not only social networks. Judging by recent poll results, there is a trend for a more pessimistic approach to things in our country. People see events in a negative light. Usually people want to find a culprit, someone who is responsible for everything that is bad. The reason is readily found in the outside world – something that helps people to maintain a good opinion of themselves. So it's easy to project aggression on someone who is different. On the web this generally comes to aggressive comments eliciting appropriately aggressive reactions.
- Is this rooted in some recent events or just a general tendency?
- There is no definitive answer, but I can suppose that economic and social instability can cause aggression spikes. The state of uncertainty and ambiguity can lead to tension and different reactions. The inability to control events – which is natural because not everything depends on us – increases internal tension and leads to emotional breakdowns.
- How can one cope with this?
- There are almost none socially acceptable ways to fight this. Most of the time a person must keep his aggression to himself/herself. If they don't channel it in due time they can eventually come to a nervous disease. Internet is a new way to deal with negative feelings. People consider it to be the safest outlet. Unfortunately, that's not always true. Internet is a public space, and comments on social networks are actually open communication, not a private dialog. Comments can be seen by a number of people, some of whom are not indifferent to what you say. There is a silver lining, though – if something turns out to be inflammatory, it's a signal that this particular problem is pertinent for the society.
- Some people on social media actually think that the Orlando shooter was justified in his actions. Do you think there is even a place for discussion here, psychology-wise?
- One of the often encountered mistakes that we do is not separating people from their actions. Actions can be the same, but motivation is different. So it's hard to judge a particular individual without knowing their motivation. Our inner worlds are controversial and full of paradoxes. Guilt or shame are examples of such controversial feelings – one continues to do something even though they know it's actually reprehensible. Rationalizing one's mistakes opens a way to mending things. So a human's action is not equal to a human as a whole.
- So what can you say about that particular blogger's action?
- With the advent of Internet many people use the new simplified communication means to assert themselves. The more noticeable are your activities on forums and social media, the more there is the chance of being heard and remembered for some time. I think that is one of the main motivations for social media publications.