Monday, September 1, 2014

Chat Communications and Other Online Behaviours

By David Simms, Senior Contributor

One question I have pondered on many occasions is how the internet might be different if rules and the enforcement of them were the same as those we find in society. Any civilised community has laws in place to curb criminal activity and keep normal people in check also. 

An interesting study was done on an internet gaming community where behaviours of participants were monitored based on several controlled changes to the interaction  between players. It was found that players who were consistently negative in their chat communications with other players, accounted for only  13 percent of the bad behaviour seen overall in the game. The other 87 percent came from players who were mostly positive but lashed out only occasionally. It was these isolated occurrences that catalysed the escalation of negative comments throughout the gaming community. This seems to mirror aspects of online harassment activity. We imagine hateful and offensive language coming from deranged outcasts of society who have no other way to vent. But this is not the case, much of the negative outlash comes from happy people living normal respectable lives. The cyber harasser cannot be identified if they were sitting in a room.  

One thing the study tried was making it more difficult to use the chat option and found the negative comments dropped of drastically. This showed that given even a small barrier most people won’t bother with venting. It was also found that people weren’t aware that they were coming across badly. When they were confronted with their behaviour and that others found it offensive, they not only backed down but refrained from negativity completely. The relation to internet harassment seems to be clear. Ultimately, online abuse isn’t a technology problem rather a social one that is driven by technology. The most effective solutions to the problem appear to be defusing the tendency for bad behaviour to escalate and encourage the involvement of all users of the platform to be judges of the activity. If people are held accountable for their online actions by their peers, we might see a larger reduction in the problem than we expect.