We've all noticed that people behave differently online--they go on crazed Twitter rants, post oddly personal updates on Facebook, and allow themselves to be nastier than they would in person. But here's the question: Do online spaces change us or reveal us?
There's been research suggesting anonymity and algorithm design push people to be more outrageous online than they normally would be, but new research out of Wharton offers a different perspective. According to this latest study, the trouble isn't any choice made by Facebook or Twitter. It's your phone.
Our smartphones, it seems, lull us into being too honest. Knowing that might change not just how you behave when using your device, but also how your business markets its products and interacts with customers. If you want to know what your customers really think, the research suggests trying to reach them via smartphone rather than sitting in front of a computer. That small switch could help you get more accurate information in surveys and better (and more persuasive) reviews from happy customers, and even triage how you spend your time responding to negative comments--it's the ones written on a phone that probably contain the most useful information for improving your business
Your phone is an "adult pacifier."
The design of the research led by Wharton's Shiri Melumad was simple. The team analyzed more than 300,000 tweets and 10,000 TripAdvisor restaurant reviews, comparing the language of those composed on a computer to those composed on a smartphone. They noticed one big difference: We're way more personal and open on our phones.
"Consumers tend to convey feelings or thoughts that are more private or intimate on their smartphones, which is captured by the use of 'I' or 'we' and mentioning family and friends," Melumad told the Wall Street Journal. And because our thoughts via phone are more personal, they also tend to be more honest.
"Smartphone-generated content seems to be more diagnostic of how people truly feel," she went on.
That appears to be in part because our smartphones are, in Melumad's memorable words, "adult pacifiers" that soothe and calm us, creating a sense of safety that lulls us into giving away more personal and honest information than we intended. They also narrow our focus on what we're writing, nudging us to forget other considerations like privacy or politeness.
As a citizen and web user, you are probably scared by these findings. I've seen plenty of tweets that I really hoped represented someone's deranged, momentary low point rather than their deepest truth. Sadly, it seems the trouble isn't technology, but TMI.