Does Anonymity Online Increase the Likelihood of Aggression?

Online-Anonymity-at-Helmword-LtdIn today’s age of advancing technology and countless social media sites, it’s easier than ever to anonymously comment on posts, pictures and videos.  If you’re like me, you’ve seen some very heated conversations in the comments section of Facebook posts. So, what’s the deal here, are people more aggressive when they know they’re virtually anonymous?  This is the question Adam Zimmerman and Gabriel Ybarra (2016) researched in their Journal Article, “Online Aggression: The Influences of Anonymity and Social Modeling.”

Using 124 undergraduate students from the University of North Florida, the researchers had each of the participants do a word-unscrambling task with 2 other people. If they collectively unscrambled half of the words correctly, they each received a prize; at least this is what they were told.  However, unbeknown to the participants, the game was rigged and they were not actually playing along with others, ensuring that the participants always lost.  This was done in order to simulate an online frustrating social situation in which they felt let down by their “partners.” Participants were then able to write on a blog about their experience.  Half of the participants wrote their blogs anonymously and the other half did not. For both these groups, participants were also exposed to either a neutral blog post, or an aggressive blog post.

As you may have guessed, participants who remained anonymous indicated a higher temptation to purposefully aggress toward their alleged partners and they also used more aggressive words in their blog posts about their experience.  Participants, who were exposed to an aggressive blog post prior to writing their own, were also more aggressive, but only in the anonymous condition.

What these results tell us is that people are more likely to be aggressive online if their identity is anonymous.  Not only that, but if they’re exposed to aggressive posts and their identity is anonymous, they’re even more likely to be aggressive online. We can take these results and use them to influence our own online behavior.  Since we’ve seen that people are more likely to be aggressive online if they know their identity remains anonymous, we can analyze our own behavior as to what’s appropriate to say online. We should make it a point not to use anonymity as an excuse to act more aggressively than we normally would.  Not to mention, if anonymous online users are more likely to act aggressively if they see others doing so, our online aggression could also effect how aggressive others are online as well.  To keep online aggression in check, we can consider whether we would act differently if our identity were known, and adjust our comments and behavior accordingly.

By Nermana Turajlic
Nermana is a senior majoring in Psychology and minoring in Human Development. She plans on graduating in December 2016 and attending graduate school the following year.

Zimmerman, A. G., & Ybarra, G. J. (2016). Online aggression: The influences of             anonymity and social modeling. Psychology Of Popular Media Culture, 5(2),             181-193. doi:10.1037/ppm0000038