Thursday, May 11, 2006

Human Nature 

In spite of schooling, parental guidance, cultural ethics and peer pressure, human nature has a way of misbehaving when individuals think they aren't being watched. The following release (excerpted) was sent to me this week.


COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- A study by the University of Maryland's A. James Clark School of Engineering found that chat room participants with female user names received 25 times more threatening and/or sexually explicit private messages than those with male or ambiguous user names.

Female user names, on average, received 163 malicious private messages a day in the study, conducted by Michel Cukier, assistant professor in the Center for Risk and Reliability in the Clark School's Department of Mechanical Engineering, and an affiliate of the university's Institute for Systems Research, and sophomore computer engineering student Robert Meyer.

The study focused on internet relay chat or IRC chat rooms, which are among the most popular chat services but offer widely varying levels of user security. The researchers logged into various chat rooms under female, male and ambiguous user names, counted the number of times they were contacted and tracked the contents of those messages.

The entire study is here.

What this tells me is that as PR practitioners we should never assume people will act differently on the internet. We have long known people are more argumentative when they have a screen of anonymity between themselves and others. Some also tend to sexual harassment.

The lesson here is that anonymity is a necessary for all sides, and safe names are those without gender reference.

Human nature doesn't change.


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