Does anonymity make online comments more hostile?

Yes, but real names aren't a panacea.

Online news comments are often a dumpster fire, and anonymity is partly to blame.

Comparing platforms that allow anonymous comments in response to news articles to those that require user accounts with real names reveals a pattern: anonymous posts include more name-calling, insults, derogatory stereotypes and hostility. That's likely attributable to the "disinhibition effect"—when people think their online activity won't be linked to their quote-unquote real life, they feel less accountable to norms of civility.

But it's important to keep in mind that plenty of people post hostile comments from their named accounts, too. Anonymity isn't the only variable that matters.

In one small experiment, participants who read a news story with civil comments underneath tended to post civil comments, regardless of whether they were anonymous. Participants who saw the same story with aggressive comments, though, tended to follow suit. Likewise, on a platform for signing petitions where outrage at the targeted public figure or social issue was the norm, named commenters were more likely than their anonymous peers to use aggressive language. When social norms support hostile comments, there's no reason for named users to feel inhibited.

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