Why the comments section of your average website is full of rage, aggression, rudeness and foul language
1 HOUR AGO MAY 02, 2015 9:01PM
There’s science behind the modern day keyboard warrior. Source: Supplied
IF you’ve ever ventured into the comments section of a news story online you’ll notice a fairly even split of considered responses and outright hatred. There is rarely an exception.
You might’ve heard the phrase “keyboard warriors”— a fitting description for those fighting a rightous cause hunched over their qwerty.
But have you ever stopped to consider why people feel invincinble online? Or why they get so angry? A study in the US helps explain half of it.
Arthur Santana, a communications professor at the University of Houston, analysed hundreds of comments on stories from the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Houston Chronicle and USA Today. His findings, published in the New Yorker, revealed a “perceptible difference” in the nature of comments from users who revealed their identity and those who posted anonymously.
Of the hundreds of comments, 53 per cent of anonymous commenters were uncivil, as opposed to only 29 per cent of non-anonymous commenters. Their behaviour is rooted in three words: Online. Disinhibition. Effect.
The theory, established by psychologist John Suler, asserts “while online, some people self-disclose or act out more frequently or intensely than they would in person”.
Invisibility is one of the factors.
To help clean up their comment sections, a number of popular news sites includingESPN, USA Today and Huffington Post banned anonymous comments, theWashington Post reported.
But what makes people so angry? Scientific American reported in 2012 that “a perfect storm of factors come together to engender the rudeness and aggression seen in the comments’ sections of web pages”.
The author cited Edward Wasserman, Knight Professor in Journalism Ethics at Washington and Lee University, who blamed: “bad examples set by the media”.
“Unfortunately, mainstream media have made a fortune teaching people the wrong ways to talk to each other, offering up Jerry Springer, Crossfire, Bill O’Reilly. People understandably conclude rage is the political vernacular, that this is how public ideas are talked about,” Wasserman wrote.
Others suggest the comments section lends itself to a pack mentality made popular by social media.
Dr Matthew Bambling, a senior lecturer in psychiatry at the University of Queensland, told news.com.au there was more to it than that.
“It used to be the angry note then the angry email,” he said.
“When people get behind their computer and they’re by themselves they often don’t have anybody else to bounce ideas off. There’s no-one there to have another opinion. There’s a lack of filtering.
“It’s like when a person gets behind the wheel of a car. They might give the finger to somebody who cuts them off but they don’t realise that down the road there’s a set of lights and people will fire back.”
He said there were two types of people who posted abusive comments online. Those who went searching for a cause to be righteous about and those who reacted emotionally to something they had seen.
He said there was also an element of “self-absorbtion” that led people to believe their ideas were so important they had to be shared.
“On one level we’ve gotta get over ourselves. We’re entitled to have an opinion but we shouldn’t shout down people without have a reasoned argument.”