Online disinhibition effect

Online disinhibition effect is a term used by psychologists to refer to the tendancy by some who hide behind online anonymity to be nasty without fear of repercussions.

In the early days of my blog, there was a piece called “4 degrees of impersonal communications” in which I wrote:

people say things in emails that they would never say to someone over the phone. And, over the phone (especially in a voice message), we seem willing to speak in ways that one would never consider saying face-to-face.

I will add that people say things in anonymous comments on blogs that add a further dimension. Perhaps it is a sign of the indifference associated with mass anonymity.

On Sunday mornings, one of my rituals is to watch CBS Sunday Morning. A few weeks ago, I saw the show rebroadcast a segment from last year that reminded me of my earlier blog post.

In the segment, correspondent David Pogue spoke with professor Mary Aiken, a forensic cyber psychologist who shared four ways online conversations differ from in-person conversations:

  • First, we can see each other in real life, looking at visual cues, reading body language.
  • Second, online exchanges may not take place in real time, leading to the possibility that things are taken out of context or misinterpreted.
  • Third, most online discussions are public, meaning that the impact of insults have the potential to be amplified, increasing the impact, the shame and the pain.
  • Fourth, online anonymity means no repercussions for being mean, or hurtful.

“Add all this together and you get what psychologists call the online disinhibition effect.”

The segment refers to a report from Paladin Capital Group, “Towards a Safer Nation: The United States ‘Safety Tech’ Market” [pdf, 2.0MB].

A new sector, the online safety technology or ‘Safety Tech’ sector, which complements the existing cybersecurity industry is gaining prominence. This research report has found evidence of an emerging and thriving US Safety Tech sector that aims to deliver solutions to facilitate safer online experiences and protect people from psychological risks, criminal dangers and online harm. Importantly, Safety Tech innovations also have the capacity to protect people from the corrosive effects of misinformation, online harassment, discrimination, and extremism which increasingly threaten democracy and civil society.

What is the difference between cybersecurity and cyber safety? Binary; cybersecurity primarily focuses on protecting data, systems and networks; cyber safety or Safety Tech focuses on protecting people.

As the CBS correspondent says in the segment, “Never in the history of the internet has anyone’s mind been changed by being yelled at”.

As Canada’s Parliament considers legislation to address online harms, can technology help to address solutions? How do we separate the person from the idea?

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top