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Online anonymity feeds increase in nastiness
More on the dark side of Web 2.0

 11:44 pm on Mar 21, 2007 (gmt 0)

Do forums and similar Internet tools bring out the worst in people?

...the Internet — and the anonymity it affords — has given a public stage to people’s basest thoughts, ones that in earlier eras likely never would have traveled past the watercooler, the kitchen table or the next barstool.

Such incidents — and there are countless across cyberspace — also raise the question: Is there anything to be done about it? Or is a decline in civil discourse simply the price that we pay for the advance of technology?

Online anonymity lets users get nasty [msnbc.msn.com]



 11:54 pm on Mar 21, 2007 (gmt 0)

For decades the favored "public medium" for anonymous expressions of nastiness were the walls of public bathrooms and bathroom stalls.

Not much has changed.


 12:07 am on Mar 22, 2007 (gmt 0)

This is news?


 12:33 am on Mar 22, 2007 (gmt 0)

Not to over-simplify, but Google is a big part of the change. Before, all kinds of people could be dissing someone but the target would never know. Now (as a community operator) I get almost daily requests for removal of post that mention an individual, a company, etc. They usually start out, "I was checking my name in Google and I found this post in your forum..."

By posting in a popular forum on commenting on a popular blog, the old stall-writer now has a worldwide audience.


 1:10 am on Mar 22, 2007 (gmt 0)

Not to over-simplify, but Google is a big part of the change.

For that matter, so is Webmaster World. :-)


 3:07 pm on Mar 22, 2007 (gmt 0)

>>so is WebmasterWorld

Hmmm, you won't find much nasty talk here. There's an overall cultural issue at work, too - civility seems to be declining. Instead of disagreeing with the opinions or policies of an elected official or political candidate, now it seems to be necessary to attack the person himself/herself.

Many individuals seem to carry this societal trend into their online posting. They can't just disagree with someone, they have to point out what a moron the other person is. In communities that try and limit such behavior, it creates plenty of extra work for moderators.


 4:12 pm on Mar 22, 2007 (gmt 0)

From my experience... when I ran a forum that did not verify a valid email before allowing registration... folks were much more rude in their behavior.

After requiring email validation (basically validating an actual identity), users are overall less rude, from what I have observed over the years.

So yes, I think an anonymous forum can be a breeding ground for problems... folks say the darndest things when they think no one can track it back to them.

natural number

 4:22 pm on Mar 22, 2007 (gmt 0)

People are entitled to their own opinion and expressing it, using their own language. We all interpret civlity in different ways because we come from different cultures. If a meal is good in Japan, you burp. In the middle ages, it was proper to take your sword off at the dinner table. Now it is improper to take a sword to dinner.

we need freedom. What we consider "shocking" language is philosophically useful. Many people once considerd the very idea of an earth that rotates around the sun to be shocking. To even express the idea would get you put in jail. We should never yearn for days like this again but they are coming.

When was the last time you heard someone mention their natural rights?


 8:46 pm on Mar 23, 2007 (gmt 0)

Good points, natural number, though in today's society it's common to adapt your behavior to your location. If burping is considered rude at a fine Parisian restaurant, one wouldn't do that even if was accepted behavior at home in Tokyo.

Similarly, forum operators develop community standards and try to help members conform to them.

Many of the conflict problems I've seen in communities come from these kinds of cultural differences. One member, for example, might post in language that is considered to be extremely rude or obscene by other members. While in some cases the language may be a deliberate choice to shock or insult others, in many cases it is simply the way that person is used to posting in other communities.


 9:07 pm on Mar 23, 2007 (gmt 0)

On the other hand, if nastiness is restrained, it can turn up in more subtle and less superficial ways


 9:15 pm on Mar 23, 2007 (gmt 0)

Indeed, cack-handed censorship has all sorts of unexpected (by the censors) side-effects as has been seen over and over.

1) I don't believe overall civility is declining: that's very much a cheap newspaper scare tactic. Those same papers (or blogs, or whatever) would have us believe that all teenagers will rise up and kill us all tomorrow (or become parents and bank managers, actually).

2) There is plenty of peer-reviewed research that shows that anonymity DOES increase incivility/rudeness; it seems to be built into the human wetware.

Generally there is a balance in each medium between accountability and desirable anonymity. That optimal balance will be different in WW, P-W, a newspaper, a generic non-tech forum, a political forum, a courtroom, etc.




 3:58 am on Mar 24, 2007 (gmt 0)

Go into some of these chatrooms and watch the discussions bringing out the basest desires in people. Look at postings on public blogs where comments are often vicious and crude. In public, social restraints, even subtle ones (rolled eyes, head shaking, etc.), are in place, and necessary, to keep people's behavior in check. Without those community standards and policing, which does not occur when someone sits alone typing on his computer, human behavior sinks to new lows. Ask any sociologist.


 11:57 am on Mar 24, 2007 (gmt 0)

In public, social restraints, even subtle ones (rolled eyes, head shaking,...

Not to mention the major one, butt kicking.


 6:13 pm on Mar 26, 2007 (gmt 0)

As others have stated, this is nothing new.

I hark back to BBS era when you might recall similar "discovery of decline in civility".


 6:54 pm on Mar 26, 2007 (gmt 0)

A lot is how one perceives civility. A century or more ago, some classes of society had elaborate rules for interaction that most followed quite carefully. At the same time, those very civil individuals might have treated people of other classes (e.g., servants and laboerers) quite poorly. Similarly, the negative political ads that everyone complains about today pale by comparison with the yellow journalism of the 19th century.

People do adapt to expectations, though. In many environments (church, libraries, fine restaurants, corporate offices, to name a few) most people conform to the behavior expected in those environments. Online environments aren't dissimilar, but when a user can register anonymously and post it's much more difficult to enforce those expectations and seemingly less motivation to control one's own behavior.

I'd guess a community that had a $1000 registration fee would have fewer difficulties in maintaining civility than one where anyone with a hotmail address can sign up for free. (I haven't yet found the community opportunity that justifies that kind of signup fee, unfortunately!)


 2:37 pm on Mar 29, 2007 (gmt 0)

Looks like in the case of blogger Kathy Sierra, online anonymity has take an even nastier turn:

San Francisco Chronicle story: Bad behavior in the blogosphere [sfgate.com]


 10:54 pm on Mar 29, 2007 (gmt 0)

I think this paragraph from the Kathy Sierra story says a lot:
O'Reilly drew an analogy to talk radio, saying that while some of it is filled with hateful comments, other shows, like "Talk of the Nation" on National Public Radio, maintain a culture of civility. If someone tried making vitriolic comments there, he said, "they'd be cut off."

This has limitations, of course -- "Talk of the Nation" can't force other talk radio programs to be civil, any more than site admins who work hard at keeping their own communities positive can make others do the same. But I, for one, am glad enough people make the effort that I can find civil places to visit even online.

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