“You Are As Evil As Your Social Network” –You Had Me at Article Title
December 11, 2012 § 8 Comments
Really interesting piece on Motherboard today — reexamines discussions of the so-called “Lucifer Effect” (in which people passively consent to unethical or otherwise inhumane behavior because the Bad Men tell them to), most interestingly (for me) in relation to anonymity and online behavior. The first question by author McLeon Gordon’s, while the response is by Dr. Alex Haslam (emphasis mine):
Gordon: Thinking about the web, have you looked at how anonymity affects peoples’ willingness to do evil?
Haslam: Your construction of the audience is quite critical there. For instance in Abu Ghraib, a lot of that stuff was filmed and photographed, but the point is who do you think is watching? Who’s taking the photographs? In a way, it’s about the relationship between you and the audience. I think that’s right. Just to anticipate one point, there’s a really nice analysis that was done by two researchers in the Netherlands, Tom Postmes and Russell Spears, looking at the relation or the correlation, across all available studies, between anonymity and destructive behavior. What they found was that that correlation is close to zero. There is no evidence of a relationship between anonymity and abuse. Everything hinges on moderators, and the key moderator is, what is the norm of the group?
If the norm of the group is to be destructive, well actually then anonymity can enhance that. But if the norm of the group is to be constructive, then anonymity can enhance that. So it isn’t the case that anonymity is one of those things that feeds into brutality. You know, doctors and nurses in a sense kind of dress up in a kind of uniform to make their personal identities less salient, and charities have a lot of anonymous donors who are very concerned to protect their identities for various reasons. That doesn’t stop them from doing good.
I think I need to go read that study like yesterday.