Comments, trolls & disinhibition

In this weeks blog I’ll be taking a closer look at the comment system and the consequences of anonymity on social media and just the web in general. A classmate of mine has given me two good works on this, more specifically ‘The Online Disinhibition Effect’ by J. Suler and ‘Reading the Comments’ by J. M. Reagle.


I feel like talking about Suler is a good starting point on how online behaviour can work differently from real life performance. The disinhibition effect is the phenomenon whereby people online express emotions and desires that they would otherwise restrain offline. He makes a distinction between ‘benign disinhibition’ and ‘toxic disinhibition’, whereby the former is the situation where people display a large amount of hospitality and friendliness and the latter, the state where they express hateful and rude statements. Suler states that the anonymity, or even physical invisibility to a minor extent, we obtain online is a big factor in the creation of the effect.

While I understand the difference between the two versions I feel as if, the benign effect can’t really be called as an expression of suppressed feelings as the toxic one. People whom are friendly online, I think are by nature also very friendly people offline. While people who behave in a rude, hateful and discriminatory way online, aren’t necessarily also bad people offline. It wouldn’t be surprised if some Internet trolls are actually nice people in real life, but take on a complete new personality when they surf on the Internet.

This ‘Online Disinhibition Effect’ is important to keep in mind, as we move to the next work, namely that of J. M. Reagle. His text talks more specifically about comments on online blogs, forums and social media. I think we all have looked at the comments of a video or social media post before and found that it sometimes contains some very hateful messages. The comments are just an example of the effect described by Suler. Because our identity is protected by our anonymity online, we are free to comment whatever we want on what we find. A few famous youtubers have decided to disable their comment sections in the past, some of them even permanent. Many have stated that this action had an impact on their channel.

Another famous example where toxic comments come forth is on news articles on Facebook. Even though I try to stay away from them, I sometimes can’t resist reading them and finding out some very ignorant comments. When it comes to politics many take on a very cynical, even sour (as we say in dutch) attitude. While Facebook goes against the anonymity principle that is brought forth by both the authors, it is still not enough to block some very toxic comments. I personally think this has to do with the fact that even though our identity is exposed, nothing holds us accountable for what we write in comment sections. If people call someone out on a lie in a response to a comment, many of them will either ignore it or attack that person back.

Just today (15th of October), I saw a perfect example of the topic of this blog post. It was a news article by De Morgen, which a Flemish quality newspaper about a statement by the actress Mayim Bialik, who plays in The Big Bang Theory. It was about the recent scandal involving Weinstein in Hollywood. I won’t go further on this as it’s not of importance here but if you followed the news for the past week then you definitely heard of it. She said that because she dresses just mediocre and doesn’t really flirt with people, she never had the problem of men harassing her. In a perfect society women should be able to dress how they want etc., but because that’s not the society we live in, women are to be careful in those things. When I took a look at the comment section I was kinda disgusted with the responses to the article. One guy stated that she dresses mediocre because she has nothing to show for in the first place, another one calling her a dumb religious child. One guy even stated that she has been going crazy for a while now, speaking as if he personally knows her. 2 out the 3 profiles of the people I stated above where fake accounts. So here again the anonymity makes it so they can say whatever they want without it ever harming them in real life.


It is one of the many sad things that have come with the rising popularity of social media, and sadly one that is very hard to counter. Though we shouldn’t just look at the toxic comments, but also appreciate the encouraging ones or those with constructive criticism. As with anything on the Internet, there’s a good and bad side to it.

My thoughts on readings provided by a fellow student.

This weeks blog will be based on a few readings provided by a fellow student of mine and his intriguing Masters Thesis on Online Commenting.

The first reading I did was, Reading the Comments : Likers, Haters, and Manipulators at the Bottom of the Web by Joseph M. Reagle.

The text starts off with an explanation on where commenting had their “origins” and what it was mostly used for back in the days when the internet made its first steps towards maturity.
What really caught my eye though is when he mentions Dunbar´s eponymous number of 150.
This is the “magic number” that signals when a community has grown to large, and the commenting that was once (possibly) insightful and productive turn into a mishmash of trolling, hate, graffiti and nonsense comments. The magic is gone from what once was a well working community.
Not only does this signify that if a community grows to large, it will almost every time turn toxic, but that to keep the “magic” of such communities, you will need to restrict the number of users or contributors in order for it not to turn out like that.
Restricting members will again alienate the very people you are trying to reach with your content. It really is a “damned if you do, damned if you dont” scenario, and I find this aspect of the different web communities incredibly interesting.

I’m relating this to my own Masters Thesis, wich will be about engaging the silent majority in participatory culture and critical thinking. What good is it to try to contribute and participate if you turn out to be locked out of all the different forums and communities, because they reached 150ish members already.
How much do you get out of trying to participate in a forum where half the posts are trolling or toxic because there are no restriction on the number of contributors?
Should there be censoring or moderation on each forum making sure that its open to all, but the trolls and toxicity are kept from the public, and who would put up with such a job? Also, wont there be a lot of personal biases or cultural biases permeating those stuck with the job of censoring? Is not the act of censoring going against all that the “free web” is supposed to be?

Having such a discussion on how to keep commenting fruitful and not hostile in the large could be very interesting, and could yield some unique views on how to achieve the one or another.

Later on Reagle writes about Dave Winer, and his idea to make commenting on blogs invisible. The idea is that once a blog post is published, you have a certain amount of time to make a comment, 1000 words/characters or shorter, but it will not become visible until after the set time has expired. So once the time is up, all comments are visible, and no further commenting is possible, and anyone that has the need to make a longer remark or would like to follow-up on another’s comment, should do so in their own blogs.
By using a “trackback” function, anyone who had someone blog about their blog would receive a notification, and they could then visit the blog and see what that person had written in response.
Allegedly this idea was put to the test, and it ended badly, with spammer and scammer making instant use of this function to bog down bloggers with unsavory content.

Another point that’s made is that one of the easiest ways of partly constricting toxicity is to do like Facebook and Google+, require users to use their full name, wich immediately removes the anonymity provided by other forums and communities. This is partly true, but as most people can attest, it does not remove trolling or toxic comments in the whole. Facebook still struggles with such comments, both in the public sphere and in closed groups.

The read ends with going back to one of the first points made, that good communities grow, and once they grow too much, the users leave because it has gone “downhill” its back to the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” paradox.

The second reading, The Online Disinhibition Effect, John Suler.

A quick explanation, The online disinhibition effect is a term used for the phenomena of acting without or with lacking inhibitions online compared to their offline behavior.
Suler divides the Inhibitions into two categories, Benign Inhibitions – where you share your fears and emotions, or actively show kindness or go out of your way to help others, and Toxic Inhibitions – where you are hostile, hateful or visit places of perversion, crime, and violence. Activities that one would not engage in in real life.

Suler makes a point of writing about anonymity and the consequences of being “hidden” when your online. This anonymity is the biggest contributor to toxic behavior, the fact that it cannot be traced back to you ( it can, but it requires a lot of effort, and in some cases legal action) makes it incredibly easy to behave in a toxic manner.
The anonymity the screen provides, and the lack of needing to divulge ones personal information (full name and email) is providing all the right tools for anyone to become a troll or bully. There are no negative consequences to one self.

Further Suler mentions Solipsistic Introjection, in short, when you have conversations with other people in your head, projection their person into a dialogue with yourself even though they are not there. This can also happen when you talk to people online, as you write to them, and learn more about them , you assign them a face, voice, a personality and character, based on what they write to you.
In my opinion, this is blurring the lines or reality, and is leaning more towards having psychological issues then just projection a persona to the person you are writing to.
One thing is to make a reflected guess unto what personality the person has in retrospect to your writings back and forth, it is a whole other case to actually assign them all the other human characteristics.
It is almost like your creating an imaginary friend that you can talk to,  wich, in my opinion, if you do in adult age is a clear sign that you have a deep-rooted psychological issue. ( My apologies to anyone I offend with this remark )
Having fictional dialogue with a person you know, a good friend, or your partner is fine, but to attribute the same notion to a person you`ve only written to online is not.

Emily Finch is mentioned for her work with dissociative Imagination, in this context, when people see their online persona and activities as a part of a game, and not real life. They have a definite boundary between online and offline, and they separate the two.
This is a dangerous notion, because that would mean that people who has this dissociative imagination no longer think of their actions online as anything that has meaning or consequence, if it is all a game, then who does it affect when they act toxic or post something they should not.
Gamefication in everyday life may help to speed this dissociative state of mind, as more and more of everyday life in some way is beginning to seem like a game. You have achievements in apps like snapchat, or a scoring system, telling you how many points you or your friends have gathered. There are pervasive games, even further blurring the line between game and reality.

Linking this back to comments and commenting it would mean that once you are online, you are “in a game”, and as such, nothing you say or do will have any consequence for your “offline self”. Toxic or chivalrous behaviour doesn’t matter anymore, and if you “play a role” when you are online, then it is normal to experiment with said role. One day you’re a social justice warrior, the next your a toxic hater, spreading vile as you post, further down the line, you might be a white knight, trying to rid the internet of such characters as you yourself just played, by reporting toxic content, or by defending a person antagonized in a post by trolls or toxic comments.

Lastly, I was given a video to watch, and it my (not so) humble opinion, it is a nugget of gold hidden in the mud of user-generated content. It is definitively worth watching, wich is why I will not write about it. Go watch it, you`ll be better off if you do. <—- glorious link.
The clip is 6 minutes long, and worth every second of it.

As always, if you agree/disagree with me, leave a comment, so that I can be super toxic and hateful, seeing as all this is just a game anyhow 😉
Honestly though, feel free to leave a comment.

Learning and Literacy

My thoughts on chapter 4 of Henry Jenkins, Mimi Ito & Danah Boyd’s Participatory Culture in a Networked Era.

After reading chapter 4 of this book, I ended up writing quite  a few pages of notes and thoughts on this chapter. The book tries to critically examine “participatory culture” and how our thinking around this concept has changed over the last 20 years since Henry Jenkins first coined the term.

Chapter 4 focuses on media literacy as well as learning in a community such as in a participatory culture.

One thing I kept wondering about was why they kept going back to Youth. They spoke of youth as if the rest of the population didn’t contribute to participatory cultures in the same way. Youth was also vaugely defined, and I wondered more than once what age range they were thinking and how old the oldest “youth” were in their talk.

The text was quite easy to read as it was written in a very oral style of an interview.

A discussion they had was about learning and producing as a community. Wikipedia came up several times; Jenkins calling it possibly the greatest example of a good participatory community. At the very least it is one of, if not the most well known example. I agree that Wikipedia is far more cedible than many High schools and universities gives it credit for. Even if you don’t want students to cite just wikipedia, it is a great starting point when researching a topic.

Another concern that was brought up was the possibility of “information overload”. This is due to the overwhelming information that can be found on the web and that we now have access to. With it comes questions of Quality of information and if we should vet the information or expect people to develop any kind of sensibilities when navigating through seas of information. I agree with their assessment of the need to adapt to the amount of information rather than try to go back to a world were we would be “go back to a diet of starvation in terms of communication and information.”(p. 100)

This chapter pointed me towards Jenkins’s White Paper which I will check out as well as other authors that might be useful in my own research. I hope to make a post on chapter 5 of this book as well later on.

Konsoll 2017

Not really a blog just about the masters so I’m not calling it such.
A more in depth progess blog will come later, I promise.

I was at Konsoll 2 weeks ago here in Bergen. It was very interesting and though I didn’t catch any of the workshops, the talks were very good. I especially liked theones talking about specific games such as Jane NG‘s talk on Firewatch, Martin Fasterholdt on INSIDE and Colm Larkin on getting your game out early with his Guild of Dungeoneering.

Met many people within the video game developing community, both Norwegian and internationally. I am already loking forward to next year.