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” Rage against the machine Cindy Helgason, a 48-year-old soap maker from Des Moines, Iowa, says she can’t stick a sock in her anonymous persona no matter how hard she tries. “But whenever I get in the car, I yell and cuss a blue streak. I don’t want to be associated with the person I am behind the wheel.” According to psychologist Patricia Wallace, senior director of information technology at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth, a car can offer us the same kind of psychological distance — and/or personality-cloaking capacity — as a computer.
Everybody who drives slower than me is an idiot and everybody who drives faster is a maniac. “When your windows are rolled up, you feel relatively anonymous,” says Wallace, author of the book “The Psychology of the Internet.” “Not long ago I saw someone I knew going down the street furiously honking at the car in front of them.
But our split personalities aren’t limited to the Web. In a February 2008 study published in the journal Psychological Reports, researchers found that out of four groups of participants, only those in the anonymous group took part in antisocial behavior — in this case defined as violating rules to obtain a reward.
“I definitely believe that anonymity affects the frequency of antisocial behavior among individuals to some extent, even when these individuals have a reasonable sense of morality — so-called ‘ordinary people,’” says study author Tatsuya Nogami of Nagoya University in Japan.
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“In my personal opinion, people generally try to comply with social norms in everyday life, even when such compliance with norms and rules conflicts with their personal self-interests.
“It’s mind-boggling the things people will say and even the things I will say,” says Catherine Mc Intyre, a 38-year-old medical billing specialist from Houston.In 2004, comedienne Margaret Cho posted dozens of hateful e-mail messages she’d received in response to a monologue on her Web site, along with each sender’s full name and e-mail address.Shamed — and deluged with their own hate mail from Cho’s fans — some posters sent in abject letters of apology.Some scream and rage; others get a little more, uh, personal. “They’ll cry, they’ll scream, they’ll shout, they’ll cuss.“You’ll get people who will turn into perverts,” she says. They’ll be like, ‘Can you read those pay-per-view adult movie titles out loud to me again? And I know most of those people would never do that to your face." “I guess they feel they can say whatever they want because they’re anonymous, but the funny thing is we have all their information: their name, their address, their phone number, even part of their Social Security number.