HOUSTON, Jan. 22 (UPI) -- Anonymity makes a difference online, U.S. researchers say, with more than half of anonymous comments containing vulgar, racist, profane or hateful language.
In comparison, only 28.7 percent of non-anonymous comments analyzed in a University of Houston study were found to be uncivil, they said.
Comparing the tone of thousands of online comments posted by anonymous and non-anonymous users following online newspaper stories, a significant correlation was found between anonymity and civility, UH communications professor Arthur D. Santana said.
"One of the benefits of online anonymity is that it allows people to express their views, uninhibited, especially if it is an unpopular opinion," he said. "It's when commenting descends into hateful language, threats or racism that the conversation breaks down and any benefits of constructive dialogue goes away."
Fifty-three percent of non-anonymous commenters posted civil comments following news articles compared to 15 percent of anonymous commenters in the study, he said; "In short, when anonymity was removed, civility prevailed."
Faced with an overwhelming number of uncivil comments that threaten to undermine the value of their commenting forums, many newspapers are increasingly disallowing anonymity by making readers sign in with their Facebook account.
"Incivility serves as a barrier," Santana said. "People don't want to enter the fray when there are a bunch of bullies in the room. Why would you want to join a conversation when everyone is shouting at each other? It's possible to be forceful, robust and emotional in your argument, but when even a small minority of people resort to hateful or even intimidating language, others are reluctant to join a conversation."