What Makes People Act Like Jerks Online?

It’s no secret that people can be jerks on the Internet. Lord knows that I’ve seen my fair share of flame wars all over the place in my travels. Penny-Arcade noted as much six years ago with the famous equation: normal person + anonymity + audience = total fuckwad. And check your work… yup, fuckwad. Even given this bulletproof equation, the question becomes why.

Part of the reason, says the Observer, is, indeed, anonymity. Plenty of people seem to think that because no one knows who they are, well, all bets are off. It’s carte blanche to be a total jerk. I’ll never understand that mentality: why go out of your way to be a jerk, even if you can reasonably expect to “get away with it”?

Perhaps that partially helps to explain the furor surrounding Blizzard’s Real ID during the summertime?

Another reason could be the idea of narrowcasting. Rather than use the Internet to expand our horizons as people, we tend to congregate with like-minded people. It sorta makes sense: if you’re a baseball fan why would you spend your time posting in a college football message board? But that’s the innocent version of, say, a white supremacist message board, where small-minded people can huddle together and think that everyone other than me and mine are awful and should be kicked off the planet. That’s pretty silly, but let’s not pretend these sites don’t exist.

In closing, all I can say is do unto others as you would them have done unto you. It’s called the Golden Rule for a reason. There’s no reason to be a jerk just because you “can.”