Exploring Online Disinhibition

We are experiencing it right now.

A recent article from Matt Ridley in the Wall Street Journal spoke of an effect that explains why people feel comfortable being brutally honest when they are on the internet.

It was coined “the online disinhibition effect” and was credited in the article to John Suler of Rider University.

In short, when being candid, the internet hasn’t, as most thought, encouraged the majority to be dishonest, if anything quite the opposite has happened.

“…(But) online, in what feels like a peer relationship – with the appearances of ‘authority’ minimized – people are much more willing to speak out or misbehave,” suggests the article.

And here we are.

Over the last few years marketers have ridden over this bumpy road, witnessing customers who feel courageous when they use two-way communication media as a PERCEIVED risk-free one-way confrontation. Write what you think. No punishment for candor.

There are day-to-day examples that are used to draw an analogy here – ways not to look at  another when speaking frankly — such as a driver with passenger, or when we walk side by side while facing forward. But I believe the words are still measured, heard, or judged in some imperceptible manner when we are in real time, not amidst the blogosphere. For most of us, there is a filter that is courteously used for that conversation, even if the discussion’s intent is anything but two sided. Online we often think and feel that we are faceless, but in my perspective we are not.

So if you use any social media for personal or professional reasons: Facebook, blogs, online chats, even tweets or email to say ANYTHING you wish, you (along with marketers) need to be prepared for its longevity in cyberspace. Companies need to be prepared for the unknown consumer to write ANYTHING in response. I’m not suggesting blatant profanity or anything like that. But many a product review, a disparaging word about a company or the way it handled a crisis – just about any point of view put out there without concern about reaction – is how most firms and consumers are operating electronically today.

And from a media/marketing perspective, consider that whenever a firm reads or writes among the trillions of words in this worldwide system of computer networks, the best of this medium is not only the opportunities to state viewpoints, but a healthy respect for the digital challenges we will encounter since we are never alone.  

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

paul March 01, 2012 at 02:06 PM
The article “the online disinhibition effect” was credited to John Suler of Rider University who is a Psychologist. (I am agreeing with you) I do think the opposite actually holds true.. This is just psychological mumbo jumbo to state that anonymity can or will inflate an ego of a person hiding behind a keyboard. (as seen on the Patch) It is common sense that one can and may boast about themselves due to cyberspace at times being anonymous. Inflating ones own ego or as I call it cyber bullying or muscle flexing is what some people do online everyday. (as seen on the Patch) Believe me I did not need a degree in psychology to determine that. Just a bit of street smarts and common sense... By the way this article does pertain to a select few bloggers that do use the Patch as their springboard...... Lauren, thank you for bringing this topic to our attention.!!!!!
Lauren B. Lev March 02, 2012 at 06:08 PM
Thank you, Paul.
Susan March 03, 2012 at 03:56 PM
Excellent article Lauren!! I enjoy reading your blog. (And yes, we do know each other). Hope all is well.
Lauren B. Lev March 03, 2012 at 05:39 PM
Thank you, Susan.


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