Technology: 'They said what?!'

The online disinhibition effect makes it imperative companies educate their employees on social media policies.

Why would an employee come home and post on Facebook that she hates her job and boss (with a fair amount of specificity)? Is it the same reason that someone feels comfortable sending sexually charged messages and photos on Twitter to strangers? What about calling-in sick to work while posting pictures of the beach on Facebook? Or, what makes a person post defamatory comments “anonymously” in a chat room? Why do some people feel comfortable saying things in an e-mail that they would never say face-to-face? Lawyers are often charged with either helping to avoid or fixing problems caused by these—and other—scenarios. As with many legal issues, it may come down to understanding basic human psychologies that lead to seemingly aberrant behavior.

One explanation as to why some people do things using technology that they wouldn’t do in person could be the so-called “online disinhibition effect.” (To see an explanation in detail and the related six principles, as well as proper attributions, click here to read about it on Wikipedia.) One of the principles of the online disinhibition effect involves the feeling of anonymity. In some forums, such as chat rooms, a user does not have to divulge their identity and, in fact, often provide false credentials during a registration process. This can make a person feel protected and possibly more likely to say things that they would not normally say in person.


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Jason Epstein

Jason I. Epstein is a shareholder and chair of the Business and Technology Group at Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, PC (Nashville, Tenn.). He...

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