People on the internet can be awful. If you are brave enough to enter the comments section of even the most wholesome YouTube video, you’re likely to find a wretched hive of scum and villainy that would put Mos Eisley to shame.

Have you ever stopped to wonder why?

Yes, you could just say the answer is anonymity and call it a day. However, it turns out it goes deeper than that. There are actual reasons that people say and (kinda) do horrible things behind a keyboard that they would never do in the real world. It’s important to know, especially as we as a society spend more and more time online.

Dissociative Anonymity

This is a fancy way of saying “you aren’t necessarily you when you’re online.”

People don’t know who you are. Typically, they only know what you are willing to tell them. This can create a separation between the “real” you and the online you (that you may not even consider you at all).

This causes a lowering of your inhibitions. You feel like it’s not really you, so any backlash falls on the online you; likely with no actual consequences in the real world.

While this is interesting in explaining the lowered state inhibitions, it doesn’t quite explain why people, unencumbered by consequence, choose to lean towards the negative. Moving right along…


This is a fancy way of saying most online communications don’t happen in real time. You post something; it takes time for people to see. They post something; it takes time for you to see it.

The theory here is that when you have a face to face conversation or even a phone conversation, you can see the immediate impact of your words on the other person. Whereas online, you can say devastating things, get up, go make a sandwich, take a shower, and get a few chapters of your novel out before reading a reply (if there even is one).

This delay causes people to disregard the tact they would normally show in order to avoid an immediate negative reaction. They have ample time to prepare for any “fallout” if they choose to revisit the situation at all.

Dissociative Imagination

This is a fancy way of saying people don’t think the things they say online are real.

This theory suggests that some people believe that internet interactions are just a game and that everyone is in on it. You can’t hurt someone online because everyone is just playing. “It’s all just lolz.”

It’s okay that they behave abhorrently online because that’s part of the game. They would never act that way normally. What they fail to realize is that the things they say to people online are in fact real.

Status Complexes

This is a fancy way of saying that people can be self-conscious about their position in life. However, the anonymity of the internet levels the playing field. The lack of concrete identity allows people to more or less be whoever they say they are. This emboldens people to express things they probably wouldn’t ordinarily, out of fear that their status would determine the value of what they had to say as opposed to its actual validity.

Why people choose to be cruel when uninhibited is a deeper psychological question that likely varies from person to person. The dissociative effect of the internet that enables this behavior is a bit easier to grasp.

Although, it makes you wonder if modern, heightened social-sensitivities will improve the situation or inflame it.