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Deindividuation and Polarization through Online Anonymity
July 25, 2011 7:09 AM   Subscribe

The Guardian: Online commenting: How the internet created an age of rage
posted by zarq (93 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
http://www.grardian.co.uk/
posted by nathancaswell at 7:09 AM on July 25, 2011 [15 favorites]


I'm feeling rage right now!
posted by emjaybee at 7:15 AM on July 25, 2011


fffffffuuuuuuuuuuuu-
posted by pyrex at 7:17 AM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I guess the best analogy I've heard wasn't in this article, and I can't remember where I read it. It related online commenting with school assemblies:

You are, to a degree, obscured by the rest of the audience, but there is a minor reward in shouting something that rouses the audience's attention, but you need to walk the fine line of not saying something that truly irks the person on the stage.

I think the best part of the analogy is associated level of maturity in the imagined school assemblies. There is certainly a digressive element to the resulting outbursts and "discussion", I would assert.
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 7:23 AM on July 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


I can feel your anger... it gives you focus, it makes you stronger.
posted by Flood at 7:25 AM on July 25, 2011 [5 favorites]


It's kind of the way that fairly normal people, once they get into cars, feel that they can bully anyone smaller on the road (or larger -- I have watched SUvs play chicken while merging around buses -- what the heck are they thinking?) being difficult to see gives them that same sense of anonymity.

The answer seems to be that, when people get that "freedom via anonymity" bug going in a destructive way, strong and constant moderation is the answer. If nothing else, it reminds the poster that someone knows who they are, at least in some sense.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:26 AM on July 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


The psychologists call it "deindividuation". It's what happens when social norms are withdrawn because identities are concealed.

Explains my lousy luck with e-dating* -- the dating sites have all been deindividualized. There aren't any individuals on them.

*Discounting my general misanthropy and crippling lack of self-esteem, which I'm sure have nothing to do with it.
posted by Capt. Renault at 7:27 AM on July 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


The internet often reminds me of the Belcerebons from The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy. Wouldn't knowing everyone else's every thought be awful? The answer, as the internet has taught us, is holy shit yes.
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:29 AM on July 25, 2011 [27 favorites]


Bee became known as the Moderatrix – "all moderators have an implicit sub-dom relationship with their site" –

That explains Matt's recent bizarre, yet intriguing, email. Thank god I had images turned off.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:29 AM on July 25, 2011 [7 favorites]


So, it's basically John Gabriel's Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory with actual psychological backing. Good to know.
posted by SansPoint at 7:29 AM on July 25, 2011 [11 favorites]


Exactly what I came in here to post, SansPoint!
posted by cmgonzalez at 7:33 AM on July 25, 2011


I'm not surprised to see The Guardian jumping on this particular bandwagon; their own comment sections are filled with exactly the kind of hit-and-run asshattery that this column is aimed at. I wonder how long it will take them to link comments to Facebook.
posted by londonmark at 7:35 AM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


u mad, Guardian?
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:35 AM on July 25, 2011


Internet trolling is kind of like that thing they have in England where anyone can go to the park, stand on a wooden crate, and spout off on any topic without fear of reprisal. It doesn't harm anyone and it allows steam to be blown off.
posted by Renoroc at 7:42 AM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I really liked this Guardian piece, thanks! I think it's a nice complement to the thread a few days ago by Anil Dash about moderating.

One thing that really resonated with me in the article is the issue of herd mentality. It's like some kind of negative feedback loop, where if people see that they can get away with something, they (and others) will keep doing more. Without any kind of moderation or policing, the community will just collapse into a black hole of trolldom (or the same lame jokes over and over and over, see Slashdot and reddit). And at that point, why would any sane person stay on that site, when it's easier to just go to another place?

I also like how Teresa Nielsen-Hayden also seems to have found this issue out on her own, in her rules for moderating conversations in virtual space:
10. Another important rule: You can let one jeering, unpleasant jerk hang around for a while, but the minute you get two or more of them egging each other on, they both have to go, and all their recent messages with them. There are others like them prowling the net, looking for just that kind of situation. More of them will turn up, and they’ll encourage each other to behave more and more outrageously. Kill them quickly and have no regrets.
posted by jasonhong at 7:42 AM on July 25, 2011 [7 favorites]


Renoroc, I would very strongly disagree that trolling doesn't harm anyone. Just a few days ago, there was a FPP about a Korean rapper who was being griefed by cyberbullies about whether he actually went to Stanford. There's also Rebecca Black getting death threats.

Trolling also makes it harder for people to have actual conversations too. I've lost count of the number of online sites that I've given up on simply because of trolls.
posted by jasonhong at 7:47 AM on July 25, 2011 [10 favorites]


This is why I've been little more than a lurker on most of the communities I trawl. Anonymity empowers assholes, and I've rarely felt compelled to jump into discussions that consist mostly of people attacking each other.

I think this is part of the reason why there was such an outcry over Blizzard's Real ID system last year. Sure, privacy concerns are always valid, but not everyone wants anonymity for noble reasons.
posted by mean cheez at 7:48 AM on July 25, 2011


The age of rage: how the Daily Mail stokes fury by finding it everywhere.

Note: The Daily Mail's business growth is built upon a move away from print to an adspend-driven internet page view model predicated on trolling its commentariat.

signed,

glad im not in blighty expat, formentera
posted by MuffinMan at 7:49 AM on July 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


For a little while I have been thinking there is just too much opportunity to comment on every damn thing on the internet. It kind of pseudo-forces many people into thinking they have to have an opinion about every thing that flits across their screen, even if the opinion is neither insightful, witty or worth sharing with anyone outside your domicile. Do we really need, or what to know what people think about the daily comics? Or 90% of Youtube submissions, or the local/national/international daily paper's story about XYZ? Frankly, I couldn't care less what Frank from Missolula thinks about the national debt. Or what Sally from London thinks is the best way to cure warts.

MPR (Minnesota Public Radio) has this daily question/poll they ask and encourage people to go online and submit their answers. Often times it's not so much people talking to each other as a bunch of raving asshole yelling at one another.. and these is public radio listeners.

I think we need more introspection and less goading to have an authoritative opinion about everything they read/hear/see.
posted by edgeways at 7:50 AM on July 25, 2011 [12 favorites]


Jeesh, what a worthy windbag article about a generally fascinating topic.

I am actually a fan of The Guardian, but the style can be so exasperating sometimes.

This sentence:

"The "40,000 words of hate" have now become "anthropologically amusing" to him, he insists..."

is fucking typical. The journalist's pursuit of a doggedly even-handed observation enervates the reader!
posted by Jody Tresidder at 8:01 AM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I thought I was supposed to be outraged that there's no anonymity in Google+.
posted by 0xdeadc0de at 8:03 AM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


If the medium is the message, then the internet's message is "Fuck you!"
posted by vibrotronica at 8:04 AM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Jody Tresidder, the original article is actually from the Observer, the Guardian's Sunday-only sister paper. The Observer doesn't have its own website.
posted by Hogshead at 8:05 AM on July 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


This is basically why I stopped using an anonymous identity on MeFi a long time ago.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:08 AM on July 25, 2011


Pundits continue to treat the issue of trolling and online vitriol as a technological problem rather than a social problem.

One can invest in a pseudonym such that there is tremendous value in maintaining a sense of fairness and community. That is, it is not the anonymity that is the problem, but how that anonymity is used and abused by a transient population.

Online anonymity and selective disclosure is a pretty fundamental part of the internet that works. Drive-by hate and forum pile-ons and trolling will not be solved by making people use names that sound like real names.
posted by clvrmnky at 8:08 AM on July 25, 2011 [7 favorites]


If the medium is the message, then the internet's message is "Fuck you!"

No, the internet's message is "Hey, look at this! Do you want to buy it? No? Look at this! Does it make you angry? No? Look at... hey, wait, here's a kitty!"
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:09 AM on July 25, 2011 [8 favorites]


I think this is part of the reason why there was such an outcry over Blizzard's Real ID system last year. Sure, privacy concerns are always valid, but not everyone wants anonymity for noble reasons.

I think there's a reasonable line to be drawn between anonymity and pseudonymity. With pseudonymity (which is what the blizzard case is about), you still have an identity, it's just not the one that you carry around outside of the forum. The blizzard case was ALL about people not wanting to link their real life identities to their identities as WoW players, either because there's a stigma against WoW addicts in the real world, or because their real life identities (as women, transpersons, religious affilations, ect.) carried stigma on the blizzard forums.

Whether the psuedonym actually acts as a separate identity than just a throw away anonymous screen name depends on some sort of history and community involvement on the site.
posted by dinty_moore at 8:10 AM on July 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


Previously posted by Horace Rumpole and refuted by JHarris.
posted by jeffburdges at 8:11 AM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm fairly new to MetaFilter, but one of the things that I've noticed is that its commenters generally have a strong command of spelling, grammar, capitalization, and punctuation. Among open Internet communities, I don't think that I've seen one that demonstrates this tendency as strongly as MetaFilter. There's invective, but at least it's expressed correctly.
posted by John Farrier at 8:12 AM on July 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


The comments online at my local small-town newspaper have taught me that many of my neighbors are small-minded, hateful assholes. I've never met one in person though.

I've stopped reading the local paper, it's just not worth it.
posted by maxwelton at 8:14 AM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


There are two kinds of people: Those who posted on USENET with their real name never realizing that their posts would be eternally preserved and indexed by Google, and those who didn't.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:24 AM on July 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm genuinely surprised that the Guardian published that without referencing Max Gogarty - probably the point at which it felt like its own commentariat had run out of control.

The way the Guardian and the Mail respond to open war breaking out in the comments is interesting. The Guardian pretty clearly wanted to set the record straight - doing so first with an editors' response, then a newspaper piece in the Observer on cyber-bullying.

Arguably, the Mail is not hugely interested in whether or not people are appalled by its content, as long as they read it - it has a huge paper and online circulation, and there is little evidence that it can go too far. The development of istyosty as a technological solution to the desire to share content from the Mail without giving it the benefit of clickthroughs is really interesting - since the sacrifice you have to make to do so is the ability to comment.
posted by running order squabble fest at 8:29 AM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


clvrmnky: " One can invest in a pseudonym such that there is tremendous value in maintaining a sense of fairness and community. That is, it is not the anonymity that is the problem, but how that anonymity is used and abused by a transient population.

Online anonymity and selective disclosure is a pretty fundamental part of the internet that works. Drive-by hate and forum pile-ons and trolling will not be solved by making people use names that sound like real names.
"

One goal behind the removal of aliases and anonymity might be to encourage accountability. When people have to take responsibility for the things they say online, and they are aware of realistic, potential real-life consequences, I suspect they are generally less likely to be abusive of others. It's obviously not a guarantee that people will treat each other respectfully, but it does tend to keep trolling to a more manageable level.

People who are invested in their identity -- whether it's one's real name, or a "known" name in their online community, may take more care with it.

Of course, the flip side of that is that some people simply won't give a damn what other folks think of them, even without the veil of anonymity.
posted by zarq at 8:30 AM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Did the Mail develop istyosty, though? And what does that stand for, anyway?

The Mail moderate their comments - I've made the futile gesture of commenting on a couple of articles and it was never published. Possibly because I didn't make reference to David CamerLoon and Za Nu LieBore.
posted by mippy at 8:31 AM on July 25, 2011


No, the internet's message is "Hey, look at this! Do you want to buy it? No? Look at this! Does it make you angry? No? Look at... hey, wait, here's a kitty!"


Where?!





The kitty is a lie....

[rage]
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 8:32 AM on July 25, 2011


Edgeways-- while I agree with your point to a degree-- one thing the internet has done is give voice to marginalized people who otherwise wouldn't be able to share their opinions. Anonymity can allow people who are "low class" (poor/mentally ill/etc) and have uneducated opinions an opportunity to share their experiences with the "higher class" who is more responsible for making policies that affect the daily lives of "underclass" people.

This whole concept of a government that has active involvement from the uneducated/lower classes has always had the problem that people with out educations or who genuinely have lower intelligence may inadvertantly vote for policies that not only are harmful to others in society but may even be bad for THEM. So there's a weird necessity that those with higher intelligence should in fact have a higher obligation to look out for the well being of the masses--- however how to respect free agency/self determination/right to participate freely in government?

When you look at someone is mentlaly ill cognitively impaired to the point that they are quite literally cared for by others their entire lives-- we pressume that it is in their best interest to have some of their decision making done for them. They might think jumping off a building would be fun and maybe they will learn to fly!! However someone with more sanity/intelligence who cares about them would NOT be respecting them by saying, "Sure! Do whatever you want I respect your free will!"

If someone doesn't understand the consequences of their own actions (quite literally in the case of severe mental illness/cognitive impairment) --- it is not respecting them to give them free reign to leap to their death when they don't even want to die and don't mentally understand that will be the consequence.

The reality is of course intelligence is usually not cut and dry like this--- and in general-- those with better upbringing, enriching environments, better access to school, etc etc (the middle and upper classes) will tend to better on tests of spacial reasoning, creative thought, basic critical thinking etc etc. (Of course these tests are themselves usually designed by middle/upperclass people, but don't worry, there's no bias.)

My point is, I am thankful the internet has given myself and others a space to express my reality and my hopes for the direction society will deal with social problems and policy-- even though my spelling is not good and I have less education than many of the people who I admire that have more power than I do to directly influence policy.

In addition I am unspeakably thankful to the people of metafilter who have taken the time to read through my rambly, poorly spelled posts and attempted to make sense of it. It has made a difference in my life, and I have honestly never experienced an online community like it. Shit, I didn't realize I'd be turning this comment into a love letter.
posted by xarnop at 8:34 AM on July 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


I rambled and skipped my own point-- while it makes sense in many ways for the middle/upper/more educated people in society to be more responsible for policy--- I would hope that would involve listening in a meangful way to the voices of those being governed and whose lives are affected by such policies.
posted by xarnop at 8:36 AM on July 25, 2011


Lastly I'm being way too serious about this. Let me more appropriately respond to this issue of rage on the internet:

AAAaaaaaaaaargh!!!

Ah. That's better.
posted by xarnop at 8:40 AM on July 25, 2011


Jody Tresidder, the original article is actually from the Observer, the Guardian's Sunday-only sister paper. The Observer doesn't have its own website.

Thanks, Hogshead.

(I didn't really just waste ten minutes fruitlessly trawling for evidence that Adams started as a copyboy at The Guardian...)
posted by Jody Tresidder at 8:41 AM on July 25, 2011


From the article:
Deindividuation is what happens when we get behind the wheel of a car and feel moved to scream abuse at the woman in front who is slow in turning right.
...
You can trace those implications right back to the genesis of social media, to pioneering Californian utopias, and their fall. The earliest network-groups had a sort of Edenic cast. One representative group was CommuniTree, which was set up as an open-access forum on a series of modem-linked computers in the 1970s when computers were just humming into life.
Wait, weren't people on the roads DECADES before they were online?
The two experts trace the history of road rage to 19th century England, where "furious driving" laws were passed to control horse drawn carriages barreling through town on Saturday nights after drivers left taverns in a drunken state.
Source: Road Rage in Hawaii

Roadway fury: how personal carriages created an age of rage
posted by filthy light thief at 8:42 AM on July 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'm not so sure that online anonymity "created" any of this rage, or anything else did.

However, I think that online anonymity -- or road rage, or any one of a number of things -- provided yet another opportunity for some people to pander to the baser elements of their nature that were always there.

Seriously. I suspect that back in Sumeria people were grumbling about how this new cuneiform business was letting people get away with being shits to each other.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:48 AM on July 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


The kitty is a lie....

[rage]


Put away your rage! There is plenty of kitty for you, just a few FPPs away.
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:53 AM on July 25, 2011


There's sure been lot of energy being invested into undermining internet anonymity lately.
posted by Stagger Lee at 8:54 AM on July 25, 2011 [11 favorites]


Reading the Guardian article and having no idea who Stewart Lee is, the one-sided-ness and lack of context leaves me puzzled -- perhaps Stewart Lee really is a dickhead?
posted by Rash at 8:55 AM on July 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


mippy: Quite the reverse - istyosty has been created specifically to deny the Mail page views from people who want to call it out for offensive content without adding to its ad revenues or readership stats. Being unable to comment is a consequence of the proxy rather than a feature.
posted by running order squabble fest at 9:00 AM on July 25, 2011


Empress: I think you're underestimating how much media or social situations can create emotions in other people. How many Tea Partiers do you think would be so riled up without Fox News? Sure, people have base emotions, but emotions are not just some default underlying preset state. Big Brother's Two Minutes of Hate (ok it's fictional but still) was a deliberate tactic to create and foster emotions in people.
posted by ropeladder at 9:01 AM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Speaking as somebody who's chosen against internet anonymity: I'm rarely angry online, but I am a little bit concerned that my boss is going to find out about that whole stetson hat fiasco at the bar.
posted by Stagger Lee at 9:03 AM on July 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


Anonymity, and the associated ability to use it to build pseudonyms with a long trail, has some real virtues, but it also has some real downsides. It's possible to appreciate the virtues while agreeing that the downsides are awful. That's not a particularly new observation in internet time, even if there are a lot of things coming out about it right now (probably because of G+). Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory (warning: TVTropes) dates back to 2004.
posted by immlass at 9:04 AM on July 25, 2011


I think you're underestimating how much media or social situations can create emotions in other people.

Not quite -- however, I will also say that I don't think groupthink is unique to the 21st century either, nor to its technology. Angry mobs have also been around since mankind became a social being.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:05 AM on July 25, 2011


perhaps Stewart Lee really is a dickhead?

In some ways, yes he is, but he's very very good at it.

But as it's appearing in a UK paper, familiarity with one of our currently most lauded stand-ups is assumed, just as US media assumes you all know what SNL is but over here it's referred to as 'US comedy show Saturday Night Live' in articles about this new comedy star Kristen Wiig.
posted by mippy at 9:09 AM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I use this Penny Arcade strip as an example of this.
posted by zzazazz at 9:13 AM on July 25, 2011


immlass: "That's not a particularly new observation in internet time, even if there are a lot of things coming out about it right now (probably because of G+)."

There's been an ongoing ramp-up in the topic -- and specifically how it applies to politics, trolling, freedom of speech, freedom from oppression/repression and moderation of online forums by people and corporate entities -- this year since at least the Arab Spring, and possibly dating back to last year's Iranian Twitter Revolution.
posted by zarq at 9:14 AM on July 25, 2011


Many sites are reputation based, like Wikipedia. So when using a real name, you have to maintain not only your avatar's reputation but your own personal one - this is a lot of pressure. With anonymous accounts if you seriously embarrass yourself, or someone pisses you off, you can just retire your avatar and start over fresh. Much less pressure, leads to more civil behavior, inward reflection to learn from mistakes - no one cares except you since your anonymous, there are no wider consequences. So a case can be made that anonymity creates civility, assuming the person operates in good faith and isn't intentionally trying to cause harm (a big assumption).
posted by stbalbach at 9:20 AM on July 25, 2011


This is one of the reason I love Metafilter. Best comments on the tubes.
posted by zzazazz at 9:22 AM on July 25, 2011


I agree with Stagger Lee, and I don't like it. I don't like that the issue is being framed everywhere as this false dichotomy of anonymous trolls versus honest, thoughtful Real Name people. I don't like the idea of a ghettoisation of internet communities in which the affluent, conforming urban professionals (who have far less to worry about in terms of job security and other identity risks) will take on the role of speaking in for now further-marginalized others, promoting or quelling causes or ideas while pseudonymous bloggers and commenters are increasingly locked out. Oh, hey, yeah, you, John Q. Upright Internet Citizen, won't you please make an impassioned comment or post about transgender rights or atheism? Transgendered atheist Person X would do it, but then she'd get fired from her job and attacked in her neighborhood, so won't you please speak for her?
posted by taz at 9:28 AM on July 25, 2011 [9 favorites]


Software giving many voices to one voice, is currently in use as a tool of persuasion. Not all persuasion is nice, not all PR campaigns use the soft sell.

Pretend rage sells too, especially political opinion, or anti-type opinions. Professional PR bullies, who work for one cause, entity, or nation know the timid will take rage on a video screen seriously, possibly changing their impressions of reality or behavior.

A lot of on screen rage, is actually a deliberate, effective, shutter-upper of dialogue. This is especially so when ideologues go to work in teams, or use one voice, many voices type software.

It is like plumbing, if you can think of it, it exists. With the convoluted nature of web interconnections, what is the effect? That was the design. If the PR people can get enough people shouting, to vent their underlying anxiety about the state of our nation, but get them to vent over in an entirely different milieu than the reality of their upset, their job is done, as long as the desired political effect comes about.

I don't deny the web its glorious means to facilitate expression of all types, but then there is expression of all hypes as well.
posted by Oyéah at 9:36 AM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


"There has to be an emphasis on letting in the light rather than damning the darkness of the trolls and vomiting on the floor…"

I like this. It explains, for me anyway, why we need moderation of the kind we have here on Mefi. I don't agree with getting rid of every offensive or negative comment. Once that kind of stuff starts to take over, though, it lowers the level of discourse for everyone who wants to discuss the issues at hand, no matter what side their on.

And, yes, sometimes anonymity leads to fuckwadness. But that doesn't mean we swing the pendulum to the other side and say everyone online needs to use a legal name to comment. We don't need the online version of Homeland Security and the TSA getting all up in our business.
posted by misha at 9:42 AM on July 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Exactly, misha. People in the U.S. are apparently at the point in history where the memory of the McCarthy era seems to have faded into the dim past – at exactly the time when thoughts of threats like this should be foremost. What a field day the McCarthy inquisitors (inquisitions of all flavors, everywhere, everywhen, of course) would have had with a Real Name internet! I'd be interested in knowing where this big, seemingly coordinated, push for real names is originating, actually.
posted by taz at 9:47 AM on July 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


Generally, though, who should be afraid to stand up and put their name to their words? And why should anyone listen if they don't?

Quite apart from the need of many people to be able to speak freely about sex, gender, mental illness, etc. ad infinitum, anonymity protects the silly. Anonymity has freed me to discuss Batmanology without a future employer googling up my views next time I'm looking for work.

"Why should anyone listen?" People do listen. Perhaps Adams should consider more carefully what their reasons might be.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 9:55 AM on July 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


I agree with my pseudonym-carrying brethren; the Real Name sites often leave me cold. Quora tends toward endless recursive glad-handing (the Anon User posts are an exception) and Facebook is .. well, let's just say politics is still best discussed at the dinner table rather than with dozens of distant relatives.

There is a long list of reasons to use a pseudonym.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 10:06 AM on July 25, 2011 [5 favorites]


taz, theorizing here, but I think it is a combination of what Oyéah said above and some people who feel that online civility is more important than the freedom to make an ass of yourself.

Before the internet was commercialized, you were anonymous simply because a lot of times, the way you communicated didn't make using real names possible. Remember when your e-mail address was aqz432@compuserve.net? Or jacking.off@thewell.net? Anonymity was simply how it all worked, since real names and online ID's weren't connected.

But the push has been hijacked by moralists and meritocrats, rather than intellectual or academics. I can completely understand the use of real names in scientific discussions and matters related to facts and hard data. It gets screwy when you start talking about mores and beliefs, though, since, as always, opinions are like assholes, and everyone who doesn't agree with me has a stinky bum.

Or something.
posted by daq at 10:15 AM on July 25, 2011


It's not the anonymity that causes the rage. Lots of us are effectively anonymous here on metafilter. It wouldn't be impossible to get through the obscuring layers we've laid down between the internet and our real lives, but generally no one would bother.

Yet for the most part we don't behave like dicks. And we're not all angry all the time. There are exceptions to that, sometimes dramatic ones, but generally we play reasonably well together.

I reckon the why and how of that is kind of complex. Even if we're almost anonymous, we've got persistent user names. We've got active and highly skilled moderators. There's a fair bit of self policing by the community. It is a community, and that's really very important.. It's important that there is a set of community standards. It's also important that it's a community where everyone has the right and opportunity to comment, post the material to be commented on, and participate in setting community standards. And most of us seem to be self aware enough to grasp the implications of all these things, and realise that they mean we need to be nice to each other if we want to get stick around and get full value out of the site.

But we don't need to be using our real names to do any of that. So with respect to the Guardian and their mates at Google, no, anonymity really isn't the problem.
posted by Ahab at 10:40 AM on July 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


"Real names" and "real friends" can be virtual. If someone wants to protect their name online, they maintain their known persona (and actions) in the community. People who are just using a temporary name as a shield for raving/attacking are pretty easy to pick out - and to ignore. That is probably the real advantage of the metafiliter $5 fee and the community commitment to maintaining a civil place to share ideas.

Still, the 'fighting off the Huns' does get tedious, even for a mature community like mefi. There are far, far too many people on the internet who only see it as a combat zone. This war mentality could be reflecting more 'deindividuation' in the flesh world - or it could just be more spasms of culture change online.

This is a topic worth watching.
posted by Surfurrus at 10:40 AM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Generally, though, who should be afraid to stand up and put their name to their words? And why should anyone listen if they don't?

Of course, if you do use your real name to post about controversial topics and suffer the consequences for it, people will blame you for your poor judgment.

I had someone email me the other day because I had used her real name in an old post. She had started her online engagement under her real name, but this became potentially dangerous to her job prospects and she was in the process of trying to get her real name removed from everything unconnected to her professional persona. She didn't have a pseudonym to protect her from accountability for trollish behavior, but because she was forced to take one to protect herself.

This is actually something that happened across large segments of online fandom. Many people began their engagement under their real names or using email addresses easily connected to their real names, but as Google became A Thing the necessity of protecting your pseudonymity became obvious. There have been pretty notorious cases within fandom of people retaliating against another fan by revealing their pseudonym (and therefore their controversial fanworks) to their families and bosses, resulting in serious consequences for the fan.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 10:49 AM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I wonder how long it will take them to link comments to Facebook.

Are Facebook comments any better? I don't think anonymity is the main factor here. Driving in a car; surfing the Web--these users think they are "untouchable," not anonymous.

It is what motivates a responsible father in a football crowd to yell crude sexual hatred at the opposition or the referee.

I see much worse behavior from people removed from direct physical contact with others than I see actual poor conduct from individuals in the midst of large groups (now the groups themselves ...), unless the person is drunk.

Perhaps bloody noses do prevent world wars after all.

Online anonymity and selective disclosure is a pretty fundamental part of the internet that works. Drive-by hate and forum pile-ons and trolling will not be solved by making people use names that sound like real names.

That.

If the medium is the message, then the internet's message is "Fuck you!"

How is that any different than the universal message of humanity before the Internet?
posted by mrgrimm at 10:51 AM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't like that the issue is being framed everywhere as this false dichotomy of anonymous trolls versus honest, thoughtful Real Name people.

What's interesting to me is that even though the author took the time to talk to a bona fide social scientist, the article still ends up perpetuated this dichotomy, because it oversimplified the research.

The authors focused on deindividuation, rather than on the more complicated, but more relevant contribution by Postmes & his colleagues, SIDE, or the Social Identity Model of Deindividuation Effects. SIDE is actually a critique of traditional deindividuation theory, in that it argues that it is depersonalization, rather than deindividuation, that may be the cause of the negative effects often observed (trolling, etc).

Basically, SIDE argues that under *certain* (i.e. not all) conditions of anonymity, particularly visual anonymity, individuals may become depersonalized, wherein individuals switch from thinking about themselves as individuals to thinking of themselves as members of *groups*. If social categories (like say, race, gender, political affiliation, MeFites vs. Redditers) are made *salient* in a given context, then SIDE would predict that this depersonalization would make the kinds of negative effects more likely (polarization, etc).

So it is SIDE theory, rather than just deindividuation theory, that attempts to account for things like herd mentality. Herd mentality happens not just b/c people are anonymous, but b/c in a given situation, being part of the herd becomes more salient.

This is why anonymity does not ALWAYS lead to these kinds of negative effects. Also, there's no reason why social identity has to be negative. I would point to MeFi as a great example. When we think of ourselves first as members of this community, and what it means to be in this community, we might be more likely to treat each other with respect, etc, as befitting local community norms. Obviously the moderation and $5 signup fee also play a role, but I am speaking now just in terms of SIDE.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 10:52 AM on July 25, 2011 [8 favorites]


It's not the anonymity that causes the rage

Of course. Anonymity is the enabler.

In a lot of cases, what causes the rage is the twin need to both outdo and belong, hence the infantilism of it all. Rage is a competition and a club. Rage is a playground.

In a playground, kids try to outdo one another. In this case, I'M THE ANGRIEST. But they also need to belong. Rage is a unifier. We can all take comfort that only we can see how f**ked up everything is.

Anonymity grants people the chance to play out these fantasies without fear of repercussions or identification. It is Batman's cape or Clark Kent's glasses.
posted by MuffinMan at 10:53 AM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


tl;dr SIDE theory supports what Ahab said above.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 10:54 AM on July 25, 2011


that road rage site filthy light thief links is interesting. road rage really is a beast all its own. there's something about the whole system of driving that turns the nicest person into an insufferable jerk.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:02 AM on July 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm not entirely convinced that this is about specific anonymization through the use of pseudonyms, as much as it is the general anonymization of living in an age where suddenly everyone has a voice -- as opposed to, say, 20 years ago when one really had to jump through a lot of hoops for any larger groups to read one's writings. When those hoops are removed the currency of opinion is devalued by making one's opinion no weightier than anyone else's, but one can achieve a sort of fame by being especially offensive or visceral, especially if one is not particularly insightful.
posted by CheesesOfNazareth at 11:29 AM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you're not angry, you're not paying attention.
posted by entropicamericana at 11:46 AM on July 25, 2011


What a field day the McCarthy inquisitors (inquisitions of all flavors, everywhere, everywhen, of course) would have had with a Real Name internet!

I don't agree. McCarthy wasn't stopped by an anonymous group, he was stopped by an honest and courageous individual (Edward R. Murrow) reporting under his real name. Real names matter.
posted by Triplanetary at 12:25 PM on July 25, 2011


[Metafilter is better than other places] I reckon the why and how of that is kind of complex. Even if we're almost anonymous, we've got persistent user names. We've got active and highly skilled moderators. There's a fair bit of self policing by the community. It is a community, and that's really very important.. It's important that there is a set of community standards. [...]

It's got a lot more with having to give $5 and your credit card details to Mathowie, and even then there's a lot f group think. Just look at the graph of people who favorite each others' posts or comment in each others' threads and you can see a lot of persistent groups, especially on persistent topics. The annual or occasional political compass survey on MetaTalk (I think) shows the site to be a pretty narrowly defined echo chamber on some topics; deviations from the norm attract swift, and sometimes verbally violent, reactions.

This sort of thing is a big reason why I have never joined any political organization. I don't care to be part of a group that's concerned with anything more trivial than celebrating a baseball team or a music performance; in general I find it very difficult to submerge my individual identity in that of a group. The larger the group, the more likely I am to find its collective expression repulsive. Thus, I avoid political demonstrations because they bring out the worst in people; even though I am a fairly political person, crowds of people shouting their opinions are about as much fun for me as the zombie apocalypse.

BTW there's a little utility for Chrome called Stylebot that lets you redesign the layout of a web page, and I most use it for hiding the comments section on newspaper articles. I'm sure there are equivalents for the other popular browsers. Improves my online news-reading experience no end. I feel sad about this, because when I was young I was an evangelist for the idea of internet democracy, comments everywhere and so on...even plugging the idea at the Guardian when I worked there as a callow youth. Years later, I came to the depressing conclusion that I was wrong about this, and that giving people the means of participation does not, in fact, raise the quality of debate. Living in California as I do now, I'm not all that sure about direct democracy either. Maybe there's something to the Wiki model, where editing history and the discussion on the talk page are kept separated from the article so readers can enjoy the sausage without having to look at its manufacture.
posted by anigbrowl at 12:29 PM on July 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Ah, the latest in The Grauniad's occasional series, "Hey Look, Here's Something Long Familiar About the Internet We've Only Just Discovered Yet You All Knew About More Than Ten Years Ago".
posted by Decani at 12:39 PM on July 25, 2011


If you're not angry, you're not paying attention.

See, it's statements like this (albeit made seriously rather than in jest or as meta-commentary) which I find particularly offensive. This is a very aggressive method of imposing group conformity, which postulating an us mentality - characterized by violent emotion, but absent any dilution with specifics - an evil Other against whom the anger will soon be directed, and a presumption of ignorance or bad faith about any who disagree with the militant tone espoused by the speaker.

A distressingly high percentage of online chatter is made up of manipulative exhortations like this - call them dog whistles, clichees, truisms or whatever. Often they are completely content free and designed to simply manipulate the immediate flow of discussion; where they are subject-specific they're often so hackneyed and easily recognizable that the opponents simply dismiss them as 'talking points' - which has itself become a rhetorical tool with which to deflect a substantive argument that one would rather not answer. Same thing when people talk about 'sheeple' or use rhetoric to characterize everything in terms of a patriot movement, a class war, or whatever.

I'm coming to the conclusion that one of the main reasons I like law (and particularly the procedural and technical aspects of law, as opposed to the theatrical aspects directed at the public or a jury) is that there are rules and standards for advancing and refuting an argument. It's far from a perfect system, but I find it infinitely preferable to the alternative.
posted by anigbrowl at 12:51 PM on July 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


See, it's statements like this (albeit made seriously rather than in jest or as meta-commentary) which I find particularly offensive. This is a very aggressive method of imposing group conformity, which postulating an us mentality - characterized by violent emotion, but absent any dilution with specifics - an evil Other against whom the anger will soon be directed, and a presumption of ignorance or bad faith about any who disagree with the militant tone espoused by the speaker.

I think you make some sharp points, anigbrowl - but the pompous tone detracts a bit.
I have to watch that tendency myself:)
posted by Jody Tresidder at 1:08 PM on July 25, 2011


Oh lighten up! Internet trolls, griefers, etc. add an enormous amount of humor. Did you never engage in mefi snark? Troll slashdot? Read adequacy.org? Or troll a financial message board?
posted by jeffburdges at 1:09 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


To me, a big flaw in the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory is that epic flamewars happened over email in relatively small professional newsgroups and mailing lists by people throwing the full weight of their academic and professional credentials around. I don't think there's an easy solution here.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:13 PM on July 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Oh lighten up! Internet trolls, griefers, etc. add an enormous amount of humor.

Yes...at others' expense. And no, I don't troll public forums where people are tying to have a serious discussion, for the same reason that I didn't play with stink bombs and whoopee cushions and itching powder when I was in school. Most of the time, troll humor is mean-spirited and aggressive. 'It's just a joke' is a favorite excuse of bullies, right up there with 's/he made me do it', 's/he started it' and 'it needed to be said'. Trolls are the sort of people who can dish it out but can't take it, in my experience, and the most insufferably self-righteous whenever their point of view is not taken sufficiently seriously.
posted by anigbrowl at 2:38 PM on July 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


The article was great until almost the last sentence, where the author claimed that there were clear cases when anonymity was desirable. That's simply not the case. I can think of at least a dozen good reasons to want to post anonymously, and that means there are most likely six dozen I haven't thought of.

Semi-persistent pseudonyms are the way forward, at least until the world becomes a Utopia where people only get upset rationally by things which legitimately concern them. If a certain amount of assholeishness is the cost, let's pay it.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 3:09 PM on July 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: For the most part we don't behave like dicks.
posted by Pants McCracky at 3:40 PM on July 25, 2011


n the end she needed a change. She's in another "community management" job now, dealing through Facebook, which is a relief because "it removes anonymity so people are a lot more polite".

THIS. the fact that everything links back to my Facebook means I'm forced to be restrained.
But I still sometimes get a red rage when people are 'wrong' on the web, and it can put a damper on my day.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 3:52 PM on July 25, 2011


One goal behind the removal of aliases and anonymity might be to encourage accountability. When people have to take responsibility for the things they say online, and they are aware of realistic, potential real-life consequences,

Yeah, I totally need to be accountable for the fact I'm an woman.

One fun potential real-life consequence for me taking accountability for having been born female would be for freaks to show up at my house because they can find me thanks to my extremely rare name!*

I hate these accountability arguments, because they assume we all start on the same playing field and we all have the same possible consequences. The stakes for a woman (or a transgender person, or someone with a socially controversial interest) on the internet are a lot higher, and it's ridiculous to pretend that it is not so.
posted by winna at 3:53 PM on July 25, 2011 [6 favorites]


Antecedents in English letters exist at least as far back as Hazlitt's vituperative spats with The Quarterly Review and Blackwood's Magazine ("accused him of ignorance, dishonesty, and obscenity, and incorporated vague physical threats"), so I find it hard to accept the idea that the medium has created the bile; perhaps it's merely the wider access to a published platform that makes it all more noticeable, but it's more a quantitative than qualitative change I suspect.
posted by Abiezer at 4:08 PM on July 25, 2011


Hazlitt's coinage ultracrepidarian also seems designed for another stock-in-trade of the Internet.
posted by Abiezer at 4:10 PM on July 25, 2011


Honestly, I've been thinking about going the other way. The other dynamic at play here is personalization of grievances to the point of vendetta and stalking. And having seen communities turn into kangaroo courts of outrage and grudge focused on a different person every week, I'm less and less reluctant to make those links to my personal life.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 4:28 PM on July 25, 2011


Whoops, I'm more and more reluctant to make those links to my personal life.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 4:29 PM on July 25, 2011


See? The RNC (Real Names Cabal) almost had you there for a second. ;)
posted by taz at 4:39 PM on July 25, 2011


Winna, all very good points.
posted by zarq at 4:56 PM on July 25, 2011


Maybe the Internet is like alcohol; it makes you more of what you already are without the inhibitions.

When some people drink, they get silly. Others love everyone. Many think they can sing. Some become melancholy and cry a lot. And others get angry and pick fights.

In other words, if you're sweet, the Internet allows you to be as sweet as you want to be, and if you're an asshole, the Internet allows you to be a serious asshole.
posted by bwg at 5:04 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I too think it's terrible that the great unwashed have opinions I disagree with and, what's worse, are allowed to shamelessly express them on public comment sites open to everyone, especially when they fucking express them fucking strongly in the fucking crude fucking language which would never be fucking allowed on fucking Metafilter, for fuck's sake, fuckers.
posted by joannemullen at 5:21 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


joannemullen: "I too think it's terrible that the great unwashed have opinions I disagree with and, what's worse, are allowed to shamelessly express them on public comment sites open to everyone, especially when they fucking express them fucking strongly in the fucking crude fucking language which would never be fucking allowed on fucking Metafilter, for fuck's sake, fuckers."

Trixie, is that you?
posted by bwg at 5:44 PM on July 25, 2011


The other dynamic at play here is personalization of grievances to the point of vendetta and stalking. And having seen communities turn into kangaroo courts of outrage and grudge focused on a different person every week, I'm less and less reluctant to make those links to my personal life.

That's a really smart choice.

I once had a run-in with a trio of very, very unpleasant people. I banned them from a community that I moderate after months of bad behavior on their part, and they went from unpleasant to unpleasant and cracked really fast.

Besides posting anonymous comments calling me sexual slurs, they photoshopped my face onto a porn star's body and posted it in several different places. Months later, when I thought they had finally gone away, they made fake screencaps of LJ posts I never wrote in an attempt to prove I'm some kind of asshole that I'm not. I have no doubt that if they had my real name, they would have sent this stuff to people in my life; they had crossed the line from internet feud into meatspace feud before, like by trying to sic one of the chans onto another woman.

The ironic thing is that their own real names were not a secret. That connection to their "real" identity didn't stop them or keep them more polite.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 6:24 PM on July 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


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