The Experiment

I’ve been playing an unofficial and unscientific game on social media for the last month or so and it’s been really fascinating to watch. The results are as many people would expect. But, in a few cases, I was surprised. And it should be noted that I do have a particular web presence. It’s an easy task for those so inclined to research me and to figure out what I think about most things. This could have tilted the responses I got.

So that I wasn’t looking for the trolliest of trolls, I would a priori agree to make five comments on the first five entries that I see on whatever social I’m going to look at. To whatever point the original poster made, I was a contrarian. In some cases, I wrote longish and thoughtful, engaging responses. Otherwise, I wrote as most other people: off the cuff, unabated, derisive, acerbic, short, and terse. These posts would get a virtually immediate response, often with others chiming in. It was kind of like sticking your tongue out at the school bully. He gets you back by having his whole posse stick their tongues out back at you. More is more in this world, I guess.

Boil Me In Acid?

I had one such response in regards to something I wrote about Greece: “History not your expertise, huh chump? C’mon back when you finish the third grade.” This kind of response can get a whole slew of responses with everyone virtually high-fiving each other at the good jab.

If the topic is incendiary in and of itself – say abortion – the responses can be especially mean. Once, in an abortion thread, I asked if local populations should be able to decide what kind of community they want. I got a dozen or so immediate snippets of hate mail with one person saying that, if they ever met a person like me, they would boil them in nitric acid. Nice.

No Apologies

Another thing I tried on a whim with surprising results was apologizing. I got two results. Almost everyone with whom I disagreed with and then apologized to – I usually made something up to apologize for – appeared genuinely softened. But I was surprised that, in a few cases, posters just got meaner after an apology. I was told to “get my ass off the internet” several times. One gal, after I apologized for saying something about President Obama that she took offense to, told me to “shut the hell up and that she could find out who I was an where I lived.” More recently, I had a guy tell me that he didn’t know which would have been better – that my dad had learned to use condoms or that he would have died before meeting my mother. Yes. These are the people you live next door to.

What really interests me is how anonymity can embolden people to be mean. I’m sure that if I worked with these folks who want to boil me in acid that we would get along just fine. Does anonymity allow us to secretly reveal our true selves? It appears to be so.


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