Why are online worlds often so toxic?

Originally published at: http://boingboing.net/2016/11/04/why-are-online-worlds-often-so.html

I always thought that it was because many people are dicks, and the anonymity of the online space provides the perfect outlet for their inner dickbag.

This notion that somehow, toxicity in such situations is not indicative of dickbaggery on the parts of large swathes of the populace irritates me.

A lot.


Facebook is kind of proof that anonymity isn’t the cause of the behavior though. There’s a phrase on tumblr … Facebook is where you learn how awful friends and family are (not the entire phrase but it’s enough of it). A lot of the jerk behavior on YouTube since the integration of G+ has stopped being anonymous too.

Half the people I flagged on the last Michelle Obama speech I watched were using their legal name to post hate speech. Anonymity isn’t the ill it’s made out to be and “legal name only” policies cause a lot of harm.


Sometimes people who’re dickbags act like dickbags and sometimes they hide their dickbagery. Isn’t that what’s at issue here.


… because anyone who has a lot of time to spend in online worlds has a bit of an unhappy life?


The further removed we are from direct human contact the less likely we are to observe understanding and civility. It’s common to see someone angrily hit their horn when another driver makes a minor mistake on the road, but if you saw someone yelling in the face of an old lady who accidentally hit the wrong button in an elevator you’d assume they were some kind of psycho.


Gifs that use arsenic-laced pigments to get the perfect shade of green?


Please, please. One can be online a lot and deeply miserable without creating a toxic environment. I think.


Oh alright.


Nope. Multitasking is a thing.

I’m not so sure a lack of empathy due to lack of direct human contact is the explanation. Another possible explanation is the expectation of social consequences. When someone does something horrible to someone else online, there’s a good chance they’ll never encounter that person again. On the road, especially in an urban area, probably not going to see that person again. Shitting on people face-to-face carries a higher likelihood of repercussions. This also might explain why tourists are so often more vile to people than natives.


Because loud, visible jerks chill all other speech when they show up and enable other loud jerks to be jerks and encourage people to be jerks. It’s an echo chamber effect.

Most people don’t comment, and when unmoderated jerks get loose the community of nice commenters either fight the troll, become jerks in fighting the troll or leave. The more trolls come, the worse it gets, pushing nice commenters to other, moderated, forums.

YMMV, just my 2cents.


No physical filter. That is all.

P.S. Non-verbals are everything, and good communicators read body language always; screen communicators use endorphins and adrenalin and no presence. Not good communication, yo.

P.P.S. I am present during most communications, if I can help it… :wink:

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My experience has been practically the complete opposite. That reliance upon non-verbals results in emotional incontinence, making equanimity a constant challenge. People need to work on having the discipline to listen and articulate more deliberately. Language is vastly more efficient than infantilism, so those who are able to use language should be encouraged to do so. Needing to refine what one means is what deepens one’s capacity for introspection.

You’re oversimplifying my nuance; duly noted.

AND, I read your nuance; duly noted squared.

Is this basically the broken windows theory?

No, this is the theory squared.


my windows are rectangular.

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I guess there could also be an effect where in general, misanthropic people will often withdraw from society, but may spend more time online. You also have the effect where those who comment on a political or other issue will generally have stronger and more polarised feelings than the average person, who has more of an incentive to get along with someone they may interact with more regularly in different contexts.

When it comes to empathy, people tend to empathise more with people they identify with, but not as much with those they consider to be very different from them; this effect is increased by messages encouraging people to see the other side as less human.

On the one hand, polarisation can be a very good thing – the average of everyone’s opinion isn’t necessarily a reasonable position at all, and some positive views can gain traction because they were discussed in a well moderated forum that amplifies voices that are normally the minority. For the same reason, it can be very bad.

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Online worlds are like real ones. Even if they’re inside the Goldilocks Zone, it doesn’t mean that they’re habitable.