PhotoYou've probably seen it before -- people arguing on social media.

It usually starts small. An unwanted photo posted or some comment put up that's subtle but still very mean.

And after that, they're off to the races -- hurling insults at each other, trying to outdo the other in a competition of meanness and trying to think of the harshest thing to say or post. And it's all played out in front of everyone on social media to see and comment on.

Going public

It happens with couples too.

A small tiff starts at home before the couple heads off to work. On the way to work, at least one person thinks of a point or insult he or she should have used during the tiff.

And by the time that person gets to work, the social media war is launched and the argument that started in the privacy of the bedroom is now on Facebook or Twitter for everyone to witness.

It happens every day and according to VitalSmarts, a company that provides corporate training, 78% of folks say they've noticed an increase in online meanness and 76% say they've witnessed at least one argument on social media. Another 88% feel that people are meaner on social media than they are face-to-face.

How come?

And why is this?

Some might say the anonymity of social media gives people a certain amount of courage they wouldn't normally have and what they wouldn't say in person, they'll say much easier on sites like Facebook and Twitter.

Then of course you have folks who aren't able to count to 10 in order to cool off, and with their device being nearby it's very easy to post something in anger.

Simply put, personal emotions and social media don't mix, so it's best not to post anything if you feel stressed, angry or sad, experts say.

A new arena

PhotoJoseph Grenny, co-author of the study, said social media has become the official place where people come to have difficult conversations, and those conversations can easily turn into nasty ones.

"Social media platforms allow us to connect with others and strengthen relationships in ways that weren't possible before," said Grenny. "Sadly, they have also become the default forums for holding high-stakes conversations, blasting polarizing opinions and making statements with little regard for those within screen shot.

"We struggle to speak candidly and respectfully in person, let alone through a forum that allows no immediate feedback or the opportunity to see how our words will affect each other," Grenny explained.

VitalSmarts surveyed 2,698 people and 81% said they had interactions online that were either "difficult" or "emotionally-charged." In addition, 19% said they have less face-to-face contact with a friend or follower because that person said something mean to them online. 

It's everywhere

But it's not just social media pages where people post cruel and hurtful things.

Have you ever read the comments on an online news story? No matter what the subject matter is, you're almost guaranteed to read something that's over-the-top-mean, insensitive, racist, homophobic -- or just plain unnecessary.

When you go to places like YouTube and read some of the comments on a music video or performance, a lot of people go out of their way to say how much they hate the song or video.

PhotoTake a deep breath

Susan Avello, a blogger for HR Virtual Cafe, says when you find yourself being mean on social media or hating everything online, it might be time to take a break.

"A good friend once told me 'You seem to be in a place of hating everything. Perhaps you should take a social media break.' I'll never forget that," Avello wrote. "If you find yourself hating everyone on social media and everything that's being put out there perhaps it's time for you to take a social media sabbatical. Go spend time with the family. Take a vacation and leave your devices at home.

"There's no reason to lash out at others just because you're in a funk," writes Avello.

Grenny agrees, and says you should ask yourself why you really use social media. Do you use it to have good communication, to get noticed or to get something off your chest that you would never say in person?

Grenny says the use of  "hot words" should be avoided when communicating online, meaning if you disagree with somebody, don't call the person a jerk or stupid -- just say you disagree.

Grenny notes that people who argue online often "agree on 80% of the topic but create a false sense of conflict when they spend all their time arguing over the other 20%."

The best advice: Take the conflict off-line and don't try to settle it through social media because it's too easy for your emotions to take over and cause you to post something that you may regret for a long time.


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