Posts tagged ‘onedegree’

Psychology and Social Media (Part III) – on OneDegree: Anonymity

(Note: This post was originally written for – and published on -  OneDegree)

Our hearts raced.

Our friend picked up the phone.

“You smell bad!” we said in unison, masking our voices in creepy falsetto. Then we slammed down the phone and laughed.

I was a tween in a time before the ubiquity of Caller ID/Display and prank calls were in vogue. I was slightly ashamed of what we were doing, and yet we made the calls, and our ability to do this ugly, passive-aggressiveness and hurtful thing was facilitated by one critical factor: anonymity.

Without this cloak we were kind to our friend with whom we, clearly, had some issues. There were certainly more effective and decidedly more respectable ways to address our problems. Did we have the emotional maturity to do so? Clearly not. And the lack of identity gave us free reign to express our feelings honestly – and distastefully.

The benefit of online anonymity is often provided in the extreme. It enables users to offer information or perspective without fear of retribution or recrimination (e.g. whistleblowing, expressing political points of view under repressive regimes). Stigma is also a consideration: a person might be hesitant to attach their name because the revelations might lead them face discrimination (e.g. at their workplace for certain points of view or for their sexual orientation) and someone, for instance, who experienced sexual abuse or is dealing with depression might want to comment on a blog post or forum to express solidarity – but not if it meant revealing their identity to everyone.

Of course many anonymous remarks don’t fall under these categories. And while online anonymity, which has long been a contentious issue, allows for the expression of honest points of view, it is also an appropriate shelter from which to fire off damaging or defamatory remarks. It is theorized that “Good Lamps Are the Best Police” and anonymity – and even the illusion of anonymity – provides a cloak under which to operate, and is an excellent sanctuary for those wishing to use the internet for hateful comments, intimidation and character assassinations.

Recent occurrences have once again thrown this issue into the spotlight. There are, as just a few examples, a court case which requests the unveiling of anonymous posters who made defamatory comments, a newspaper which revealed their discovery that the anonymous comments on their site which were “disparaging a local lawyer, were made using the e-mail address of a judge who was presiding over some of that lawyer’s cases”, Anonymously authored blogs exist, as do as skewed Amazon reviews made under a pseudonym and social sites or applications that encourage anonymous feedback.

The sad truth is that people sometimes comport themselves differently when their identity is not known. Even those comments which express honest dissenting opinion frequently lack respect when posted anonymously. The anonymity adds yet another layer of distance from the other party: without the person in front of you, you can avoid considering his/her emotions and possible reactions, but now that you that your identity is also concealed, it is easy to dispense with any civility at all.

Take for instance a comment on a blog that remarks something such as:

“This post makes it clear you are a complete moron. I would be embarrassed to be you.”

How? Why?

With anonymity the opportunity is presented to phrase even one’s legitimate opinions in an inconsiderate and scathing way. Were there an obligation to attach one’s name – and all the reputation that may go with it – the user might be more inclined to take into account the other party’s humanity and feelings and rather than release vitriolic comments, perhaps provide constructive criticism.

Scott Rosenberg of Salon.com makes the argument that moderation rather than “real names” would help to encourage responsible discourse. This makes good sense with respect to online conversations not descending into “barroom brawls” but does not address the difficulty in distinguishing between true and untrue statements made online. And, without attaching identity, there is also no way of gauging the perspective/conflict of interest of the party.

Writes Randy Cohen: “’Says who?’ is not a trivial question. It deepens the reader’s understanding to know who is speaking, from what perspective, with what (nutty?) history, and with what personal stake in the matter.

Certainly, anonymous posters aren’t the only ones who write distastefully or choose to grind their axe online. But this allowance does grant a great deal of power without responsibility. Power on its own can be a dangerous intoxicant. Without repercussions it becomes even more worrisome.

Recall the question: “Would you kill someone if no one would ever know you did it?” Replace “kill” with “defame” and you have a fair concern for the internet age.

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Note: If would like to recommend articles or books, please feel free to suggest in the comments, or contact me through Twitter.

June 2, 2010 at 6:00 am Leave a comment

Psychology and Social Media (Part II) – on OneDegree: Attacks

(Note: This post was originally written for – and published on -  OneDegree)

What constitutes an attack on the web and why does it happen?

Some situations are very clear while others can be interpreted differently from the angle at which one views or is participating.

One thing is certain, online communication may not parallel offline life. And it doesn’t always match the user’s “true self” or intent either.

A common rule of thumb in Computer-mediated-communication is that you view the other party as standing in front of you during the conversation. The inclination then is to be more careful, both in tone and in wording.

Psychologist John Suler refers to the online propensity towards the opposite as “The Online Disinhibition Effect”[1] whereby people “act out more frequently or intensely than they would in person” (as well as self-disclose more).

The assumption with alcohol (which has a similar dis-inhibitory effect) is that we need help in loosening our tongue, and that the “true self” emerges under these conditions. Suler points out that that, in terms of online communication, this may not be the case:

“The self does not exist separate from the environment in which that self is expressed. If someone contains his aggression in face-to-face living, but expresses that aggression online, both behaviors reflect aspects of self: the self that acts non-aggressively under certain conditions, the self that acts aggressively under other conditions. When a person is shy in person while outgoing online, neither self-presentation is more true. They are two dimensions of that person, each revealed within a different situational context.”[2]

Further, many consider making negative comments more acceptable and less severe than enacting such behaviors offline. One reason is that there are often no real world repercussions (especially when the commenter is anonymous) and for those wanting to bully it is a perfect vehicle.

I can’t see you …

But not all intents are as malicious, sometimes there is simply a “lack of awareness” for the other party’s emotions. Additionally, offline,“[t]he self-conscious emotions of shame, guilt and embarrassment” are shown to “play an important role both in regulating our everyday interactions and also alleviating interactions that have been disrupted.”[3] But online it is easy to post harsh words as “[t]ext communication offers abuilt-in opportunity to keep one’s eyes averted.”[4]

Avoidance of attacks or negative judgments is why some people choose to not post (for instance, a YouTube video, or not to have a blog), or why some may even opt to shut down their online presence on a social site pursuant to an onslaught of negativity. To consider the impact that just one “bad apple” can have, think about the way one person’s presence in the offline world can lend negativity to an environment. Just as a workplace can be tainted by the behavior of one colleague so can one’s interest in participating in online discussions be dampened by interactions with one person. What was once a comfortable and positive haven can rapidly morph into a minefield, one where a user may question each decision to post or spend unnecessary time dealing with a fallout.

Insult is in the eye of the beholder.

In a Master’s Thesis which studied of concept of “flaming” on YouTube [5], the author, Peter J. Moor, pointed out that interpretation was key. Just as in email, lacking knowledge of the sender and/or his/her body language leads to interpretation of message other than was intended. While some comments were made to insult the party, in some instances miscommunication was also present. Referring in this case to those posting videos on YouTube, though it can well apply to other forms of online communication (e.g. blog post comments, twitter responses etc.):

“posters may think too often that comments are primarily aimed at them, and they may think that comments are intended to be offensive or provoking when they are not. Also, they may interpret comments different from their intended purposes …”[6]

A telling example discussed in the paper played out as follows:

“Thompsen describes how some of his ideas in a philosophical discussion are met with disagreement. The sender of the reply, who is called “B” and is known to Thompsen in real life, expresses his disagreement and ends his message with “Sorry, but knowledge/experience/reality in any formulation shouldn’t be subjected to that sort of crap.” (p. 54). Thompsen is not sure about the intent of this reply especially because the word “crap” is used. He feels frustrated and offended, which he makes clear in a reply to B. When B responds, it appears that his first reply had no offensive intent at all. Also, the word “crap” was wrongly interpreted as such: “Of the “crap” line, well, I have been hearing that line used about the kind of work I do for a long time now from hard-core quantitative types and I guess it just rubs off. Don’t take it personally.” (p. 61).” [6]

Another part of the thesis examined appropriateness of the communication, in that what one group would consider offensive another would deem completely acceptable. Within these communities, logically, the insult wasn’t, in fact, an insult. Interestingly, once we cross communities in any sense, we encounter these difficulties. But what constitutes a community? Family dynamics have some bearing on a person’s communication style (e.g. confrontation, non-confrontation). And different social circles have various way of interacting. Think for a moment of your circle of friends. You wouldn’t dare mix some of your connections – who wants to risk the fallout that could occur when “Gentle Dave” is faced with “Evil Steve’s” remarks?

Similarly, I have a friend with whom our method of affection is to insult each other as viciously as possible. It’s a game, a form of improv – and we’re aware of it . But were we to deal with everyone in this capacity, we’d soon find ourselves without work, or friends. Different jokes for different folks, I think they say. Since, we don’t know all folks and their different styles of communication, nor intent, what can we effectively surmise during online confrontations? And how do we instill an awareness of how things may be interpreted?

On to you.

[Part 3 will appear... soon]

Note: If you would like to recommend articles or books, please feel free to suggest in the comments, or contact me (see contact page for info and form) or on Twitter.

Resources:

[1] “The Online Disinhibition Effect“, John Suler (PDF)

[2] Ibid.

[3] “The role of shame, guilt and embarrassment in online social dilemmas, Asima Vasalou, Adam Joinson, Jeremy Pitt (PDF)

[4] “The Online Disinhibition Effect”, Suler (as above)

[5] “Flaming on YouTube”, Peter J. Moor (PDF)

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

April 14, 2010 at 6:00 am 10 comments

Intro Post on Psychology and Social Media – On OneDegree

(Note: This post was originally written for – and published on -  OneDegree)

The internet keeps us tapped in and our lives are fuller for it. But, as we are all aware, online communication is a mixed blessing.

My kingdom for a context. Context is so critical – it can be absent from many online postings. What is the background? What happened right before that YouTube clip or what is really going on with that person? Why is there such hostility on a post comment? Further, we often lack nuance and information that clues us into intention, such as tone of voice, personality, relationship of involved parties, as well as facial expression and body language. We make instantaneous judgments – and they’re not always accurate.

Someone is being so passive aggressive right now. With the ability to vent publicly in a fast moving stream of communication, being passive aggressive just got a whole lot easier. The blurring of public and private lines complicates matters too. You’d like to vent about a coworker or about a recent conversation with a client, but the other party is following your communication, and so the message gets disguised. Sorta. Or you delude yourself into thinking that your words will propel another party into action. I have a friend who posts frequently on Facebook to her boyfriend about how she is feeling about their relationship. Only it’s not directed at him. And it’s thinly veiled. Still, something like, (and I’m making this up) “someone better clean up his act or he’s gonna get dusted” tells us everything – while accomplishing nothing.

Time is the friend. It is often said that time heals all wounds. Lack of time, in my opinion, rubs salt into them. Recently, I was part of an unfortunate public internet exchange. It was on a forum where I had a duty to address. The rapidity of the communication form created an urgency to respond. In the thick of it, I was lost on how to handle authentically and would have preferred time and space to process and act properly. Admittedly, I still might have made similar mistakes but, with time to consider, hopefully less.

To clarify, I’ll continue. And continue. Addressing matters publicly isn’t always effective – or the best option. True, social sites make it possible to have a open discussion and valuable debate. At the same time, it encourages protracted conversation. And with character limits not all of what needs to get said gets said. Which leads to more postings, which further escalates and creates that false sense of urgency.

In my quest to be more Replicant. backspace. logical, I frequently read psychology books and articles. (I also gave an informal talk on its relation to social media recently.) There are particular issues with the online space as well as offline problems that are heightened by online communication. This series looks at some of these in relation to social media. As well as some of the ways in which psychology proves the gains of our participation.

The series will begin April 1st.

Note: If you would like to recommend articles or books, please feel free to suggest in the comments, or contact me (see contact page for info and form) or on Twitter.

March 16, 2010 at 6:00 am Leave a comment

Be Sure to Use, Not Abuse

(This is meant as a companion to Part 4 of my Crowdsourcing series on One Degree).

Any good concept is prone to misuse and/or hijacking by greed. While I understand the need for any business to profit, I am certainly wary of the exploitation of the populace and/or consumer regards to Crowdsourcing and of the potential for misuse (including blatant self-aggrandizing/promotion).

How little can we pay… I imagine minimum wage was established to make sure people didn’t get underpaid/exploited but now it is often “how little can we pay people”… You can look at almost anything and see how things were established to keep some sort of ethics within the concept and then the process got corrupted. While I don’t pretend that Crowdsourcing is altruistic at its core, the idea can be respectful and collaborative. (Side note here. Once, at an audition, I had to fill out a form and check off the wage I would accept for playing the role. Here were my options:

I will work for:

A) $15/hr

B) Food

C) Bus Tokens

This wasn’t a joke.

Too Much Promotion: Promotion is good/Plastering the space with your company/product is, well, tacky. I spoke of film-submission sites in Part 2 of my Crowdsourcing piece. Ifilm (now “Spike – powered by Ifilm”) used to be a legitimate site for independent film. While the quality varied (I don’t recall there every being any sort of filtering as there was (and is) with Atom films and Trigger Street (which came along later), it was a source to find something new and un-studioed (A type of YouTube, pre-YouTube). Now that it is owned by Viacom it’s basically a showcase for its related studio/network products (plus some wild frat stunts thrown in for good measure). The indie films are there, somewhere, buried [in the fray]… [Lesson… Don’t let this happen to you] This kind of thing backfires in the long run. It corrupts/weakens the platform, and is outdated at best and insulting at worst.

Don’t manipulate: Remember that your clients are not people that you need to trick or manipulate. This is about collaboration. Your clients can be very beneficial to your business – and not merely in a purchasing capacity. So be honest. Communication can happen – but like everything Web 2.0, the expectation is that it is a conversation. So remember to both contribute and listen.

March 19, 2008 at 2:13 am Leave a comment


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