Anonymity in Computer-Mediated Communication: More Contrarian Ideas with Less Influence

Abstract

Anonymity is thought to be an important means for ensuring a free exchange of ideas by encouraging the expression of minority viewpoints. However, we suggest that anonymity’s reduction in awareness of others potentially affects the expression and interpretation of comments that are made during a discussion. In particular, anonymity will increase the likelihood that comments will be made that are contrary to the majority opinion while at the same time decreasing the effect that those contrary arguments have on other group member’s opinions. This paper reports experimental results showing that anonymity led to more overall participation in discussions of ethical scenarios. However, equality of member participation did not differ between anonymous and member-identified groups, and anonymous groups had significantly higher awareness-related comments. This leads to the conclusion that additional participation in anonymous groups accommodates reduced awareness rather than reflecting the increased participation of normally reticent group members. In addition, anonymity led to more arguments in support of questionable behavior, suggesting that the freeing effects of anonymity apply to the social desirability of arguments. Finally, there was less change in opinion under conditions of anonymity than when comments were identified, suggesting that anonymous arguments have less influence on opinions than identified comments.

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Correspondence to Russell Haines.

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Haines, R., Hough, J., Cao, L. et al. Anonymity in Computer-Mediated Communication: More Contrarian Ideas with Less Influence. Group Decis Negot 23, 765–786 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10726-012-9318-2

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Keywords

  • Anonymity
  • Awareness
  • Computer-mediated communication and collaboration
  • Laboratory experiments