Self Improvement

The Psychology of Anonymity in Online Comments

03/08/16 ·

What we Know about Anonymous Behavior

It seems that anonymous online comments can bring out the worst in people. Studies have shown that sites like reddit and 4chan which allow users to comment on articles or make posts anonymously are responsible for more contrarian opinions, incivility, profanity, and general negative discourse.

One study performed at a college allowed female students to administer shocks of electricity anonymously to other students. The study found that over time the shocks increased in severity especially when the victim was disliked previously by the person administering them.

“You can choose to be anyone on the internet, it’s a surprise so many people choose to be assholes.”

The Good and the Bad of Anonymity

The term, “online disinhibition effect” has been coined to describe a person’s tendency to shed their normal behavior as their identity is removed. One reddit user was quoted as saying, “you can choose to be anyone on the internet, it’s a surprise so many people choose to be assholes.” So why is it that when the shield of anonymity is in place people lose their sense of moral regulation? It turns out that being anonymous allows for more creative thinking and risk taking. The opinion a user may not have wanted to share under their real name may come out with much more articulation and conviction if that same user is anonymous. This can cause some issues however. “Popular Science” removed comments from their blog because users commenting anonymously were posting contrarian opinions to articles that were actually able to skew the average reader’s perception of the story.

So what does this all mean? One thing is for certain in the age of the internet and that is anonymity isn’t going anywhere. There will always be means for users to remain anonymous which in turn means there will always be people acting without repercussion. It’s important to self regulate when commenting anonymously. Ask yourself before posting an aggressively written and contrarian comment if you would write the same thing if your name was attached to it. If the answer is “no” then reconsider!

Sources: New Yorker
CS Stanford