Law in the Internet Society

Anonymity's Influence on Internet Behavior

-- By IndraDan - 11 Dec 2023


Trolling. Hate speech. Bad faith arguments. Emotional volatility.

Negativity festers on social media platforms. The warped content is far more plentiful and hostile on the internet than in the daily lives of most of the platform’s users. The plethora of vulgar and cutting content, seemingly intended to rile up readers, can be attributed to the lower cost of immoral behavior in anonymous social media settings. Cyber Aggression is clearly positively correlated to the reduction of these costs.

Why do all your hyper-links cause Google to surveil your readers if they follow the links? Do you not know that you should edit the URLs rather than just copying them off the Google results screen, because every Google search results displayed is bugged? Or is this irony?

Anonymity and its Network Effects

Anonymity has a tremendous role in this discussion. Internet anonymity grants humans a world without reprecussions - spiteful comments on the internet do not come with the corresponding threat of physical consequences. Further, the provocateur on the internet is insulated from admonishment - they never see how their comments actually affect their targets. Instead, social media communication substitutes real human responses with the provocateur’s fantasies. Central to the disclosure of this negative behavior is that the provocateur perceives that they are unknown to their audience.

This ferocious content clearly is cultivated by the platforms themselves. These networks incentivize individuals to incite reactions with distorted content, prioritizing engagement and clicks. The short-form of these posts does violence to nuanced analysis. Instead, authors (and their readers) are encouraged to avoid entertaining alternative perspectives. The echo chambers that are produced from this communication style exist in every substantive realm, from sports media to politics, far-left and far-right alike. Yet, exclusive inquiry into the platforms’ role in this conversation fails to properly contextualize this darkness - the darkness that these networks pull out is human.


At the heart of this darkness lies the phenomenon of deindividuation- or the decrease of self-reflection and self-evaluation when someone feels as if they are anonymous. There is an abundance of research that highlights that social media nurtures this behavior in humans. The absence of accountability seems to draw out these aspects of the human psyche. Anonymity blesses internet users with the ability to live in their fantasies. The real world holds people accountable by forcing them to face the real impact of their actions. It is in this way that many societal norms have evolved - people stop doing what others will reject them for. In turn, abrasive, offensive and malicious behavior is almost instinctively met with general disgust. By shielding provocateurs from this feedback loop, network platforms have taken away the human defense to this vulgarity - exposing internet users to the darkness.

A Crumbling Facade

A core element of social media’s success has been its ability to allow all users to play a character of themselves. Each user writes their own narrative, sharing with the world what they want and conveniently avoiding aspects of their realities. Social media users have no human accountability for the gaps in their online characters. Yet, social media culture continues to develop characters that are semi-detached from their real lives.As a result, users are filled with a false sense of confidence that they are in “control” of what information they share with the world.

The irony is that social media’s anonymity is a facade that could come tumbling down at any point. Platforms aggregate data and evaluate their users, creating in-depth psychological profiles. While users stay anonymous to other social media users, deindividuation can prosper. Yet, many users fail to internalize the depth of information that they willingly share. The danger of having their antisocial behavior connect back to them is not as far away as it seems. Though the system allows for no anonymity, it attempts to provide a false sense of security to its users to avoid alarming the people (see Zuboff).The reality that users of the internet are not as anonymous could reasonably change the way that people interact online. It may even change how people feel about technology and surveillance.

Perception is Key

The central aspect of this discussion is the user’s perception. The perception of anonymity takes away cowardice and fear, allowing internet users to release their internal darkness. Qualifying their comments as “jokes”, there are few who are willing to attach their names and faces to the negativity produced on the internet. Anonymity empowers users to justify to themselves that their actions don’t reflect on their humanity. After all, no one thinks of themselves as evil.


How intensely internet platform’s cultivate security in a user’s perception of anonymity seems to demonstrate the importance of this perception. Yet, it is no shock to most that internet apps are watching. The idea that your “iPhone is listening” to the conversations you have (both on the phone and not) is commonplace - everyone knows that surveillance is happening. Interestingly, this awareness does not result in the perception of anonymity falling apart. This may indicate that people’s perception (as it relates to deindividuation) is focused on anonymity from other people. Does this mean that most people don’t care if they are being watched? Or does it mean we have already accepted being watched as an unavoidable part of using the internet?

Evaluation of how negative internet content is developed illustrates how big tech companies manipulate human psychology. The network (or the parasite) has created its feedback loop by taking advantage of instinctual behaviors. These platforms prey on the fact that their users generally only recognize accountability in contexts they are familiar with (i.e. how other humans will perceive their action). Most users in turn fail to acknowledge that these platforms are surveilling all of their behavior, from the picture they did not post to their subconscious behaviors. The exact things that would normally give rise to human’s instinctive shame are neatly collected and organized under the user’s social profile. In order to instigate change it may be necessary to target this perception of anonymity. If this perception was damaged, the value of actual anonymity may increase. In general, understanding human psychology on the network can be extremely useful, both to understand the network itself and to understand how to change it.

Doesn't it seem to you that there should be a more significant conclusion available after all this work?

Very much improved, in my view. Turkle's Life on the Screen does not seem to have made it into your reading, but again I want to point out that she saw deeper thirty years ago than your too-online source authors do now.

You are entitled to restrict access to your paper if you want to. But we all derive immense benefit from reading one another's work, and I hope you won't feel the need unless the subject matter is personal and its disclosure would be harmful or undesirable. To restrict access to your paper simply delete the "#" character on the next two lines:

Note: TWiki has strict formatting rules for preference declarations. Make sure you preserve the three spaces, asterisk, and extra space at the beginning of these lines. If you wish to give access to any other users simply add them to the comma separated ALLOWTOPICVIEW list.


Webs Webs

r4 - 08 Jan 2024 - 18:30:08 - EbenMoglen
This site is powered by the TWiki collaboration platform.
All material on this collaboration platform is the property of the contributing authors.
All material marked as authored by Eben Moglen is available under the license terms CC-BY-SA version 4.
Syndicate this site RSSATOM