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In today’s society, social media promotes inter-connectedness with our family, loved ones and friends through online platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Through these platforms, it is easy for us to find out what our loved ones are currently doing, thinking and feeling in real time. It is not uncommon to encounter angry rants on social media. Perhaps you could be guilty of ranting on social media yourself.  However, why do we rant on social media?

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a rant is:

To talk loudly and in a way that shows anger; to communicate or complain about something that is (1) loud (2) angry (3) unreasonable.

Similar to a verbal rant, a social media rant is essentially uncensored wrath often through platforms such as Instagram stories, tweets or Facebook posts. To understand why social media rants are prevalent and uncommon, here are 3 reasons why we tend to rant on social media.

Psychologist John Suler (2004) termed this the “online disinhibition effect”, which refers to the effect where people tend to loosen social restrictions and inhibition that would be present in everyday face-to-face interaction. This can be seen in the increase in self-disclosure or higher frequency and intensity in which people act out online as compared to real life. In his paper, Suler explains several factors such as anonymity and invisibility social media provides tends reduce inhibitions, since people would think that there would be little backlash for what they say.

In this article, there are 3 main reasons adapted from Suler’s “online distribution effect” on why Singaporeans rant on social media.

 

1. Dissociative Anonymity (You Don’t Know Me)

Anonymity is often preserved in social media, especially when people only know what you are willing to tell them about yourself. There are many sockpuppet accounts whereby people create an account where their online identity is used for purposes of deception.  Therefore, by being able to separate real world identity from online identity, anonymity increases disinhibition. This is because one does not have to own their behaviors by acknowledging it according to “who” they really are in real life. Social media rants allow one to act out hostile feelings, without having to responsibility for those actions.  

 

2. Invisibility (You Can’t See Me)

Since most online interactions happen virtually without having to see or meet the person, social media provides a form of protection, and keeps you from being physically seen. Therefore, it is naturally easier for someone to express his/her emptions from behind the keyboard, compared to face to face interactions since you wouldn’t have to look out for your verbal and nonverbal behaviors such as tone, body language, etc. Hence, because of the invisibility that social media provides us, there is a higher chance of social media rant – directed or in-directed at someone than actual confrontation in real life.

 

3. We’re Equals (minimizing authority)

Source: https://www.instagram.com/p/B8JCSlaFAJN/?utm_source=ig_web_button_share_sheet

Compared to a person’s status in the face-to-face world, social media allows one’s true identity to be concealed, therefore less of an impact in the real world. Whether you’re the CEO of a major corporation, or just some “ordinary” person scrolling through Facebook at home, it is hard to detect one’s status through online accounts, especially if the account is a sock puppet account. In a survey conducted by National University of Singapore, results from 2018 showed that compared to the findings in 2011, Singaporeans were less satisfied in their right for freedom of speech and the right to criticize the government (Tambyah & Tan, 2018). Therefore, as seen in the screenshot above, Singaporeans might be more daring to speak their minds towards the government on social media platforms than they would in real life. Most of these account are sock puppet accounts, hence difficult to track the person down.

In real life, people are more reluctant and hesitant to speak freely, especially through uncensored wrath to a person of authority. Through adopting an online identity, the fear of disapproval and consequences/punishments that one would face in person-to-person interaction would disappear. Hence, through social media, people perceive relationships with people of authority as a peer relationship instead – with the appearances of “authority” minimized. Therefore, people are less afraid and more willing to speak out or misbehave.

Therefore, the online disinhibition effect is powerful insofar as to analyse and understand why people on social media are emboldened to release their emotions as it is, without much adjustment when considering the consequences of one’s actions. However, is it possible that social media rants could effectively help us overcome anger, or do they bring about a negative impact on the sender? To answer this question, stay tuned! 

References

Tambyah, S.K. & Tan, S.J.. (2018). Happiness, wellbeing and society: What matters for Singaporeans. 10.4324/9781351261241.

Suler, J. (2004). The online disinhibition effect. Cyberpsychology & behavior,7(3), 321-326.

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