Why Do We Act Differently Online?

Have you ever re-read a tweet or post from you or a friend and thought, “Well, that doesn’t sound like me/them at all…”?

In The Need for Professionalism on Social Media, we read that many people do and say things online that they wouldn’t say in public.

What causes this dichotomy, and why do we act differently online?

Let’s find out!

The Online Disinhibition Effect

The online disinhibition effect is the loosening or complete abandonment of social restrictions during interactions with others on the Internet that would otherwise be present in normal face-to-face interaction.

“The more interactions happen online, with no direct offline contact, the more likely they are to tilt toward extreme behavior,” says the 2009 eMarketer article, Consumers Free to Speak Their Mind Online.

The chart to the right shows what people think in regards to online and offline elements.

Identity Flexibility

Online, we can be ourselves, express only what we want about ourselves, pretend to be someone else (catfishing, anyone?), or remain anonymous. It’s the lack of face-to-face cues that “has a curious impact on how people present their identity in cyberspace,” according to John Suler’s The Psychology of Cyberspace.

Self-Awareness and Hate

Keith Wilcox and Andrew Stephen’s study, “Are Close Friends the Enemy? Online Social Networks, Self-Esteem, and Self-Control,” uncovered a few characteristics about social networking’s effect on behavior. It includes effects on self-esteem, among others, which we looked at late last year.

There are two key impacts that the researched discussed that we should be aware of:

  1. Reading other people’s posts can decrease our self-awareness
  2. It’s easier to hate people online than it is in real life

When we read the postings of others on social networks, we read their thoughts, feelings, and activities. This focus on others and away from ourselves may reduce self-awareness, according to the implications of the study.

People can adapt in online interactions, states the research, and often the veil of anonymity serves as a wall behind which people can sling mud.

So What?

In self-reflecting, have you felt your actions change online?

If so, how?

Are there any additional reasons you believe people act differently online?

Share in the comments below!

About Carson Reider

Carson Reider is a research and content contributor for NR Media Group and a graduate assistant at the Center for Sports Administration at Ohio University. He is currently pursuing an MBA/MSA and also writes for the Ohio University Sports Administration website and OhioMarketingStudents.com.