De-escalating Social Media
Designing humility and forgiveness into social media products
Social media has a conflict problem.
Spending even a few minutes on public social media can expose us to dozens of people we know little about, talking about things we know little about. In such a public place, any individual’s reputation, perspectives, and history are difficult to ascertain, and therefore their words must be taken at face value. Coupled with an almost complete lack of standards for participation in the community and a high degree of variance in knowledge among participants, and the environment naturally skews toward conflict and tribalism.
One particular effect of this environment is that small misunderstandings, mistakes, or disagreements can unexpectedly explode due to the public nature of discourse and assumptions of bad faith. Meanwhile, very few tools exist to moderate these effects.
This is why it’s my belief that as designed today, social media is out of balance. It is far easier to escalate than it is to de-escalate, and this is a major problem that companies like Twitter and Facebook need to address.
This got me thinking about what particular use cases need de-escalation, and whether there’s something simple we can do to test the waters and address these types of problems.
Target Use Case: Admitting Mistakes
One obvious issue is that people are wrong about a lot of things, but struggle to admit their mistakes. This is why many cultures have created elaborate norms around face-saving. Unfortunately, social media largely lacks these cultural norms, and even makes the problem worse in three ways:
- No social proof — Admitting mistakes is quite difficult if nobody else is seen (genuinely) admitting mistakes, as we rely heavily on social proof to sense-make around norms. An escalation-oriented culture means there’s less genuine “I was wrong” on social media than there should be.
- No respite — as the visibility of a mistake travels across social media, the poster is subject to a constant deluge of new readers calling them out, with the combined energy of the outraged far exceeding that of the poster. This prevents them from having the…