Anonymity Doesn't Always Make You A Jerk. It Might Make You Kinder.

By now, Penny Arcade's comic has become mantra on the internet: a normal person, given anonymity and an audience, will become a total fuckwad.

It's actually a lot more complicated than that formula, though I suspect the simplicity of the idea is what made it catch on in the first place.

An article on Motherboard delves into the complexities that come with our social networks, and how they do or do not influence our behaviour. They found that studies show little correlation between destructive behaviour and anonymity.

Alex Haslam, professor of psychology at the University of Queensland, had the following to say on the matter:

There is no evidence of a relationship between anonymity and abuse. Everything hinges on moderators, and the key moderator is, what is the norm of the group? If the norm of the group is to be destructive, well actually then anonymity can enhance that. But if the norm of the group is to be constructive, then anonymity can enhance that. So it isn't the case that anonymity is one of those things that feeds into brutality.

He goes on to explain that the expectations and norms of our respective groups dictate how likely we are to act a certain way — which is to say, anonymity can act as an enhancer for both kindness and cruelty.

It depends on who we associate with and who we think is watching, though having an audience, period, doesn't sway your behaviour in a certain way. You tend to gauge what you think that audience wants, and are likely to act in a way that's beneficial to you. What is beneficial to you is not always evil.

The whole thing is worth a read, especially for those of you who are interested in psychology and human behaviour.

You're As Evil as Your Social Network: What the Prison Experiment Got Wrong [Motherboard]


    I've always said that Anon doesnt = jerk, its people = jerks.
    In any community with a sense of shared interest the majority of the interactions are nice and helpful.
    It only takes one small person to be a prick and that snowballs.

    Its the whole shit rolls down hill idea, 1 person ruins 1 persons day by being an arse, that person then does the same thing to another and so on and so on.
    Even the nicest most helpful person will eventually have a gut full and join the crowd.

    We may be anon but if you are on XBL and your Gamertag is always the same then I guess you will eventually lose some of anonymity

    It's sort of the same elsewhere

    You can sign into a forum as a guest or create an account as "Scumfck69" and you would eventually be

    I think what I am trying to say is that we aren't neccesarily truly anon

    I'm confident though that people have said things to me online that they woudln't say to my face or if I knew them IRL. Anon is a big factor in that.

    I'm nice and respectful to everybody online! :)

    ...except dole bludgers and dudebros.

    I've had people apologise for accidently running me over in Halo 4, I've also had people get my attention and than swear at me non stop, until I muted them and then when found I muted them proceed to send me messages I ignored.

    Usually if I'm not playing with friends it's quiet or somebody is getting a lot of feedback into their mic. Sometimes there's a kid arguing with him mum about bedtime or bathtime or something. If you don't like something mute it. If they are team killing just submit an avoid review of them.

    Well, I find that inside or out of a game, people are getting worse.
    I go and do the shopping each week with my wife. I stand aside for folks to let them get past, I say sorry if I accidentally get in the way of someone etc. I can count on one hand how many times the same has been done for me in the last 2 months. 4 times. I am OCD and this is one of those things that I keep track of (along with how many times I check the car before I leave it).

    In game, it is just the same. People are getting nasty(er). Comes with the times. News shows push a fear campaign constantly, people are worried about money and the environment (ecological and social). Getting bombarded constantly with negative news and social commentary will erode (oppress) a society over time.

    It is happening right now. For this generation it was first, terrorism, then bird flu, then swine flu, then the GFC, then the Euro Zone and now we have had constant news about North Korea, the Middle East and so on and so on.

    Folks are just miserable. So when you cop it from a clown online, chances are that is the same person who cuts you off in the car, pushes in the line at the super market or throws racist slurs at someone for being different. Regarding teenagers, it would the same kid that singles you out on the field, the same kid that is disrespectful to teachers and parents, the same kid who might have a hard family situation etc.

    Yup, life is good.

    I would have thought the GIFT would have been disproved by people being dicks on Facebook, where real names are the norm.

    I've read a few articles like this. Another similar area is regarding altruistic behaviour. You are more likely to donate to charity or do something nice for someone if you have an audience because it conforms to acceptable societal behaviour. If you go around a group and ask them in turn to make a donation, each person is more likely to donate if the person before them did because they have set the standard of acceptable behaviour. You may have absolutely no interest in doing it, but a fear of persecution and exclusion from a group can be a powerful motivator.

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