A new study published in Applied Corpus Linguistics discusses the line between helpful and potentially hurtful comments on social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram.
Psychologist and lead author of the new research, Margo Lecompte-Van Poucke, explains her inspiration for the study:
“As a social media user, I was constantly confronted with toxic positive language on Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media services. -piece too positive, even when I was sharing negative experiences.
To see if her experience was shared by others, Lecompte-Van Poucke pulled together a total of more than 700 Facebook posts and thousands of comments and replies regarding a rare condition known as endometriosis. She then studied the linguistic structure of posts and comments, looking for evidence of toxic positivity.
According to his hypothesis, Lecompte-Van Poucke found many linguistic patterns that could be qualified as toxic positive language. The “X is Y” symbolic pattern, such as “You are an endo warrior”, “Walking is medicine”, “I am not my disease”, or “You are a fierce lioness of a woman”, was the most common . of all.
The next most common form of toxic positive language were commands such as “hold on”, “trust”, or “don’t give up”, telling users what (not) to do and how (not) to behave. .
“The use of images such as ‘warrior’ or ‘lioness’ on the online social network portray people with chronic invisible diseases (CCIs) as controlling their own destiny or as able to prevent their bodies from becoming ill by first place”, says Lecompte-Van Poucke. “It may seem rather dismissive and distant.”
In other words, pretending you have “everything you need to beat this” in response to a message from someone asking for help often does more harm than good. Such language can prevent people from accepting the reality of their diagnosis and can impair their ability to process the negative thoughts and emotions that accompany the diagnosis of an illness.
For people struggling with an environment of toxic positivity, the author has the following recommendations:
- Be aware that there is a lot of toxic positivity on social media. This will help you adjust your expectations when communicating with other users. While shared chronic disease experiences can lead to satisfying conversations, they can also leave you feeling disappointed and unheard.
- Switch to another social networking site. Some platforms are more controlled and useful than others. Try to find a small group with competent administrators who carefully check the content that is published.
Additionally, Lecompte-Van Poucke offers the following advice for people who want to minimize their use of toxic positive language, even in cases where it is accidental:
- Think before posting. Before you share a post, comment, or reply, think carefully about how your words might come across and write them as if the person is sitting across from you. It’s best to use phrases that begin with “I am,” such as “I’m sorry/sad/shocked that…” when expressing feelings of compassion.
- Be aware of hidden meanings. Phrases like “Hold on! », « You have this! or “You are a warrior!” can send a signal to people that you’re not interested in what they have to say.
- Be authentic. Being authentic can seem a bit risky at first. However, once you start using your own words (no auto-suggested replies, for example), communicating with others online becomes much more satisfying.
A full interview with psychologist Margo Lecompte-Van Poucke discussing her new research can be found here: A psychologist tells you how not to be addicted to your online messages