11. Online Disinhibition Effect

How do I know if I am happy? Indicators for this are emotions. These signal “whether something is good or bad, dangerous or harmless, and with which general class of behaviour (e.g. flight, defence) to react to it”. Emotions also serve to evaluate an action, whether it was satisfactory – i.e. the goal was achieved – or not. Emotion and motivation are therefore strongly linked.

This explains one of the most important aspects of human nature: namely, that we act – whether we want to or not – in an emotion-driven rather than a reason-driven way.

In 2005, Jonathan Harris and Sep Kamvar launched the project “We feel fine” – an art project that scoured the internet every 10 minutes for the phrase “I feel…” or “I am feeling…” and stored all the emotions expressed in it in a database. More than a million different human feelings were collected and visualised on an interactive website and in a book. The project ran for many years, the last entry was on 24.6.2016.

This project reflects the trend of increasing emotionalisation on the internet, driven by user-generated content in blogs and especially in social networks. Almost all areas of society are now affected by this, even outside the internet, especially in marketing and politics – everything is riddled with emotions with angry citizens, hate preachers and politicians who have understood that emotions – mostly negative – have more effect than arguments.

This phenomenon, which occurs particularly in an online environment, is the so-called online disinhibition effect, which manifests itself in an aggressive attitude. Examples of this are bullying, and hate speech, which can have devastating consequences (suicide, lynching).

The example of the Rohingyas in Myanmar shows that hate speech and calls for violence spread via Facebook could even lead to genocide. Many scientists see the cause of this toxic effect in the anonymity, the physical invisibility and above all due to the lack of eye contact with the other person. From a psychological point of view, the natural inhibition threshold of aggressive behaviour is thus greatly lowered.

The fact that negative feelings in particular are much easier to generate than positive ones is quickly explained from the
negative emotions signal danger, activate the readiness to act and can thus be existential. Negative emotions are powerful inner triggers: many current movements were born out of fear, outrage or anger, whether PEGIDA, Black-Lifes-Matter, Me-Too or Fridays-for-Future.

Positive feelings are nice, but not essential for survival.

From an economic point of view, investing in negative emotions is therefore cheaper and more profitable than investing in positive ones. “Negative emotions like fear and anger are easier to induce, and they last longer than positive ones – it takes much longer to build trust than to lose it.”


Inside the Social Network. (Film)

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