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Does the Anonymity of the Internet Allow People to be Meaner?

Michael Pollick
By
Updated May 17, 2024
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The Internet community does offer users a number of outlets to express their personal opinions and thoughts, from chat rooms to message forums to comment submission forms. Many of these interactive web pages encourage or even require participants to remain anonymous or create alternative identities. The anonymity of the Internet may provide a level of privacy for users in the real world, but it can also enable certain participants to become much more aggressive or mean-spirited than they would be without the promise of anonymity. Many people believe that, because the person cannot be easily identified, an anonymous commenter feels free to be much meaner than he otherwise would be.

There is no doubt that the anonymity of the Internet has allowed some users to express their opinions with others more confidently or without the usual social filters found in the offline world. The same anonymity can embolden others to ignore etiquette and post malicious or deliberately inflammatory messages for the sole purpose of hurting other posters or chat room participants. These mean-spirited or patently offensive Internet users are often known as trolls in the Web community, and website moderators spend much of their time online deleting offensive messages and suspending the accounts of those who leave them.

A similar phenomenon to trolling may involve anonymous posters who get caught up in controversial or contentious threads. The original topic of discussion is often replaced with personal insults, obscene responses, and ad hominem attacks. These so-called "flame wars" or "flaming" could arguably be fueled in large part by the anonymity of the experience, since a similarly heated discussion in real life between identifiable people would most likely not escalate to that level without outside intervention. For most people, it is much easier to vent anger or frustration on an anonymous chat room troll than it would be to express the same feelings on a contentious real world co-worker.

What keeps many people from expressing intense emotions such as anger and frustration in real life is the fact they are known entities in a surprisingly small world. The anonymity of the Internet essentially levels the playing field for all participants, which could empower some users to express the darker sides of their personalities in ways that would be unthinkable in real life. The ability to post angry or mean-spirited thoughts without tangible consequences could prove to be too much of a temptation for certain people. While it could be argued that anonymity does not necessarily promote meanness or anger, it does allow users with the capacity for strong emotions to express them more easily and with less regard for the consequences of their actions.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to WiseGeek, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.
Discussion Comments
By anon50858 — On Nov 01, 2009

Yeah, people are nasty on the Internet. I had some guy the other tell me to "f" off. He called me names because I said that cheating at school was wrong. This guy was really aggressive.

You really have to watch what you say. Just because you have an alias, people, doesn't mean you're not subject to libel laws or lawsuits when the line has been crossed.

By jonathan6732 — On Sep 28, 2009

For sure, some people hide behind anonymity and do bad things, but I believe anonymity can also have very positive effects. One of the most positive effects is that it can enable free speech. Some people would be very uncomfortable sharing their thoughts without anonymity. For instance, an honest an citizen is likely to be much more inclined to denounce a criminal group if anonymity is guaranteed. And what about voting? Most people agree with anonymous voting. There are very legitimate cases where you don't want others to know it was you. I think there is also a very legitimate place for anonymity on the web. And companies keep offering new services in that area. For instance, there are web services that allow anybody to create anonymous discussions so that you can freely discuss about delicate or unpopular subjects with your peers. It will be very interesting to see where that debate goes with such new emerging technologies in that area.

By anon17037 — On Aug 20, 2008

I think this problem requires some aggressive thinking to come up with viable solutions. These trolls have caused much damage in the 'real' world, and are unrepentant when they do. In fact, they 'score' points when they do something really bad, and they and their friends laugh about it. How are we to protect our children from these people and ensure that our children don't get the message that these sorts of behaviors are fine? Really, isn't there some sort of solution? If we could take legal action against them, it would probably help.

By olittlewood — On Jan 11, 2008

i'm glad that wisegeek addressed this problem. people seem to have gotten progressively meaner to each other, and i think the internet is the perfect forum for people to feel comfortable letting it all out. however, the internet does provide a way for people to share things and connect in ways they otherwise might not in person. it's nice to see people who actually take the time to post something pleasant, useful and helpful to others. a good rule of thumb for posting is if you wouldn't say it to their face, don't post it!

By anon6867 — On Jan 11, 2008

Amen!!!

By Flywheel1 — On Jan 11, 2008

Another excellent article ... and nicely summarized: "The ability to post angry or mean-spirited thoughts without tangible consequences could prove to be too much of a temptation for certain personalities."

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to WiseGeek, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range...
Learn more
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