Online Disinhibition Effect ruining relationships

Online Disinhibition Effect ruining relationships


The use of social media as a method of interaction with family and friends is growing each passing day. Unlike other global trends this one has seen a more than anticipated rise in Pakistan. With 3G network and low price smartphones readily available, social media is not just confined to a screen in the corner of the room, it is an omnipresent paradigm, accessible even when out and about. In recent years, the prevalent security situation has driven many Pakistanis to this alternate reality. Social media interactions are considered safe escapism, but are they really?

On a separate note, an upshot in relationship breakdown and soaring divorce rates is being witnessed globally. Several newspapers articles confirm similar trends in all segments of the socially stratified Pakistani society. This brings us to the conjecture, is there a link between the use of social media and growing discord?

Online Disinhibition effect
Internet no longer spatially confined

 Through research done mostly in the OECD countries, the detrimental effects of social media are becoming apparent. Earlier this year it was revealed that people are now more likely to make new friends online than in real life. The same goes for choosing a partner/spouse. This fact may seem trivial to the youth, as courtesy social networking, they have never been as exposed to such high numbers of acquaintances and that too ubiquitously.  However, it was a more recent research carried out in the UK of which the results are far more telling.

 A survey of 2,000 people was conducted by the family law firm Slater and Gordan [1]. It highlights that about 14% people have contemplated divorce because of their partner’s activity on social media.

“Almost 25% said they had at least one row a week because of their partner’s use of social media while 17 % said they argued because of it on a daily basis.

Nearly 5% of the surveyed were upset that their partner did not post any pictures of them together.  15% considered social media dangerous for their marriage. Respondents deemed Facebook most hazardous, followed by WhatsApp, Twitter and Instagram. Interestingly, nearly 10% admitted hiding images and posts from their partner while 8% admitted having secret social media accounts.

Almost a third said they keep their social media log-in details a secret from their partners. A further 58 % admit to knowing their partner’s log-in details, even if their spouse was not aware they knew them.”

In light of these survey results, it is crucial to dig deeper into why a technology that has been instrumental in bringing people closer virtually is tearing them apart physically. Why are relationships getting undermined?

To converge towards an answer, a condition psychologist are calling the “online dis-inhibition effect” needs to be understood. Dr. John Suler first used the term in his article published in Journal of Cyberpsychology and Behaviour (Volume: 7 Issue 3:2004). He explored why some people self-disclosed or acted out more frequently or intensely online than they would in person. Dr Suler points out   six factors namely invisibility, asynchronicity, solipsistic introjection, dissociative imagination, and minimization of authority that lead to disinhibitive behaviour.

In short, the “online disinhibition effect” (ODE) allows people to let their guard down and break-off from social conversational norms when communicating with people online. This is mainly because of lack of direct and synchronous feedback.

While ODE can be directly linked to several cyber ills such as, trolling, cyber bullying, blackmailing, child grooming and phishing but its connection to the strain on relationships is more shrouded.

Experts say that ODE can lead a person to share intimate thoughts with someone further afield that would be otherwise too embarrassing to share with someone in close proximity.  This degree of openness has its thrills but drives a wedge of irony between couples living together. Your spouse, who is physically close to you, becomes psychologically distant. While people living thousand miles away are more aware of you then they aught to be. This sharing of information is often seen by one party as an assault on the intimacy of the relationship.

The sense of diminished responsibility (as triggered by ODE) is also making difficult for people to bury the proverbial skeletons in the closet. Social media enhances the temptation of not only keeping tabs on your former partner/s but re-engaging with little foresight.

Anne Chilton the head of counselling at Relationship Scotland was not surprised about the survey results. She explained that the amount of time spent on social media is also another factor. Marriages breaking down because of a workaholic spouse are a known phenomenon. The use of social media effects in a similar way. This disdain for not the type of activity but the time of activity on social media was also reflected in the survey.

The telecom industry in Pakistan is vibrant to say the least. It is a sector that has witnessed unparalleled growth and continues raking riches.  While scanning the TV adverts across many Pakistani channels, a pattern is observed. It is largely telecom adverts that are the mainstay of the screen time and are only occasionally punctuated by detergents or soft drinks commercials.

In trying to be progressive, the adoption of technology is considered incumbent by many.  The replication of global modern culture often leaves us caricatured particularly when we find certain values countering our own. Some may argue that growing out of the ODE through further exposure is the right way forward. However, it should be realized that the survey results presented herein are from UK, a country that is much more tolerant and progressive than our own country. The fissures created by ODE in our conservative society would run deeper.

Exercising restraint on a newly found freedom is a hard task but the perils of pulling all stops have now become apparent. We are living in transition times where more and more of our lives are spent glaring at screens. We dont have to run amok with this technology or ostracize ourselves. We just need to tread cautiously for it is now easier than ever to transform between Jekyll and Hyde by literally twiddling thumbs.

In the UK, children are being educated not to post anything online which they would not in public. Similar awareness programs should run in our country, financed by the flourishing telecom industry to educate our next generation about the pitfalls of power they have in their hands. Equally important is to inform adults for taking a balanced approach while using social media.  It has been globally acknowledged that for a healthy society marriage is a fundamental building block. Let’s try to safeguard ourselves from online inhibition effect and avert the harm it can bring to our relationships.