Social Validation on the Internet
A Cheer Squad in your Pocket
A first way to approach this is in terms of validation. The premise is we need to remind ourselves we exist… we need to be reminded our presence and our actions have consequences. Your existence is validated when you are made to appreciate the efficacy of your actions, when you apprehend in experience the contingency of our doings.
In a public space like a park, people nearby become spectators to your actions. Their responses and reactions provide cues as to how welcome your public behavior is. When no one is around, however, no such feedback exists. All you have is any positive evidence of the efficacy you look for in my actions. They become actions performed for you own enjoyment, free of the burden of validation.
Internet-enabled mobile devices change this by putting a permanent audience in your pocket. If you’re doing things on your own, it is now easy to create a recording and share it on social media to find approval from like-minded people. Validation on demand. This approval may motivate continuity of your behavior and sometimes even override any cues from people nearby signaling the behavior is unwelcome in their presence.
Socializing in person comes with full “burden of presence”. When you socialize in person you have to bear with and experience people's full appearance, their fashion choices, gestures, demeanor, manner of speaking, projected attentiveness, and their likeability. Same goes for your own likeability, it is informed by myriad aspects.
Online socializing doesn't come with these burdens. As an online spectator, you only deal with “mediated behavior”, people’s posts, tweets, memes, stories, reactions, etc. You don’t have to deal with the person's full presence. This may lead to artificial appearances of likeability/unlikeability based on their mediated output.
Illusion of Efficacy
You can think of behavior as ‘efficacious’ when it is successful at bringing about the outcomes you want. Similarly, you can think of your behavior's ‘social efficacy’ in terms of how successful it is at bringing about the social outcomes you want (consider engagement, reactions, etc.).
Online behavior can be construed as low-dimensional behavior when compared to behavior you perform live in person. Social media profiles are reductions or ‘caricatures’ of the self. Every text, image, or video-based sharing is a low-dimensional cut of how the real thing sounded like, looked like, or felt like.
Online/mediated behavior's lower-dimensionality makes its social efficacy easier to hone than it is to hone fully-dimensional, real behavior. When social efficacy is achieved, people are invited to keep whichever formula they found to work best in order to keep bringing in audience reactions.
How well does likeability on the Internet transfer to in-person likability? We can be sure there are people who are more likeable online, silently invited to live online. For many, finding harmony with their online mutuals may be enough to feel heard and seen, making it less essential to harmonize with their family, flatmates, neighbors.
We can also be sure there are people justifying in-person behavior based on the behavior's online reactions (validation, positive engagement). Consider pranksters. It should be worrying that the Internet offers people the opportunity to disregard the real-life social consequences of their actions.