“Have you seen how ugly it is at home?”, “It really sucks with its unrealistic goals” … These sweet words were taken from Stephane’s WhatsApp group, a project manager at a digital marketing company. The 28-year-old employee, who wishes to remain anonymous, made this thread of conversation with four of his colleagues during the first closure. “In the beginning, it was supposed to facilitate communication between us, but it quickly became a kind of way out,” he says. Worried about diverting comments, he finally canceled the group with a sequel face-to-face in September. “School jokes turned into a firing squad from the beginning. For me, the question of accepting such remarks was no longer raised, I completely missed it.
For François Josta, professor emeritus at the Sorbonne Nouvelle University, these behaviors are not exceptional, but are becoming widespread with the mass 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 evil is not because of Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. It is simply easier to express oneself there “, analyzes the semiologist, the author of the book Evil at work in the digital age (CNRS editions). Four questions to get around the question.
1 / Are we getting worse on the networks?
The number of hate speech on social networks 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 intensified this phenomenon. Cut off from reality, people have formed communities on social media to feel less alone, with a tendency to look for scapegoats, ”analyzes François Jost. Criticism, insults, slander, denunciations … from the Mila affair to the hashtag “Balance ton / ta” (start-up, boss, agency…), there are plenty of examples.
It is as if social networks have become a speaker, if not a way out, of societies looking for the slightest failures. “Everything is an excuse for bad buzzing. A delivery man who throws a package from the window of his truck and the throne, the recording ends up on the Internet, the company is slandered. As soon as the mechanics start, Internet users are released and they will criticize it the most “, notes Nicolas Vanderbiest, a French-Belgian social media expert at Saper Vedere.
2 / Why do networks promote anger expression?
First, because many of them need anonymity. By hiding behind a nickname or alternative account, anyone can play to be someone, away from the eyes of others and at a distance. “Behind their mask, individuals feel protected and forget the rules of living together. They give their opinion without restrictions, they think they have the power to express themselves or 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 unknowingly contaminate the sweetest internet users. “It is all the more accurate that individuals gather in centers of interest on networks. They shut themselves in and into their community. They are prone to self-radicalization and, as soon as one of them gets involved in the topic, it is quickly an advantage “, adds Nicolas Vanderbiest. In short, it is a story about the ego, but also about the fear of “missing something” (the famous FOMO syndrome: Fear of missing out). This unstoppable mechanism therefore encourages the need to participate and be noticed, with sometimes completely inappropriate shifts.
3 / Are some networks more conflicting than others?
Each platform has its own trademark: Facebook is a network of friends, Twitter a network of experts (politicians, leaders …), LinkedIn professionals and colleagues, Instagram teenagers … From one to another, the atmosphere and behavior change drastically. Twitter is increasingly perceived as a landing place for “haters”, while LinkedIn has turned into a network of good feelings. On the latter, we kindly exchange compliments, congratulations and nice likes: “This is normal, because on LinkedIn everyone presents themselves under their real name, their photo and connects with the people around them, on request. express. It’s a double relationship with more closed and smoother mechanisms, ”explains Nicolas Vanderbiest.
LinkedIn’s management agrees: “Content contributed by members should be professionally relevant and help nurture the community in a constructive way.” open doors to agitators. The network is also regularly pulled by various movements or organizations. Last summer, following protests by anti-discrimination associations, the French judiciary ordered Twitter to reconsider its means of acting against hate messages.
4 / Are companies affected by this digital aggression?
They don’t get away with it. In May 2020, Carrefour was the target of bad noise (or a crisis of digital reputation) because it sold a hydroalcohol gel that was otherwise intended for hospitals. The user gave a warning on Twitter with a photo of the bottle on the shelf. During the same period, Lidl was the victim of a leak (still on Twitter) regarding the PS4 at a price of 95 euros in one of its new stores. The crowd was so big that the brand had to postpone the opening of the point of sale and evacuate the consoles under police escort. Not very glamorous for the inauguration!
“For companies, the sources of conflict are numerous, they can come from militant groups on topics that are divided (environment, life, equality, etc.), anonymous people, customers, competitors, but also employees. . In 2020, 6% of the crisis was caused by the employees themselves “, notes Nicolas Vanderbiest. Last year, three senior Ubisoft executives resigned after employees testified on Twitter about the harassment.
Start-up boss Le Slip Français was forced to apologize in a press release after a video was posted on Instagram showing two of his employees dressed as African women. Even if the company had nothing to do with the case described as racist, it considered it appropriate to react by indicating that it had sanctioned the two persons in question. “These examples illustrate the unpredictable nature of these new forms of crisis whose companies are victims. “No one is immune to a sudden blow,” warns Nicolas Vanderbiest. As networks are not so social!
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