A variety of psychological factors contribute to people being nasty online. Rider University psychologist John Suler famously argued that online environments unleash aspects of our personality that we usually keep under guard—a phenomenon he called the online disinhibition effect. With names concealed, there’s no pressure to maintain a public facade. Cyberspace becomes a separate dimension where the usual rules don’t apply. Actions no longer carry consequences. There’s no liability for rudeness and inappropriate behavior.
The disinhibition effect is also called ‘The Gyges Effect,’ after the Ring of Gyges, a mythical invisibility device in Plato’s Republic. The ring grants its owner the power to become invisible at will. Plato considers whether an intelligent person would be just if one did not have to fear any bad reputation for committing injustices.
Social media has a way of magnifying some of the worst facets of human nature. By allowing masked identities, as Professor Suler points out, abusers avoid accountability for their conduct and dissociate their online selves from their real-world selves. In real life, combative behavior triggers a victim’s immediate reaction–a change in tone of voice or a counterargument, even aggression. However, these deterrents are missing or delayed in the online world, and social inhibition is removed. Online abusers see their victims as faceless, abstract cutouts with no feelings and undeserving of fairness, compassion, and honesty.
Idea for Impact: Keep away from being nasty online. Awareness and activism are vital to civic duty, but you should seek out actual human beings who know how to converse intelligently on anything they disagree with.