Say that to my face, why don’t’cha..

People on the Internet are familiar with the concept of “Internet Trolls,” those people who harass and abuse people through the anonymity of the internet. One primary cause of this is often attributed to the “online disinhibition effect,” where there are lots of factors that amount saying: When you are online, you have lower inhibitions regarding social behavior, whether it be pro-social or anti-social.

What makes this interesting is the emphasis in popular perception on the anti-social behaviors of trolls. What about the people for whom the Internet is not a place to look for prey to bully, but, instead, is the source of their strongest relationships, sometimes even with people they have never met?

The Internet provides this shield, so to speak, for people. You don’t have to interact with the person directly, you can craft your words carefully to convey your meaning, and, unlike in real life, if a conversation is making you feel uncomfortable or self-conscious, or in other way bad about yourself? You can just close the window and look for another conversation(which you might be having in another window already, anyway). In fact, you do not even need to say something directly.”There is someone  I really like, but I am afraid  would laugh at me. Can you help me figure out what I should say?” and then tag the particular person you are talking about with a couple others is a great way to hide the person, but also get the information, after all. This means that the internet has some great ways to shield oneself beyond just the anonymity of the web. It almost encourages people to take social risks they would not in the physical world. And this is not always a bad thing.

However, what happens when you have someone who has been made fun of, insulted, and harassed for years in the real world, and then makes real friends, not fake, abusive “friends,” who they know both online and real life? The Internet feels safe. They want to share things with their friends, but they are afraid of the rejection, or the ridicule that they had gotten in the past. And the internet is safe They like that man or woman, but have never had someone say “yes” when they asked someone out,  and they want to appeal to the person. And the internet is safe. So, they will say things they would never say in the real world. They will leave themselves more vulnerable, but then, when they meet with the person in the real world next, they shy away from what they shared online.

Now, imagine you are the other person. Someone who is a friend shared things with you that made them vulnerable, and now, when you are talking with them in person, they are shying away. Does that mean they regret sharing their thoughts with your? Do they not feel safe talking to you in person for some reason?What is the effect these questions would have in your interaction with this person?

This is a social dilemma that, with a more and more online society and more and more social interactions occurring online, we are going to have to face. I think, ultimately, two things need to be done. First, patience needs to be shown to people both online and real world. Someone sharing things online that they couldn’t real world? It is because it feels safe. It will take a person time to feel as safe talking in person, where all their self-confidence and self-esteem issues are there for others to see. Second, people need to be willing to reach out to these people in the real world. It could be something as simple as a hug, or as complex as sharing something that would make you feel as vulnerable as what the person shared online. The ultimate goal would be to get where you could feel as comfortable with someone in both the physical and digital worlds.


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