“Have you seen how ugly it is in his house?” “, “He is really sucked with his unreal goals”… These sweet words are taken from the WhatsApp group of Stéphane, project manager in a digital marketing company. The 28-year-old employee, who prefers to remain anonymous, created this conversation thread with four of his colleagues during the first confinement. “At first, it was to facilitate communication between us, but it quickly became a kind of outlet,” he says. Worried about the turn of the comments, he finally canceled the group with the resumption of the face-to-face in September. “The early schoolboy jokes turned into a firing squad. There was no longer any question for me of endorsing such remarks, it completely escaped me.
For François Jost, professor emeritus at the Sorbonne Nouvelle University, these behaviors are not exceptional, but they are becoming widespread with the massive use of social networks (40 million users per month for Facebook, 11 million for LinkedIn …). “People always gave their opinion, but it was more discreet when it happened around the coffee machine. The wickedness is not due to Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. She simply finds it easier to express herself there,” analyzes the semiologist, author of Mechanics in action in the digital age (CNRS Editions). Four questions to get around the question.
1/ Are we getting meaner on the networks?
The number of hate proposals on social media is on the rise. In the first quarter of 2020, Facebook deleted 9.6 million malicious messages on its platform, twice as many as in 2019 (4.1 million). “The crisis has undoubtedly amplified the phenomenon. Cut off from reality, people have formed communities on social networks to feel less alone, with a tendency to look for scapegoats,” analyzes François Jost. Critics, insults, defamation, denunciation… from the Mila affair to the hashtag “Balance ton/ta” (start-up, boss, agency…), examples abound.
As if social networks had become the loudspeaker, if not the outlet, of a society on the lookout for the slightest faux pas. “Everything is an excuse for bad buzz. A delivery man who throws a package from the window of his truck and presto, the video ends up on the Internet, the company is vilified. As soon as the mechanics are introduced, Internet users go wild and it’s who will criticize the most, ”says Nicolas Vanderbiest, Franco-Belgian expert in social networks at the firm Saper Vedere.
2/ Why do networks possess the expression of anger?
Firstly because, on many of them, anonymity is required. By hiding behind a nickname or an alternative account, everyone can play at being someone, far from the gaze of others and at a distance. “Behind their mask, individuals feel protected and forget the rules of living together. They give their opinion without restraint, think that they have the power to express themselves or to criticize with complete impunity”, continues François Jost. The viral effect comes later. According to Sherry Turkle, a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and an expert on the impact of technology on human behavior, aggression and meanness are particularly contagious emotions.
They unconsciously contaminate the sweetest of Internet users. “It is all the more true that individuals gather by centers of interest on the networks. They shut themselves up in themselves and in their community. They tend to self-radicalize and, as soon as one of them launches into a subject, it is quickly one-upmanship”, adds Nicolas Vanderbiest. A story of ego in short, but also the fear of “missing something” (the famous FOMO syndrome: Fear of Missing out). This irrepressible mechanics therefore feeds the need to participate and to be noticed, with sometimes totally inappropriate drifts.
3/ Are some networks more conflictual than others?
Each platform has its trademark: Facebook is the network of friends, Twitter that of experts (politicians, leaders, etc.), LinkedIn that of professionals and colleagues, Instagram that of teenagers… From one to the other, the atmospheres and behaviors change drastically. Twitter is increasingly seen as a repairer of “haters”, while LinkedIn has become a network of good feelings. On the latter, we courteously exchange compliments, congratulations and nice likes: “It’s normal, because on LinkedIn everyone presents themselves under their real name, with their photo, and connects with people around them, on request. to express. It is a dual relationship with more enclosing and more police mechanisms”, explains Nicolas Vanderbiest.
LinkedIn management agrees, “Content members should be professionally relevant and help nurture the community in a constructive way.” This politeness and benevolence are less present on Twitter, where the use of pseudonyms, the anonymity and the relative inertia of the platform’s moderation policy leave the door open to agitators. The network is also regularly pulled up the straps by different movements or organizations. Last summer, following the protest of associations fighting against discrimination, French justice ordered Twitter to review its means of action against hate messages.
4/ Are companies supported by this digital aggressiveness?
They do not escape it. In May 2020, Carrefour was the target of a bad buzz (or digital reputation crisis) for having sold hydroalcoholic gel normally intended for hospitals. A user had given the alert on Twitter with a photo of the bottles on the shelf. During the same period, Lidl was the victim of a leak (still on Twitter) concerning the PS4 at 95 euros in one of its new stores. The crowd was such that the brand had to postpone the opening of the point of sale and evacuate the consoles under police escort. Not very glamorous for an inauguration!
“For companies, the sources of conflict are numerous, they can come from militant groups on divisive subjects (the environment, the animal cause, equality, etc.), anonymous people, customers, competitors, but also employees. . In 2020, 6% of crises were caused by the employees themselves,” notes Nicolas Vanderbiest. Last year, three senior Ubisoft executives released their posts following employee testimonies on Twitter about harassment.
The boss of the start-up Le Slip Français was forced to apologize by press release after the broadcast of a video on Instagram showing two of his employees dressed up as African women. Even if the company had nothing to do with the case described as racist, it saw fit to react by indicating that it had sanctioned the two people in question. “These examples illustrate the unpredictable nature of these new forms of crisis of which companies are victims. None is immune to a sudden burst,” warns Nicolas Vanderbiest. Like what the networks are not so social as that!
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