Niki Cheong blogging

It is because of these reasons that such anti-social behaviour seems to be increasingly common in our daily online lives – whether it is in insulting customers (or other people) or online public shaming.

Les Deux Garcons and social media flaming: Anti-social behaviour online

This post is about three weeks late. It was originally written while I was on my holidays in London last month, and in response to the “social media fail”, as some has referred to it, of Les Deux Garcons in Bangsar.

I won’t go too much into what happened, because it’s not really central to my article, but essentially a customer posted a complaint on LDG’s Facebook which was quickly deleted. Then it escalated with the customer asking why the post was deleted and the person handling the Facebook page replied, saying that they have no time for “bitches”. Alison blogs the full story here (I don’t think this incident will do as much damage as Alison thinks, though).

Anyway, I digress. This article was originally written for my ReWired column in Star2 but because the tech section, in which my column used to sit, is currently undergoing changes, everything is a bit up in the air. As such, I have decided to post this on here.

Starting online argumentsTaken from seanrnicholson on Flickr under the Creative Commons License.

By NIKI CHEONG

OVER the weekend, a screenshot taken from the Facebook page of French patisserie Les Deux Garcons in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur, started circulating on Twitter and Facebook. The conversation in the image that was captured saw LDG – or at least the person responding to comments – refer to the complainant using an offensive term.

The owner Ben Yeong has since issued an apology on the site. However, many social media users – including some who have previously patronised the patisserie – have reacted negatively to it by calling it insincere, suggesting that it was not enough and some just plain mocking the apology.

Other people have taken to social network services to react to the backlash and questioning the behaviour of the public who are negatively reacting to the apology.

While I can understand the initial furore at the use of the offensive term, I can also understand how some people see the backlash – at time of writing, the apology has almost 400 comments in response – as being harsh.

My role here is not to argue the morality of such behaviours, whether it is the offensive response from LDG, the tone of outrage it sparked or the reaction to the apology notice. In all three instances, there was certain behaviours that I would consider to be anti-social.

Such incidents are not new, and definitely not just confined to Malaysia. Businesses the world over have struggled with trusting and properly training their staff to manage social network accounts while online anti-social behaviour dates back to the early days of online communication.

These incidences are abundant and they are not just limited to what some call a failure in social media marketing. For years, online users have been the subject of behaviour such as trolling and in the case above, flaming.

Some people believe that such behaviour is becoming more pervasive as we find more and more ways to connect and communicate online. There has also been many theories put forward as to why this is the case.

Two theories I personally subscribe to in the context of these anti-social behaviour are linked to concepts within psychology.

The first is that of deindividuation, a social psychology theory often linked to crowd mentality, which suggests that individuals tend to behave different to acceptable social norms under the veil of anonymity.

The second is the online disinhibition effect, introduced by psychologist John Suller, which identified six causes for why people behave online in ways they normally wouldn’t when in person.

In his 2004 paper titled The Online Disinhibition Effect, Suller suggests that people are less inhibited and express themselves more in online settings. While he acknowledges that this is sometimes a good thing, he also notes that in other cases it is “toxic disinhibition” where “out spills rude language and harsh criticisms, anger, hatred, even threats.”

Both these theories suggest that the affordances of computer-mediated technologies, such as the the perceived anonymity, lack of association of real and virtual as well as the speed in which people can react and respond, makes it conducive for people to lose their inhibitions and behave in such anti-social ways.

It may getting harder these days to remain anonymous online but anonymity appears to different people in different forms. One of Suller’s six causes includes dissociative anonymity, or the “You don’t know me” effect.

It is because of these reasons that such anti-social behaviour seems to be increasingly common in our daily online lives – whether it is in insulting customers (or other people) or online public shaming, as examples.

One way to deal with this issue is to go back to the basis of communicating – talking it out. Mashable business editor Todd Wasserman, in an opinion piece regarding social media public shaming which he feels is spiralling out of control, suggests that “the next time you feel outraged about something someone near you is doing, put your phone down and go talk to that person”.

He may have a point, as research has shown that voice communication can decrease online “bad behaviour”. Researchers John P. Davis, Shelly Farnham and Carlos Jensen, in 2002, found that “voice is a powerful determinant of ‘social proximity’ even when the voice is computer-generated and gender-neutral” as it allows “for the efficient transmission of a great deal of semantic information”.

While its true that technology has made communication faster and easier, it would perhaps be wise for us to sometimes take a moment to pause and talk it through with the parties involved – whether its a genuine complain from a loyal customer, a brand responding to criticism or just you and me – the general public who are just floating around cyberspace.

After all, our online lives are not disconnected from our offline ones so why not use all the “tools” of communication we have at our disposal?

12.03pm Malaysian time (+8 GMT)

Discussion (6)

There are 6 responses to “Les Deux Garcons and social media flaming: Anti-social behaviour online”.

  1. Wow, so many big words! You are so smart Niki Cheong. When I grow up I want to be like you!

    But seriously I agree with you on this. The amount of anger and over-the-top indignation just tells me that people love to complain more than anything. Most probably have not even heard (or know how to pronounce) Les Deux Garcon. Their lives are so devoid of meaning that when something like this pops up it gives them an outlet to pile on and condemn someone, anyone. And lest I join their ranks I’ll end my comments here :P

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