Does Anonymity Online Increase the Likelihood of Aggression?

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Online-Anonymity-at-Helmword-LtdIn today’s age of advancing technology and countless social media sites, it’s easier than ever to anonymously comment on posts, pictures and videos.  If you’re like me, you’ve seen some very heated conversations in the comments section of Facebook posts. So, what’s the deal here, are people more aggressive when they know they’re virtually anonymous?  This is the question Adam Zimmerman and Gabriel Ybarra (2016) researched in their Journal Article, “Online Aggression: The Influences of Anonymity and Social Modeling.”

Using 124 undergraduate students from the University of North Florida, the researchers had each of the participants do a word-unscrambling task with 2 other people. If they collectively unscrambled half of the words correctly, they each received a prize; at least this is what they were told.  However, unbeknown to the participants, the game was rigged and they were not actually playing along with others, ensuring that the participants always lost.  This was done in order to simulate an online frustrating social situation in which they felt let down by their “partners.” Participants were then able to write on a blog about their experience.  Half of the participants wrote their blogs anonymously and the other half did not. For both these groups, participants were also exposed to either a neutral blog post, or an aggressive blog post.

As you may have guessed, participants who remained anonymous indicated a higher temptation to purposefully aggress toward their alleged partners and they also used more aggressive words in their blog posts about their experience.  Participants, who were exposed to an aggressive blog post prior to writing their own, were also more aggressive, but only in the anonymous condition.

What these results tell us is that people are more likely to be aggressive online if their identity is anonymous.  Not only that, but if they’re exposed to aggressive posts and their identity is anonymous, they’re even more likely to be aggressive online. We can take these results and use them to influence our own online behavior.  Since we’ve seen that people are more likely to be aggressive online if they know their identity remains anonymous, we can analyze our own behavior as to what’s appropriate to say online. We should make it a point not to use anonymity as an excuse to act more aggressively than we normally would.  Not to mention, if anonymous online users are more likely to act aggressively if they see others doing so, our online aggression could also effect how aggressive others are online as well.  To keep online aggression in check, we can consider whether we would act differently if our identity were known, and adjust our comments and behavior accordingly.

By Nermana Turajlic
Nermana is a senior majoring in Psychology and minoring in Human Development. She plans on graduating in December 2016 and attending graduate school the following year.


Zimmerman, A. G., & Ybarra, G. J. (2016). Online aggression: The influences of             anonymity and social modeling. Psychology Of Popular Media Culture, 5(2),             181-193. doi:10.1037/ppm0000038

Texas Standard: Online Outrage Over Racism at Fraternities

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On March 11th, 2015, I did an interview with Texas Standard on “Online outrage over racism at fraternities – how much are official responses dictated by social media?”  For some background on the story, read University of Oklahoma Expels Two Leaders for Racist Singing.

You can listen to the show at Listen: Texas Standard for March 11, 2015.

Survey: How Angry Are You Online?

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Do you ever wonder if you vent online more than others?  Do you ever ask yourself how you compare to others when it comes to sending angry emails, calling people names, or even using social networking sites as a way of getting revenge on people?  Find out by taking the Online Anger Consequences Questionnaire, where you answer just 12 questions about how you express your anger online.  We’ll give you your scores and provide you with information about how those scores compare to others who took the test.

Psychology Today: Opportunities to Feel

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tumblr_m1p3j9qln51qa5woeThis morning, before I had my first sip of coffee, I had learned the following: (1) my friends’ daughter was sick, (2) another friend, more distant, was pregnant, and (3) that legislators in my state have been embracing all sorts of policies I find harmful. That’s right, within ten minutes of waking up, Facebook had provided me with opportunities to feel sadness, joy, and anger. Contrast that with ten years ago, pre-Facebook, when I would have spent that time… staring out the window, probably. Honestly, what did I do while waiting for my coffee to brew before I had Facebook?

Read at Psychology Today

Invisibilia: Our Computers, Ourselves

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On February 13, 2015, my work was discussed on Invisibilia, a podcast on NPR that “explores the intangible forces that shape human behavior – things like ideas, beliefs, assumptions and emotions.”

The episode, Our Computers, Ourselves, asks “are computers changing human character? Is our closeness with computers changing us as a species?”  It can be heard here: http://www.npr.org/player/v2/mediaPlayer.html?action=1&t=3&islist=true&id=64&d=02-13-2015

 

Psychology Today: Avoiding the Online Anger Trap

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This morning, I noticed what I thought was an offensive post from a Facebook friend that I badly wanted to respond to. Fortunately, I didn’t have time to respond right then so I made a mental note to get back to it later and went about my morning. I was still sort of fuming about it, though, and thinking through all of the different things I wanted to write in response. I admit some of them were a bit cruel.

Read at Psychology Today

Understanding the “Drive-By Nasty”

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Last week, I did an interview with Christopher Gabriel on WDAY about online anger (you can hear it here). He asked me, specifically, about some angry tweets that he labeled “drive-by nasties.” These are tweets or Facebook posts where the author doesn’t attempt to have a dialogue or any sort of civil discourse but, rather, just says something cruel or hurtful and disappears.

I took a look today and found a couple of examples (I didn’t have to look very hard).

A tweet about the economy from President Obama was met with this.

Tweet1

A Guardian Facebook post about Hillary Clinton was met with this (note how many times it was “liked” as well).

Facebook1

A Huffington Post Facebook post about Washington state’s new marijuana law that says that you can’t sell anything that may appeal strongly to kids was met with this.

Facebook2

And even a Huffington Post Facebook post with cute pictures of dogs and babies was met with this.

Facebook3

I’ve addressed online anger plenty here but these are particularly interesting because the authors don’t seem to want to have a discussion. In many cases, people responded to these posts but the authors didn’t respond back. It’s not that they were trying to start a fight, necessarily. It’s more that they just want to unload without having to deal with the consequences.

So what are these drive-bys all about?

It seems like there are a couple of thing going on. Obviously, we have people who are angry, judgmental, and disproving. They are upset about something and they want to let the world know about it. That’s actually a lot of people, though, and most of us don’t take to Twitter or Facebook to tell people off and then run away from the conflict that follows. What really stands out here is that they don’t want to be challenged in response. They want to be heard but they don’t want to listen.

I can’t help but wonder if at the root of these is a lack of confidence. They have strong beliefs but don’t really feel comfortable in defending those beliefs. People who feel secure in their positions are willing to stick around and discuss them. It’s likely insecurity that drives people away from the post-comment argument.

It’s unfortunate because social networking provides such great potential to have real conversations about complex issues. It could be (and is) used to bring smart people together from across the globe to discuss and solve problems. We can’t do that, though, if people continue to use it as dumping ground for their disapproval and frustration.