If you were to express an opinion in the real world, whether at a conference, with a group of people you met at a bar, or at a PTA meeting, it is pretty unlikely that you would be told to kill yourself, be greeted with profanity or suffer a slew of gendered insults. If it did happen, then you would expect most of those around you would be as shocked and appalled as you are.
Similarly, open-mic nights, karaoke and other creative venues tend to be free of vitriol and scorn – most people have respect for those who are willing to stand up and perform. However, translate these activities to the online world and such attacks are regrettably frequent and almost commonplace — even a post on something as noncontroversial as the cost of web design can lead to disproportionate attacks!
What is it about the internet that brings out this viciousness?
The protection that anonymity brings has to be one of the biggest motivating factors for this attitude. After all, in the real world, this kind of behavior would likely result in social shaming. People would gossip about what you had said, and you would suffer real repercussions. On the internet, however, you can separate this nastiness from your other identities.
Different Social Norms
Peer pressure is not always a bad thing – it is natural for people to shape their behavior based on what is common and acceptable. You no doubt act and speak differently around your friends than you would at the office!
Sadly, this kind of ‘trolling’ behavior is somewhat self-perpetuating online. As long as it happens it will be seen by some as a normal and acceptable way to behave, so they will then act in the same way. This is especially pernicious when it comes to young people and teenagers, who are still finding out how to behave in different social arenas.
The Distancing Effect
When we speak with another person face-to-face there are all sorts of subconscious social cues that inform our interactions – body language, vocal inflection, facial movements and so on. While the internet allows for easy global communication, it has removed many of these factors.
Anyone who has ever sent or received a text message or email knows just how easy it is to create a misunderstanding when only text is used in communication – emoticons are no substitute! However, text is not the only problem.
When the only interactions you ever have with someone are through a screen, especially when you simply come across a single post, video or comment, it is all too easy to forget that they are in fact a real person with real feeling!
CJ contributed this guest post. Passionate about technology, she likes writing about everything from the cost of web design to online culture.