At Psychology Today Blogs (you may have guessed by now that I like the site; I’m also a long-time subscriber to Psychology Today, as I found it immensely useful back when I was doing management training and organization development), GLenn Geher muses on the danger of a culture of anonymity, or, as he calls it, “deindividuation,” that is, the separation of an individual from his or her actions and the consequences thereof.
In the modern world, of course, we communicate with others in a deindividuated manner all the time. Deindividuated behavior (see Diener, 1976) exists when someone’s identity is downplayed or hidden during communication. These days, there are many forms of deindividuated communication. Consider the following examples:
- You are on the phone with someone who refuses to reveal her name to you.
- You are playing a video game with someone virtually and that person’s screen name is HackerJacker2003.
- You get an email from someone and you have no idea who the author is.
- You get a Facebook message from someone whose Facebook name is clearly fake.
- You get a comment on your blog post by Anonymous.
… and so forth. Deindividuated communication is nothing short of rampant in this day and age.
That wouldn’t be so bad if there were no problems with the nature of deindividuated communication. But, as it turns out, there are lots of problems with deindividuated communication (see Zimbardo, 2007). When people’s identities are hidden, they are more likely to engage in anti-social behavior. They are more likely to bully. They are more likely to steal. They are more likely to kill. And so forth.