Bullard, E and Carter, P J (2013) Effects of Anonymity on Aggression and Hostility on 4chan internet message board: Ethical Issues and Practicalities from a student perspective. In: The First Annual Cyberpsychology Conference (ACPC) 2013, 19/09/13, De Montfort University, Leicester. (Unpublished)

Whilst online message boards offer an effective way to communicate issues such as aggression between individuals can still exist. Bullying for example is not confined to face to face (FtF) interactions and is increasingly common online (Bond & Carter, 2012; 2013). Additionally there are specific online behaviours such as trolling and flaming. These behaviours can be found in many online communities though some are more infamous for online hostility. One such community is 4chan.org, an asynchronous multi-board site originally developed for discussion of Japanese anime but has expanded to cover a range of topics (Knuttila, 2011).
Theories regarding such aggressive online behaviours focus on similar factors to FtF behaviour such as anonymity. The SIDE model is often utilised (Lea & Spears, 1991). Communities like 4chan with their high message turnover and ranges of anonymity available to users provide a ready resource to investigate the suitability of such theory for online interactions. The ease of access also makes them a tempting focus of undergraduate dissertations.
However despite these benefits there are both ethical and practical issues attached. This presentation focuses on some preliminary work carried out during an undergraduate project as a case study, and discusses some matters arising.
To investigate the possible effects of anonymity on online aggression a student observed and recorded 30 minutes activity on a 4chan sub-board (Social) every day for a week. The contents of the collected posts were then categorised by user’s anonymity level (moderate, heightened, complete) and the level of any expressed hostility/aggression.
Of 3662 posts 998 contained some form of aggression. Though this appeared to be a reasonable sample size 99.8% of the total posts were from completely anonymous users. This raises the issue of the feasibility of statistical comparisons between levels of anonymity when the amount of moderate/heightened users are so low.
Sampling across more of the 4chan boards would allow for more data and perhaps lower levels of anonymity in the sample but there are ethical issues attached. Some boards on 4chan are dedicated to pornographic content, potentially illegal material (torrents) and despite the site’s own rules has been known to contain images of child pornography (Rushkoff, 2009). We highlight further issues and suggest ways to address such issues to enable undergraduate research.

Bullard & Carter Poster
Job_1_-_P_Carter_A1_Colour_Poster.ppt - Presentation

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