More polite in the virtual world?

August 8th, 2007
brainstorming, Business of Blogging

Are people more polite in virtual worlds?: Choice quote – IBM has 5,000 employees in Second Life, and according to Wladawsky-Berger, “virtual worlds are a godsend for meetings.” He said that IBM has a code of conduct for staff in Second Life that they need to “be nice” and dress their avatars “appropriately” in meetings. But when among friends in the virtual world, they can do whatever they like, he said. So, do you think you are more polite in the virtual world? Do you feel compelled to be more polite because the person you are dealing with might be a complete stranger? Or are you more polite because in the virtual world, everything is recorded and traceable and your heated diatribe might come back and bite you later?

Many other interesting questions might be asked on this subject and I find the answers quite fascinating. A few socio-political studies have tried to pinpoint the nature of behavioral transactions in the virtual world but most of them have been restricted to very narrow points of view (such as the recently released study on Armed Forces participation differences in Facebook and MySpace, which is a fascinating read). At my day job, I like to reply to questions on the phone or face to face as often as possible since I know a lot can be lost in the translation. We have also had a lot of managers and business pundits preach the effectiveness of face to face transactions in the past. Is the above revelation contradictory? Are we truly more polite online and in being more polite, are we better at communicating with our peers in virtual worlds?




  1. Fred (2 comments.) says:

    I tend to be more to the point and up front online. I keep it nice but my ‘tone’ is more direct. I’m nice IRL so why not on line too?

  2. Peter (5 comments.) says:

    I think politeness is really determined by where the communication takes place, and whether or not the online comments can be linked to that person in real life.

    For example, comments on personal blogs tend to be, but are not always, fairly polite. Same goes for Facebook, since most people use their real name. I’m assuming that for the IBM employees in SL, their avatars would be linked to their real life identity somehow.

    However, in mediums where anonymity is the norm, politeness sometimes takes a backseat to harshness and results in downright ugly comments. Whether trolling or not, some people in these situations tend to make comments that one would never make in a face to face conversation.

  3. RPF (1 comments.) says:

    I agree with Peter–in business communications I find that people are polite and generally as they are in real life (perhaps because you know who they are). But after 20+ years of electonic communication, I’ve come to the conclusion that people are getting meaner and nastier in casual online situations. I suspect these people would never behave in this manner if their “real” identities were known. Of course, if they would behave that way, it makes the whole issue even more disturbing. I’ve received some pretty scarey communications from people via my website–and it’s just a hobby site with nothing that really should be controversial.

  4. Elaine Vigneault (5 comments.) says:

    “(such as the recently released study on Armed Forces participation differences in Facebook and MySpace, which is a fascinating read)”

    Sounds linkworthy to me. Why no link?

    I am not more polite online.
    I view most etiquette rituals as silly and slightly oppressive in that they tend to maintain the status-quo and silence people with differing viewpoints.

  5. Mark Ghosh (386 comments.) says:

    Elaine, good point. Link added.

  6. Jeff (11 comments.) says:

    Some disagree.

  7. Shay (1 comments.) says:

    I think there’s a little of both, depends on the community and purpose. I try to be nice online just as I do IRL. Many others do as well. But there are many who feel powerful behind the keyboard and since they’re ‘faceless’ online, being a jerk has no real consequences

  8. Isyaias (1 comments.) says:

    Why many people hide in their virtual world? F2F is more exciting dynamic life. No codes are playing. Just moral and common live.

  9. Justin Kistner (1 comments.) says:

    I think it depends on if people are connected to an identity that they care about, such as their real life. My experience is that people on places such as YouTube tend to say shockingly hateful things.

  10. Corinne (3 comments.) says:

    Not me, I’m polite all the time. :D

    But, I could name some real biatches.

  11. Cody (21 comments.) says:

    I tend to be more polite in real life, where the possibility always exists that you’ll come to physical harm for saying something. Online, I’m not necessarily rude, but I can be rather forward and blunt when I need to be, which is fairly often.

  12. Britgirl (10 comments.) says:

    I am polite offline and “virtually.” Crass rudeness never helps as well as it being hurtful. On Facebook I find people to be polite – but that could be because my circle of friends on FB is polite.

    I have seen impolite stuff – but not a lot – so far. I tend to think people who are rude in the virtual world are also rude offline. I Could be wrong, but I’d need proof of why they have a sudden personality switch.

    Also, people tend to forget that email, responding on a blog etc, can be interpreted in many ways, that’s the nature of the beast. To compensate we find ourselves over explaining what we mean because we don’t wish to offend. Since blogging is about sharing opinions it’s inevitable that sometimes one will be offended, because perception is everything.

    Because so much of our communication (at least 70% according to studies) is based on body language, face to face meetings and conversations will always come out as preferred. The fact of business and social life however, is that technology has made it unnecessary to have face to face meetings if you don’t want/need to, and anyway sometimes it is impossible if you live in different countries (as many of us do)different time zones or even in a different town. In my opinion many people have been liberated from the need to travel long distances to “face to face” meetings and can put the time to more productive use… you can do almost anything now over the internet, whether this be via email or social networking utilities like Facebook.

    The point about anonymity is a good one… although it isn’t always the case. Some anon blog responders are more polite than the “named” ones.


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