Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Who is Rude Online?

An overall silly article on yahoo! regarding online rudeness led me to wondering who it is that is rude online? Most of the blogs and forums I frequent are relatively well behaved (with exceptions, of course), but then I click on the comments somewhere like the New York Times or Washington Post and see rather different behavior.

That anonymity brings out the worst in some people is so well established that I don't see it as worth commenting on anymore. However, I find it very interesting that this seems to afflict some people but not others. Are there any shared traits among those that morph into trolls once in front of a keyboard, or who just become plain rude vs. those that maintain their basic civility? Does this correlate with other anti-social behaviors that individuals usually choose to hide? I think there are a number of interesting questions regarding who it is that is showing this effect and what it might mean for other social traits. I haven't seen anything on this, but it is far more interesting to me to question why there is a variable response, and who it is that displays it, rather than that there seems to be a response.

Any thoughts?


  1. I think that the main difference is fear. Start with someone who is afraid as a general characteristic, and especially afraid that something that he says will come back to hurt him. Then give him an opportunity to say whatever he wants, without being identified and therefore without fear. The sudden release can make him just explode with all the things that he has felt he had to hold in for so long.

    In contrast, some are anonymous for other reasons. If someone is not terrified of voicing his opinion, getting to do so anonymously doesn't make that big a difference. Be may be vociferous, but he won't generally move on to visciousness. (I thing "rude" is too mild a description for the trolls that I have encountered.)

  2. Community standards have a lot to do with it. Your average poster is going to feel more unhinged if others are as well. This is partly a momentum effect since the community's initial makeup largely determines the attitude of the frequent posters.

    It's not always that way, however. People still talk about the day Usenet died, when AOL let its users en masse into the wider internet, flooding most newsgroups with trolls and people asking for illegal porn faster than the existing community could enforce its standards.

    My own norms for online debate stem mainly from outside influences. I got my start in Model UN and parliamentary debate almost a decade ago. Parley especially was the kind of intellectual bloodsport where you tried to portray your opponents as idiots and then you shook hands and had beers with them afterwards. It engenders understanding both to be able to relate to your opponents and also often be forced to debate from positions that you do not personally hold.

    One of my younger cousins got his start on 4chan. His Facebook posts now make me sad because he's pretty much a troll, even when he tries to have serious discussion.

  3. Both are interesting theories that sound plausible to me. Thanks for the contributions.