Monday, September 25, 2006

Posting Comments? You Got Problems, Son

To see just how high up the Internet has elevated modern political discourse I did a quick search on Google: 67,500 hits for Democraps and 70,700 for Rethuglicans. (Note to posterity: if you’re reading this because you found it in the archives, the numbers are probably bigger by now.)

Do flame warriors talk like that in real life? Probably not. We’ve all heard for years that the anonymity of the Internet gives people free reign to behave in ways they never would around flesh-and-blood people. A psychologist (and former science journalist) named Daniel Goleman says it’s because our brain doesn’t function properly when we chat with others online:
Q: The Internet has made communication so easy, but you suggest that such electronic discourse may have a real downside. You mention that the social brain (described in the book as a set of "neural networks that synchronize around relating to others") is active in a human contact, but that it isn't active online. Can you explain what's happening here?

A: It's been noted since the first days of the Internet that it allows a person to say something they would never say were they face-to-face. The social brain refers to the very extensive circuitry active in some way during a social interaction. The social brain doesn't just take in what the other person is doing. It tells us what to do next to keep things operating on track. If we're upset or agitated and we're with the person, we might say something artfully because our social brain is telling us how to do it. But without it online, it lets us do whatever we want — and sometimes with unfortunate consequences.

Does this theory completely fall apart when you look at the millions and millions of people who manage to go online without their social brains conking out and turning them into jerks, or is it just me? Here's a radical theory: maybe certain people don't bother making the effort of self-control when they can hide behind an anonymous identity instead.

12 Comments:

Anonymous Alex said...

Does this theory completely fall apart when you look at the millions and millions of people who manage to go online without their social brains conking out and turning them into jerks, or is it just me?

That is a damn good point.

The people that I interact with in face-to-face on a daily basis are, for the most part, people that I don't interact with online. I've met some of my online buddies in person (e.g. you) and while we may display certain quirks online that we don't display in face-to-face situations, I wouldn't say that there's a drastic difference.

The one online person that I frequently interact with face-to-face (we usually hang out on weekends) is about the same. The only difference is that on one topic that gets him riled up his language is slightly more colorful online than in person, but his opinions are no less extreme in person.

I haven't met any hard core flame warriors or creepy internet weirdos in person (that I know of), so I don't know what they're like in real life. I have theories about a few people like that, but having never met them I have no clue if my theories are correct.

5:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

People who meet me in person after having met me online tell me I am exactly the same offline as on. One person told me that they could have found me in a shopping mall by just listening to people talk. I think it's kind of cool, and I'll take it as a compliment.

7:51 AM  
Blogger rhhardin said...

Make it a policy to say what you actually think to everybody, bosses included, and you'll find you're the same in person as online.

Moreover you live a stress-free life.

It turns out most people think what you do anyway.

The big difference online is that you can talk about what interests you.

There's a psychological disorder that affects philosophers of language, that you ought to be able to talk to everybody about everything. You can't. But online you can let the words find their own audience.

You can even post under an actual name, and a google search will turn up what you're like, helping you select out employers who would be a bad deal.

8:41 AM  
Anonymous Jeff said...

Huh huh huh, yer all LiberTARDS.
(snickers with satisfaction)

You think political chatrooms are rough, try a Comic Book one. Hell, just go to the Harlan Ellison site and follow the thread about him groping Connie Willis at the Hugo awards. The fanboys on either side unleash the big guns in unending torrents.

9:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The more socially intelligent you are, the happier and more robust and more enjoyable your relationships will be." says the author of ... wait for it ... Social Intelligence.

I've certainly met people whose online personas are different from their in person personas, but Daniel Goleman's glib explanations in the USA Today article aren't particularly convincing. Perhaps his book has proper interpretations of real science, but that seems unlikely.

11:01 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Anybody who disagrees with me can kiss my white ass just before I kick your goddamned teeth in.

(On the Internet, I can say such things with impunity. But if I went around talking like that in the real world, there would be very unfortunate consequences.)

12:07 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

While the "social brain" thing is rather silly, I do think there seems to be something about the net that allows marketing assholes to become even more obnoxious.

12:34 PM  
Blogger David Macharelli said...

I think it’s all about context. A lot of people go to internet message boards to argue about things. For example, I have friends who espouse political viewpoints that I'd hammer in message threads but I wouldn’t do that when we're playing cards or having dinner. I don’t want to ruin my night out arguing about politics.

I also think that people will generally say what they’re thinking when they have no fear of reprisal. There are a lot of things that people can’t say at work if they like having a job, things that might result in a beating, or being barred from family functions. Take away those consequences, and the truth comes out.

12:41 PM  
Anonymous Stevo Darkly said...

Jennifer said...
Anybody who disagrees with me can kiss my white ass just before I kick your goddamned teeth in.

You can kick with your ass?

9:58 PM  
Blogger Karen said...

I think Jeff has the most interesting take on this. I read and post on lots of political blogs -- H & R and feminist ones, mostly -- and believe me, no one on those places can touch the posters on the cooking websites I frequent. The Food Netwook took down most of their chat rooms because things got so nasty and personal. About food. I suppose it has something to do with the fact that people interested in politics are inherently more social and more used to formal debate than the rest of the world, and that suddenly lots of people who have no experience with polite arguments have an opportunity to vent. Either that, or people are just naturally assholes.

11:30 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Karen, Jeff just told me that Alton Brown had to take down his chatroom because people were being so rude to each other and to him. I only visit a few chatrooms, and learning that the ones I visit are actually super-polite by Internet standards is pretty disturbing.

But I'm gratified to note that for all the different theories posted on this board, nobody buys the "your brain just works differently so rudeness can't be helped" one.

4:39 PM  
Anonymous smacky said...

I also think that people will generally say what they’re thinking when they have no fear of reprisal. There are a lot of things that people can’t say at work if they like having a job, things that might result in a beating, or being barred from family functions. Take away those consequences, and the truth comes out.


I have to agree with David Macharelli on this one. I'm sure no one who hasn't seen my picture would be able to identify me in real life based on my online commentary. Most people in fact usually mistake me for a male online. And I like it that way. Because in real life, an "uppity" female like me would probably lose her job, lose her friends (well, this is virtually the case these days -- for reasons beyond my control), and social ostracism would abound. Plus, I'm pretty nonconfrontational IRL. (All this, and it doesn't help that I have a pretty uncommon sense of humor.) The internetz is for arguing!

7:09 AM  

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