Many thousands of years ago, when your ancestors were living in forests, survival of an individual would have depended on support from the community. If one member of the community was being threatened by a big bad wolf, the rest of the members of the community would have attacked and chased that wolf away. The combined strength of a community was much stronger than the strength of an individual. Therefore, it would have been important, from a survival point of view, for one to be “liked” by the other members in one’s community.
It is possible that those characteristics from your ancient past still persist in your brain today, where your brain will encourage you to behave in a way that makes people “like” you. For this reason, when you communicate with people around you, your brain will nudge you to be decent and polite, as it knows the value of being liked by the community around you.
However, when you communicate with people using online methods, your brain may act differently to how it acts when you communicate with people physically near you. When you are online, you might be somewhat anonymous as your online user name may not be real and your face may not be visible to others. In such a situation, as you are anonymous, your brain may no longer be worried about the consequences of “not being nice” and this may make you inadvertently be “nasty” with the people you are communicating online with.
Psychologists call this phenomenon “online disinhibition”, but I prefer to call it “online nastiness”, which I think is a bit easier to pronounce!
In today’s internet driven world, we all do a lot of communicating via online messaging etc, making it all the more important to see if our brain is engaging in online nastiness. Below is a short example of how online nastiness can manifest itself.
Amit is normally a very polite and gentle person. He is against animal cruelty and belongs to an online forum dedicated to those interested in being vegetarian. In this online forum, the real names of the members were not displayed i.e. everyone was anonymous.
One day, someone who was clearly against vegetarianism, joined the forum and started putting posts that implied that being vegetarian was a bad and stupid thing. Amit got infuriated when he saw these posts and wrote some very nasty things about that person online.
Later, once Amit’s emotions cooled down, he realised that while he did not agree with the person putting such posts in the forum, he should not have used such nasty language. He realised that when being anonymous, it was easy to end up being quite nasty.
Of course, regardless of if one is anonymous or not, one should really try and avoid being nasty to anyone. When one is anonymous, it is even more important to be careful to prevent nastiness.
Even when we reveal our real names on social media and online forums, the fact that we are not physically in front of the person we are communicating with, can give us a false feeling that we are somewhat anonymous. This also can also, unless we are vigilant, make us say things that are unnecessarily harsh.