Reading parts of John Suler’s writing on the Online Disinhibition Effect was like reading about my own life. For a long time during my teenage years, I participated in a variety of different anonymous online behaviours. These varied from personal profiles like MySpace and Nexopia, to blogging websites like Blogspot and Tumblr. The latter two in particular were almost entirely anonymous because I never used my name or posted photos of myself. I enjoyed this anonymity because I felt like it allowed me to express myself in ways I otherwise might not. Particularly when it came to things that upset me, I had the freedom to say how I was feeling, and receive feedback on it, without having to talk to anyone face to face, or for them to even know other details about my life.
I particularly identified with the topic of invisibility that Suler discusses. Even on non-anonymous online encounters, like on Facebook, or Instagram, I feel a sense of safety in the fact that I do not see the reactions of the people who experience my posts. Without that instantaneous reaction, whether it be judgemental or supportive, I feel that I can express myself in ways that I would not in person, and I find that quite liberating. There have been a couple of occasions online that I have felt comfortable expressing issues that I have had with my mental health, that I haven’t really been able to discuss in a person-to-person, face-to-face situation. I think for me, putting something online has the effect of trivializing the content of our posts, because I think of social media as somewhat trivial at times. This kind of tricks my brain into feeling safe and comfortable sharing things that I otherwise wouldn’t, because “it’s not a big deal”.
I hope, and do think that my online disinhibition is entirely benign. It usually results in connections with people that I may not have otherwise made, or at least results in a bit of a release on my side of things, which I would see as a positive thing. I don’t tend to lash out or behave aggressively the way some people do online, and that is the result of a lot of self-discipline and awareness of the fact that people will see it and judge me based upon it. While I can stomach being branded as someone who “over shares” or posts too many pictures, I would not react the same way to being branded a cruel or rude.