I came up with a brief topic idea a few weeks ago now, that of how anonymity online promotes bad behaviour in children. This topic first appealed to me as I have spent an embarrassingly large proportion of my life playing online computer games, though now I feel this has aided me in understanding the psychologies behind those who post vulgar content.
The idea of using children (ethically) in the approach also touches on education and perhaps parenting issues, but the latter is a vast topic and I do not particularly wish to get involved in that debate. This hindered my progress into researching the title as if I didn’t want to stray into the parenting side then that is missing a large part of the issue. Perhaps for my thesis in the summer I can touch on that topic once I have discussed it with potential supervisors, but I think for now I shall expand my area to Web users in general.
The notion of using human participants does still involve ethics as I will be using their data to answer my research question. However, avoiding the rabbit hole that is dealing with children’s information is a welcome relief (for now at least).
Back to the idea. From my own personal experiences of using the Web for as long as I have, poor behaviour (such as deliberately insulting, taunting, stalking etc) seems to have been facilitated and promoted by the ability to becoming anonymous. As the offender has distanced his or herself from any personal ties to the real world (ie using their real name) they have become socially empowered in an online world that serves as a platform for venting everyday frustrations or acting out fantasies that would not be socially accepted in the real world. Whilst one can argue that the Web is an arena for freedom of expression and actions, these notions still have negative side effects on the victims of any anonymous bullying or insulting.
A prime example of the power of anonymous bullying is the many stories of girls committing suicide after receiving particularly nasty messages online. Often she has come to a forum to ask for help or to finally express her concerns in an area of social safety – there would be no social repercussions as those she is communicating with are not personally tied to her in any sense. Whilst probably expecting positive reinforcement or solutions to her problems (which there were), ‘trolls’ have jumped on the opportunity to insult her en masse. Whilst I am sure they did not really want her to die, their words evidently had an impact on her already fragile mental state that resulted in her death. This, unfortunately, is one of the many powers of the Web.
So, after all the ramblings, my research interests would cover non-socially acceptable forms of behaviour that have been facilitated by the powers of the Web to grant anonymity, focusing on the extent to which the Web amplifies these actions and reactions.
However, very recently (today) I covered cybersecurity in the MOOC and this has absolutely captivated my interest and it can also be applied to anonymous behaviour. Perhaps I should read more into the criminal side of the Web. For research purposes. Yes.
tl;dr I want to study online anonymous behaviour.