Online Congruency: The Golden Rule of Internet Behavior

in psychology •  2 years ago

I've been online for a long time and I've seen a lot of people go online over the last two decades. One of the first things that a lot of people do when they discover the "freedoms" of the Internet, is to use it as some kind of behavioral sandbox where they can do things that they would not ordinarily be able to. This also includes what we'd term negative, or antisocial behaviors.

Antisocial behavior

The apparent freedom and "distance" from other people that we interact with, create the initial impression that it may be "fun" to break social standards and go "rogue" by doing antisocial things, calling people names, being abusive and other things like that.

For most mentally stable people, this is just a temporary stage. Some will take more time to get over it than others, but eventually most people will tend to align their online expression with their social expression.

Heated Exchanges

There are a few exceptions to this re-alignment rule and one frequent exception is when there's a lot of heated exchanges that one would not ordinarily undertake in a social environment. In real life, whether it's about politics, religion, or any other subject, most people would generally avoid a high-intensity argument and the ensuing friction. 

It is well understood that an escalating disagreement on a heated issue might even derail the actual / real life social relationships - with the parties in vicious disagreement experiencing consequences that can range between a lesser perception of the other party, to not even speaking to them again.

These consequences can be considered real-life disincentives that prevent friction-inducing behaviors. 

The absence of these disincentives, combined with the "safety" of pseudonymity or distance, can make it far easier to go over the top while "defending our truth". 

Meeting the people behind the online mask

I've met hundreds of people who I had online interactions with, either from BBS meetings, forum meetings, club meetings etc. Now, even some who exhibited troll-like behaviors, were not that bad in real-life and I was always glad that I kept my interactions civil, allowing me the later opportunity to better understand them from actual interaction. 

In some cases they were just experiencing insecurity, needing some kind of recognition or attention - but in a kind of "distorted" way. These were the more "persistent" cases, and, every single time, psychological issues were at play for their lack of online / social persona mis-alignment. Interestingly, once those in the more trollish or aggressive-end of the spectrum met others who they were interacting with, in real life, their online behavior tended to normalize significantly afterwards. 

Adjusting the Golden Rule for the Internet

It is said that the Golden Rule is to not do unto others what you wouldn't want to be done unto you. Or, the affirmative version which is about doing unto others what we'd like be done to us...

I believe this is a good rule for the Internet too. Although, in many cases, we would escalate beyond what is normal in order to "defend our truth", due to the absence of real-life disincentives. And if we consider this "fair game" for ourselves or others, then where does that leave us? 

Defending our beliefs, or our "truth" - even if we think is THE truth, cannot be an excuse for aggressive behavior. Even the best perspectives or truths will be tainted by an incongruent and negative behavior that is attached to them. 

Contemplate this: If one values their truths, and is genuine in their intent to spread these truths to others, would they rather package them in a nice box, or a ...shit-covered box? If it is the later, then why? To prove what? That others won't buy their truths because they "aren't ready"?  

Do we want to pretend we are so advanced and the others are so regressive, that they won't accept what we tell them, even after we "packaged" our truth in a shit-covered box? 

Is it our truth that is the problem, or the shit-covered box that is disgusting and makes other want to avoid it along with the content? Even if others were willing to entertain our truths, the disgusting box will "seal" their aversion.

With these in mind, I want to tweak the Golden Rule and propose a new one, especially for the Internet. It would go something like that: One's online persona should be congruent with their social persona. The online persona should not cross the boundaries of aggression that one would not employ in real-life circumstances.

Or, stated differently: If the other was sitting in front of you, would you say the same things, in the same way, as you do through a keyboard? 

If the answer is no, then refrain from doing so. 

Instead, become a living ambassador of your ideas and truths by coupling them with your positive behaviors.

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The internet, in its evolving guises such as message boards, Facebook, snapchat, instagram seems to have killed human decency and respect. Just my 5 cents worth!


You shut your doritos-hole Adam.

yup. I say the same thing. I've proved it in the RW.

Oddly enough that bothers some people.

You're right on with this post but leed me to the inclination that maybe we as a collective group, act as a crayola box and inherently disguise our means and intentions surrounded by a stylish brown case.

Intentions are met when realities are set. As time goes on, the functions in math progress thus making it harder to mine the truth and insinuating our belief system could also be a metric system.


If we delve even deeper, we'll see that most disagreements are really because one feels that if their truth "loses", then that reduces the value of one's persona - who has attached itself to several of these truths. It's like the truth goes down, my persona goes down - so I need to defend it viciously. The paradoxical thing about this, is that the online persona has less to lose compared to the "real life" one.

The only observation I have is that one can learn a lot from adopting different personalities online. I don't disagree with anything that you said, but there is value in the data that is collected for example, by pretending to be younger, or older, or from different place or whatever else people may have special consideration towards. You can gain a lot of valuable insight about why people do things basically testing them against different scenarios.

Even in aggressiveness, as much as I may dislike it, there are a couple of lessons to be learned. If they pay attention they will probably learn the same lesson you did, that is not worth it, that violence is not productive.

Sometimes I takes making a mistake to learn, so I don't think people should refrain themselves from exploring different approaches to delivering their message.


Yes, I think it's unnatural to expect people to skip the experimentation stage. When people first see the possibilities, they are like "wow, what if I do this, or that", and they often do, and they often have a laugh, or get some kind of experience / lesson, etc etc.

Once one is saturated in such experience, they'll move on. They'll only retain this duality in special cases, one of which is the heated debates where they'll put the "angrier" face on.

I worked in livechat for a Telco, and one of our best performers once told me he treated the chats like a text based video game. When the customer started baiting him by getting aggressive, he didn't feel confronted, because they 'didn't really exist', it was just a challenging level.
"Remember that there's a real person on the other end" is excellent advice, but pretending there isn't one can work too :)


That might work on the aggression too, heh...

Very nice post. Good job!


Thank you!

Thumb up!

People most of the times tend to hide behind masks when they are online , i really can't say why but still it's dissapointing to me :)
For me , internet is a tool not a world :) and i do agree that we should always act as we have the other person in front of us if we want to estamblish a healthy communication :)


I think up to a point it is to be expected that this will happen, but people should (and most will) eventually get over this "stage". There are some "remnants" (καταλοιπα) of this type of behavior in heated discussions where we tend to behave in a more negative way than we'd normally do though.

I think the one most impacted is the one who is immersed in this negativity, as it will tend to affect one's immune system for hours after one experiences such tension.

Great post - love this kind of discourse!


Thank you :D