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Why does the interweb make people mean?

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This isn’t just a blogging phenomenon; you see it anywhere people interact digitally, message boards, chat rooms, MMORPG’s text messaging, etc.

The International Herald Tribune ran a story two days ago examining what causes people to react differently and say things online that they would never say to someone face to face, or even over the telephone.

Flaming has a technical name, the “online disinhibition effect,” which psychologists apply to the many ways people behave with less restraint in cyberspace.

Who knew?

In a 2004 article in the journal CyberPsychology & Behavior, John Suler, a psychologist at Rider University in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, suggested that several psychological factors lead to online disinhibition: the anonymity of a Web pseudonym; invisibility to others; the time lag between sending an e- mail message and getting feedback; the exaggerated sense of self from being alone; and the lack of any online authority figure. Dr. Suler notes that disinhibition can be either benign — when a shy person feels free to open up online — or toxic, as in flaming.

The emerging field of social neuroscience, the study of what goes on in the brains and bodies of two interacting people, offers clues into the neural mechanics behind flaming.

This work points to a design flaw inherent in the interface between the brain’s social circuitry and the online world. In face-to-face interaction, the brain reads a continual cascade of emotional signs and social cues, instantaneously using them to guide our next move so that the encounter goes well. Much of this social guidance occurs in circuitry centered on the orbitofrontal cortex, a center for empathy.

This cortex uses that social scan to help make sure that what we do next will keep the interaction on track.

Socially artful responses emerge largely in the neural chatter between the orbitofrontal cortex and emotional centers like the amygdala that generate impulsivity. But the cortex needs social information — a change in tone of voice, say — to know how to select and channel our impulses. And in e-mail there are no channels for voice, facial expression or other cues from the person who will receive what we say.

And I thought it was just pencil necked geeks feeling free to flame people and act like jerk offs because they felt safe behind their computers.

Seriously though there must be some progression from face to face interaction, to telephone conversations, to a digital communication.

Ever notice some people will say things over the telephone that they would never say in person. Even still that rarely approaches some of the vile and down right mean things people will say and do online.

HT/ Techdirt (you have to read the comments under the post). Some funny stuff. Which raises another point, a really good flame is usually pretty funny.
Anyone have a particularly great flame or flame war to share?

Rick is the CEO & Co-Founder of BlogWorld & New Media Expo. He lives in Canyon Lake with his wife and two dogs Abby and Thor.


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