Have you ever wondered why people say things in the cyberspace that they wouldn’t say or do face-to-face?

Well, I have thought of this many times.

Different communication forms allow an expression of the self which differs – sometimes subtly, sometimes greatly – from one another. In different online and offline settings, people present a different perspective of their identity: chat, email, blogs, video-cams, Facebook, face-to-face conversations, and other types of social communications. Each uniquely highlight certain aspects of self-expression and personal identity, while hiding others.

My main point is that people behave differently in an online setting than they would behave in an offline setting.

People who sit in front of a desk on their computer could potentially feel more empowered to behave and react in certain ways, as opposed to an offline setting in which they would feel shy or embarrassed to do so. On the other hand, people might be more abrupt and say inappropriate things online while knowing that they would never have to encounter this person face-to-face.

There are a number of reasons that can explain this dichotomy in behavior:

1. The Online Disinhibition Effect & The Benign (positive) Disinhibition Effect


The behavior can be both positive and negative on social media platforms – double edged sword.

The Online Disinhibition Effect – allows the psychological loosening or complete abandonment of social restrictions during interactions with others on the internet that would otherwise be present in normal face-to-face interaction. This effect results in reduced behavioral inhibitions, and a lower regard for behavioral boundaries in the cyberspace. These online behaviors can be expressed in both positive or negative forms. With this in mind, it is important that social media platforms regulate behaviors in the social environment.

The Online Benign Disinhibition Effect – also known as the “online self-disclosure effect.” Revealing personal information to others online, which can be both positive or negative. Furthermore, the anonymity of cyberspace provides an opportunity for communicators to share intimate and sensitive issues, including displaying one’s own vulnerability.

This chart shows what people think with regard to online and offline elements:

Screen Shot 2017-03-10 at 8.37.25 PM

Only 29.4% in the age range 25-34, said they don’t feel a big distinction between online and offline interaction on social media. The majority feel there is a distinction between the two.

2. Varying Personalities

People are different, and different personality types exist in the cyberspace:

  • Psychopathic (antisocial)
  • Narcissistic
  • Schizoid
  • Paranoid
  • Depressive and manic (impulsive)
  • Masochistic (self-defeating)
  • Obsessive and compulsive
  • Hysterical (histrionic)
  • Dissociative

This results in people behaving differently on online platforms, and use these platforms to gain different types of satisfaction. Antisocial personalities might enjoy the anonymity and freedom of access. While, narcissistic personalities might use it to gain an admiring audience, etc.

3. Anonymity and Catfishing – You Don’t Know Me

Lack of face-to-face cues enable people to remain anonymous at times. An online presence affords people the ability to be themselves, express only what they want about themselves, or choose to remain anonymous (online dating platforms especially). So an online identity can be flexible and adapted to the situation.


4. Reduced Self-Awareness

Reading other people’s posts can decrease our self-awareness. When using social networks, people read others’ thoughts, feelings, and activities. This focus on others and away from ourselves may reduce our self-awareness.

5. Hate

Hate can easily be developed, especially when it comes to controversial topics. People have different political beliefs, and seeing those on social media can cause anger and a need to express or instigate an immediate response. People begin to forget about appropriate behavior, and may provide nasty comments online, especially at times when they know they won’t have to encounter that person face-to-face. Do you sometimes feel it’s easier to dislike someone online than offline?

6. Delay Response :-) Or :-(

Think about a time you were asked a question via email, you didn’t have to respond immediately, you could think about an answer, and you could resume conversation at your  own convenience. I actually feel that this is beneficial at times!

7. Minimizing Authority – We are Equals

If people can’t see you or your surroundings, they don’t know if you are the CEO or president of a major corporation sitting in a prestigious-looking office, or some “ordinary” person lounging at home in front of their computer. Everyone on the internet has an equal opportunity to voice themselves, regardless of status, gender, race, etc. In an offline setting this may be different and people may fear punishment or feel restricted to convey their opinions, but in an online setting people can start from a point of equals. Furthermore, with the online appearance of minimized authority, people are more willing to speak out or misbehave.

Do you feel that this dichotomy can get really our of control? Or do you think that we all experience a bit of this dichotomy ourselves? Please leave your comments bellow, I’m interested to see what your thoughts are on this topic.











  1. fayehubregsen · ·

    The juxtaposition between how people behave online versus offline is a fascinating topic that points to how digital technology has expanded the dynamics by which people exchange ideas and communicate points of view. It certainly skirts around the 80%-of-communication-is-nonverbal rule. I continue to be amazed when I see how online posts can drastically transform offline behavior. An example that comes to mind is how Taylor Swift’s letter to Apple published on Tumbler impacted the corporation’s artist royalties structure going forward (http://taylorswift.tumblr.com/post/122071902085/to-apple-love-taylor). Twitter provides an added layer to #7 since users are limited to only 140 characters, and this sometimes compromises clarity of communication and scholarly authority. I think #6, the delayed response, has empowered introverts and people who tend to process information internally, and has opened up an entirely new realm for collaboration. Thanks to the rapid expansion of information technology, people don’t even have to leave their house to be social. However, users beware of (A) the illusion of social presence and (B) the expectations of 24/7 quick-response communication that this creates.

  2. Great post. This research into why people behave differently in online vs. offline settings has always fascinated me, and it goes back a long way (to the 1980s or earlier). Nice summary of the major themes.

  3. ItsUlker · ·

    Great post! I found it interesting that more than 55% of the people in the age groups above 35-65 thought that interaction through electronic devices is more convenient than face-to-face, while only 48% the 18-24 group did the same. I always thought the preference towards virtual interaction is more common among milennials, since this age group has been immersed in social media from pretty much Day 1. Seeing that the 35+ group finds it easier to communicate online, I would assume it’s for one or more reasons listed in your post above – it is a great summary and I can see how a few of the points would apply to myself. And that leads me to think that all the frequently discussed downsides of Social Media are not really downsides of Social Media, but of us, the people who use it – so the Internet is really not the one to blame.

  4. lenskubal · ·

    I too am fascinated with the different expressions people share online versus what is said face-to-face. I have also been interested in how people perceive comments and shared thoughts differently across platforms and forms of interaction. I found your findings on the different effects that cause this phenomenon to be very interesting. It is sometimes funny to think how differently people act when a screen and a keyboard protect them. I think all the reasons you touched on play some type of role in this type of behavior. I thought you summarized all the different themes and touched on each perfectly. I especially liked your findings on the varying personalities that exist in cyberspace. I think this topic was perfect for a blog and I hope to discuss it some more in class. Thanks for sharing! #D

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