Monday, March 07, 2011

Why I Make You Use Your Name

I had another spate of people complaining that I ask them to use their real name on our interactive blogs. Call it the Facebook principle. I rarely see anything like what appears on message boards behind screen names on Facebook. Yes, I know you can make a fake Facebook profile, but we're talking about only 5% of the really committed trolls. Besides, if someone is willing to put their name on it, and say it to your face, you better pay attention.

So listening to some tech and media podcasts this weekend, I came across the fancy technical name for what I know by anecdotal evidence to be true:

Disinhibited Behavior

And, if you want to read a whole lot more about it, I've even got a very nice master's thesis from Michael Tresca at Michigan State: The Impact of Anonymity on Disinhibited Behavior in Computer-Based Communications. I'll just pick off one line from his abstract that pretty much sums it up:

Many users feel uninhibited and unrestrained because of a lack of social context cues and therefore exhibit more "disinhibition" in the form of insults, swearing, and hostile language (Walther, 1993) than if they were communicating in a face-to-face situation with the same people (Siegel, Kiesler and McGuire, 1984).


Ready for scary? This thesis from 1998, and was studying behavior of people back in the old "alt.subject" days of usenet (OK, kids, hold up the hands of those who know what CompuServe is?).

It absolutely is the message board world of today, an order of magnitude or maybe two bigger.

What made me think this was a passing statement by Dennis Miller's producer/sidekick, Christian Bladt. He gets it down into a single, pithy aphorism:

People say all kind of things when they don't have to interact with the person.

Perfect. Our #WordsOfTwisdom for today.

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