In a column by Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence and Social Intelligence, he notes that “Psychologists have a technical name for flaming: the ‘online disinhibition effect,’ which describes the many ways people behave with less restraint in cyberspace.” The causes for this effect are many:
Psychologist John Suler has suggested that several psychological factors can cause online disinhibition: the anonymity and invisibility that the Web provides; the time lag between sending an email message and getting feedback; the exaggerated sense of self from being alone; and the lack of any online authority figure.
Clay Shirky, a professor of social computing at NYU,
suggests ways to respond to “flamer” situations, especially where a flamer is a complete stranger who you’ll never meet in person. For instance, he notes that flaming is much more severe in online groups than it is in two–person exchanges. So users often find that they can defuse flamers by contacting them directly. “When you take them out of the social part of the conversation, where they’re performing in front of an audience, and address them as an individual, they become much less prone to name–calling and vituperation,” he says.
New software can also make a difference, says Shirky. He argues that if people can post even tiny digital images of themselves in an online discussion, that will dampen flaming and help people’s emotional intelligence emerge. “We’re so fantastically attuned to reading faces that [photos] give us more of a sense of who we’re dealing with,” he says.