Study: Anonymity Online Leads to Cyberbullying and Bad Behavior

We’ve been saying for a while that in the course of our research, we see significantly more cyberbullying and general bad behavior on anonymous sites and networks than we do on “real name” networks. Common sense would dictate that this makes sense, but some data out this week backs up our views.

Arthur Santana, an assistant professor at the University of Houston researched thousands of comments on online articles both at sites where readers use their real name and sites that allow anonymity (Full research here: It’s not free). In summary, from the NJ.com article linked above:

“53 percent of anonymous comments included language that was vulgar, racist, profane or hateful. By comparison, about 29 percent of comments on sites that require commenters to use their names were deemed uncivil.”

What does this mean for parents? Well, you’d be well served telling your teens to avoid anonymous networks for a start.

Santana is quoted as saying:

“One of the benefits of online anonymity is that it allows people to express their views, uninhibited, especially if it is an unpopular opinion,” Santana said. “It’s when commenting descends into hateful language, threats or racism that the conversation breaks down and any benefits of constructive dialogue goes away.”

Are social media comments all that different from article comments? We don’t think so. Anecdotally but consistent with the results of the study, reports of cyberbullying recently have been widespread on anonymous networks such as Ask.fm, 4chan and Whisper App.

The risk that your teen, if posting on an anonymous network, may be cyberbullied or otherwise treated harshly should not be ignored. Unfortunately, the chances that your teen will take the bait and get involved in a vulgar or hateful exchange is also increased on networks where anonymity is allowed.

We’re certain most parents agree that just because the typical comment or exchange is mean-spirited, that doesn’t make it OK. Encourage your teens to take full responsibility for what they do and say online, and stick to networks where the discourse is civil and good digital citizens are the norm.

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring teen internet activity.

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