Anyone who has ever used the Internet is probably familiar with the notion that people on the Internet act in ways that they would not act in person. You don’t have to think too hard about why this is to come to the conclusion that the cause of this is anonymity and a lack of consequences.
We don’t have to go online to see this kind of behavior, however. How many drivers are willing to cut people off, tail-gate, honk, or just generally be a jerk behind the wheel? When you’re in a car, you’ve distanced yourself from the people around you. You are in your own bubble and save for the small chance of getting pulled over, nothing you do is going to have any negative impact on your life.
So far everything I’ve written is fairly obvious: When some people are placed in a situation where there are no consequences for their actions, they act differently than they would when there are consequences. You may be inclined to infer from this that some people on the Internet act different from how they really are. I think that in person people act differently from how they really are.
During our day to day lives, whenever we make decisions we weigh their consequences. If I decide to call my co-worker a douche bag it probably won’t have a positive impact on my life at work, so I don’t do that (even if he is one). Our desires are temerped by the consequences of our actions. These desires and impulses are all revealed when we enter a situation where we do not have to face the consequences of carrying out those desires.
If someone writes that bubble sort is the best algorithm for sort any type of data in any circumstance I might be inclined to write back “OMG You freakin’ idiot. Don’t you understand the time complexity of that algorithm with reference to the amount of data you’re sorting?! I hope you die in a fire!!!”. In person, however, I might say “Actually I think there are many different better algorithms. Also your decision should ultimately be based on the circumstances, as no algorithm is best in all cases.” Now consider what is the same and what is different in these two instances. In both cases I point out that the person is wrong, but in one I humiliate and insult that person. There is one more similarity: In both cases my desire is to humiliate and insult the person. (at this point you should note that when I say “I” or “me” I’m talking in the abstract, I don’t actually desire to humiliate people who make poor algorithm choices… OK that’s a lie, but not all the time).
The lack consequences reveals my desires, and from that you may be able to infer more about me than you would, had my desires been filtered by consequences.