Home > Brian's Blogs > Do You Have an Internet Split Personality?

Do You Have an Internet Split Personality?

MSNBC has posted a report titled “Anonymity Opens Up Split Personality Zone: Faceless Communication Online or Over Phone Often Turns People Nasty.”  The basic thesis of the report (in case you didn’t get it from the title) is that people who exhibit normal social behavior in their physical lives often exhibit anti-social behavior in their virtual lives.  The report doesn’t address Christians who exhibit anti-Christian behavior in a virtual life…

The article describes a few motivations for this virtual behavior:

  1. Anonymity: “In a February 2008 study published in the journal Psychological Reports, researchers found that out of four groups of participants, only those in the anonymous group took part in antisocial behavior — in this case defined as violating rules to obtain a reward.“I definitely believe that anonymity affects the frequency of antisocial behavior among individuals to some extent, even when these individuals have a reasonable sense of morality — so-called ‘ordinary people,’” says study author Tatsuya Nogami of Nagoya University in Japan.”
  2. Limited consequences: ““People get sucked in,” she says. “You can be whoever you want, you can put out there whatever you want, and there are no consequences. I even got sucked in and was mean to people. I consider myself better than that, but I did it too, and that bothers me. I guess it’s just the dynamic.””
  3. The Online Disinhibition Effect: “Rider University psychology professor John Suler wrote about this dynamic in his 2004 paper “The Online Disinhibition Effect.” In it, he describes both toxic disinhibition — angry, threatening behavior such as that seen in flame wars or cyberbullying — and benign disinhibition, in which people make overly personal revelations due to the intimate nature of the medium. (Think online daters who “fall in love” without ever meeting.)

A lot of this effect has to do with feedback — or lack thereof, says Wallace.

“The environment affects how you behave,” she says. “Any time you go to places where you’re not known — even if it’s a hotel in another city — you might be more aggressive. So when you construct an environment like the Internet or long-distance call centers with a help desk worker in Bangalore, you’re creating an environment that facilitates uncharacteristic behavior. You’re not getting those nonverbal cues that calibrate your behavior and give you feedback if you’re going off track. Those people who do customer service for Comcast probably need double doses of Zoloft.””

Whatever the cause, anyone who utilizes the internet on a regular basis experientially knows these things to be true.  It is easy to laugh at the examples provided, but the laughter ends when you consider its impact on Christian ethics.

The internet, to be sure, is not the end of Christian ethics.  Christians get angry without the internet.  Christians look at pornography without the internet.  Christians gossip without the internet.  But the internet is literally a “super highway” for these sins.  The internet enables these sins to manifest themselves in new and unique ways.  The internet opens up a whole new world where anti-social, un-Christian behavior can be anonymous, private, and seemingly without consequences.

So what are we to do?

I’m certainly not qualified to answer that question (it’s above my pay grade), but I know someone who is.  Dan Lohrmann is a member of Grand Ledge Baptist Church and has written a soon to be published book titled Virtual Integrity: Faithfully Navigating the Brave New Web.  These are the exact issues that he addresses in a powerful and biblical manner.

GLBC is fortunate enough to host Dan’s book launch on October 28 and to have Dan lead a class on this very topic beginning December 7.

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