(This piece was edited and published on Boomee.co)
Online comment is probably one of the perks that we get to enjoy in this highly connected world. Being able to comment online made it possible for us to reach out to the world to express our thoughts and feelings towards almost everything and everyone within a single click.
In a way, it is our new way of being heard.
One additional point of commenting online is that as a commenter, we are often virtually anonymous. Even if we put our real name in our online accounts, people would still have very little to know about us, apart from what we tell them online.
By being anonymous, we tend to loosen up and able to express ourselves more openly.
However, the effect of “anonymity” has also changed how we express ourselves online.
While some of us still manage to keep our manners intact, apparently, some online comments posted on the internet were filled with harsh criticism and words that people wouldn’t ordinarily say in the real world.
Celebrities and public figures seemed to be an easy prey for such comments. But sometimes, we do it to each other too, if we found that others are doing or posting is something that does not fit quite well with ourselves.
Well, of course it is unwise to judge that what we are truly what we posted online. Some of us are entirely harmless and nice in real life, but at times, our online comments said otherwise.
How could we get so rude online?
John Suler, a clinical psychologist who’s focusing his works on the behavior of people online call the phenomenon where anonymity leads to freedom in expressing oneself as the “Online Disinhibition Effect“. According to Suler, there are six factors that could combine to change people’s behavior online.
1. “These people don’t know me”
Most people we encounter in the internet can’t easily tell who we are.
When we have the opportunity to separate our action from our real world and identity, we feel less vulnerable about opening up. Whatever we say or do in the internet can’t be directly linked to the rest of our lives, so we don’t have to acknowledge it within the full context of who we “really” are.
However, this also means that when acting out hostile feelings, we feel like don’t have to take responsibility for those actions.
So, sometimes, we probably think that it is OK to comment harshly on some public figures or celebrities because we know that they would never find out who we are (or even remotely interested to find out).
2. “Nobody can tell what I look like, or judge my tone”
In many online environments, other people cannot see us. As we browse through websites, message boards, and even some chat-rooms, people may not even know we are there at all.
The opportunity to be physically invisible amplifies the feeling that we don’t have to worry about how others will look or sound when we say something.
In real life, seeing a frown, a sigh, a bored expression and many other subtle (and not so subtle) signs of disapproval or indifference can slam the breaks on what people are willing to express.
However, by posting it online in a form of a text, we get to take advantage of being ambiguous, especially if sarcasm is in our strong skill set.
By masking our intented harsh comment in sarcasm, we feel like we could let ourselves off the hook by saying that “well, it was meant to be a joke” or “no, i think you read it the wrong way”.
3. “My actions do not occur in real-time”
Most of the time, online interaction happens not in real time.
We often take minutes, hours, days or even months to reply to something online. This also means that we don’t have to deal with others immediate reaction.
Without having to deal with people’s immediate reaction, it becomes possible for us to “run away” after posting a message that is emotional or hostile.
For some of us, our online comments are a series of hit-and-run. We posted our thoughts or how we felt about something, without any censorship whatsoever, because if we choose to, we can just not come back to see if it caused any damage.
It feels safe putting it “out there” where it can be left behind.
4.“I can’t see these people, I have to guess at who they are and their intention”
In online interaction, most of the time we don’t really know how those people we interact with will think and respond to us. We can only infer those information by imagining the conversation is all taking place within our heads.
It’s as if the typed-text conversation is a dialogue between us and this character in our imagination.
In our imagination, where it’s safe, we feel free to say and do all sorts of things that we wouldn’t in reality. At that moment, reality is our imagination.
Therefore we could say all sorts of things that we wouldn’t say to others if it’s in the real world.
We could easily accuse someone as being a homewrecker, and then someone else will accuse us of being nosy and couldn’t keep to ourselves.
And then someone else will jump into the conversation saying other equally nasty things.
And the vicious cycle will continue without any of us really knew the intention behind each others’ words.
5. “This is not the real world, these are not real people”
The cyberspace can make us feel that the “character” we created online exist in a different space.
It’s as if that our username, profile and our other online images live only in a make-believe dimension along with others we meet online. We tend to split online ‘fiction’ from offline fact and separated the online world from the responsibilities of the real world.
Some of us who commented to this video probably think that the person within is a “character” we would never meet in person, along with all the other people within the comment section.
So it might feel fine to type “GROSS!” or “you retard!” to a persona who we thought is just a face on the internet –without a real person behind it, with exactly the same set of feelings that we have.
All the interaction happened in the page seems to only exist in a different world, the cyberspace, so we could write any kind of comment and go back to the “real life” afterwards without feeling guilty or worry about what we said online.
6.“There are no authority figures here, I can act freely”
While online, our status in the face-to-face world may not be known to others and it may not have as much impact as it does in the real world.
Even if people do know something about our offline status and power, it may have little bearing on our online presence and influence.
The internet is engineered with no centralized control. What mostly determines our influence on others in the internet is our skill in communicating (mostly in writing), the quality of our ideas, and our technical know-how.
It looks like, even people like the First Lady is not immune from this effect, people seem to ‘ignore’ her real-life status when it comes to online comments.
Imagine saying what we commented online straight to her face. Her line of bodyguards might have stopped us even before we get to finish our first syllable.
But saying it online? That is a whole different story.