Anonymity and the Internet

Monday 17 December 2012

One of the current events that caught my eye this fall occurred in response to Barak Obama's reelection in November. 

After the election was declared, students in the US used Twitter to send racist comments into cyberspace.  A "gawker site" struck back my publishing information about the students on their site. This led to a great discussion with my students about what happens when people are anonymous in cyberspace.

Way before there was the Internet, Diener, Fraser, Beaman & Kelem (1976) carried out an experiment to see how wearing a Halloween mask would impact one's level of honesty.

The researchers  recorded the behaviour of Halloween trick-or-treaters when they were invited into the front hall of a home and left alone while the person who let them went to get something from the other room.  They were told to please take a single piece of candy from the bowl. The researchers found that the children wearing masks took more than one piece of candy far more often than the children who were not anonymous.

When this occurs on the Internet, it is calle "Online Disinhibition Effect." John Suler has created a site that looks at the different facets of this behaviour.   If you would like to read the original journal article, it is downloadable at this site.

You will also see that the news article had a lot to discuss. Almost all of the students claimed that their Twitter accounts were hacked into.  A good discussion of cognitive dissonance and self-justification - and a good way to make our students  more aware of the importance of being careful about what you put online.....

Tags: deindivuation, twitter, masks, anonymity, aggression


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