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August 19, 2010

The online disinhibition effect has cost people their jobs, their income and their relationships, yet many are still oblivious to it.

The first famous case of someone allegedly losing their job from indiscreet remarks made online was in 2002. Heather Armstrong, author of the blog ‘dooce‘, claimed she was fired after her colleagues discovered she’d been lampooning them online.

In internet terms getting fired for a blog rant is ancient news; to make the headlines now your indiscretions have to be on Twitter or Facebook. One recent example was this girl who was ‘Facebook fired’ after she said exactly what she thought of her boss on Facebook after a bad day at work.

What she’d forgotten was they were Facebook friends, so the update would appear front and centre the next time he logged into Facebook. She might as well have said it straight to his face and, for good measure, kicked him in the shins.

These are two examples of what psychologists call the ‘online disinhibition effect’, the idea that when online people feel less inhibited by social conventions. Compared with face-to-face interactions, online we feel freer to do and say what we want and, as a result, often do and say things we shouldn’t.

Internet psychologist John Suler has written about six characteristics of the internet which lead to radical changes in our online behaviour (Suler, 2004):

1. Anonymity

Online people feel they can’t be identified in the same way they can when they’re in public. It’s similar to going out in a costume at night with a mask on to cover the face (see research on deindividuation). That sense of disconnection from our normal personality allows new ways of behaving. People may even consider their online behaviours to arise from an online alter ego.

Ironically, though, some people are far less anonymous online than offline. Because of the online disinhibition effect some share too much on their social networking profiles, sometimes even things they wouldn’t admit to their closest friends. It’s easy to forget that you don’t need espionage training to type someone’s name into Google.

Read in Full: http://www.spring.org.uk/2010/08/six-causes-of-online-disinhibition.php 



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