Beyond Anonymity: Network Affordances, Under Deindividuation, Improve Social Media Discussion Quality

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Abstract

The online sphere allows people to be personally anonymous while simultaneously being socially identifiable. Twitter users can use a pseudonym but signal allegiance to a political party in their profile (e.g., #MAGA). We explore the interplay of these two dimensions of anonymity on a custom-built social media platform that allowed us to examine the causal effects of personal and social anonymity on discussion quality. We find no support for the hypothesis that personal anonymity breeds incivility or lowers discussion quality in discussions on gun rights. On the other hand, when personal anonymity is combined with social identifiability (operationalized as political party visibility), it improves several features linked to discussion quality, that is, higher rationality and lower incivility. We discuss the mechanisms that might explain the results and offer recommendations for future experiments about the design of social media platforms.

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Jaidka, K., Zhou, A., Lelkes, Y., Egelhofer, J., & Lecheler, S. (2022). Beyond Anonymity: Network Affordances, Under Deindividuation, Improve Social Media Discussion Quality. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 27(1). https://doi.org/10.1093/jcmc/zmab019

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