Lauren DeLisa Coleman: The Psychology of Comments Online

October 6, 2012

10:00 am

Lauren DeLisa Coleman calls herself a “socio-economic digitalist”: she studies how digital platforms affect different cultures in the business world. In the past, she has turned her lens on Generations X and Y and hip hop cultures.

Her book The Rise of the SmartPower Class: Navigating the New Digital, Leaderful Era examines the culture of the new rulers of the digital world. They have many different leaders and aren’t concerned with creating consensus, she writes. To succeed in business today, we need to understand them and participate.

Below is an excerpt of the short book, which runs 62 pages. All proceeds go to


Not everyone comments, and it’s certainly not on the same level. Thus, there were a number of questions that started to surface for me as I began researching comments. For that, I turned to Andreas T. Jackson, who is in the graduate program at Fielding University, studying Media Psychology and Social Change – a pioneering course, where he is actually one of the first to formally study the relationship between people and technology via an academic setting. I am providing his insight at this point in the book so that you, unlike myself about a year ago, will have a bit of foundation before looking at the upcoming selections of comments.

We might first ask, for example, what actually encourages someone to use a real name versus a pseudonym when leaving a comment, because everything usually begins with a name. What’s actually going on behind the screen, so to speak? How much weight is there in name selection? What are the dynamics?

According to Jackson, “Right now there are basically five different personality types which are defined by behavioral scientists. They are:


Open to adventure/extrovert




And people’s Web usage could be said to correlate to these personality types.  Thus, for example, the extrovert could be one who would be very transparent about his name, identity and beliefs.”  Adds Jackson: “Extroverts are less inhibited in engaging.  However within neuroticism, this grouping of people is more paranoid about things. Even their off-line behavior is more guarded.  They are less likely, then, to reveal their true identity. In fact, part of my main focus is studying virtual identity.”

He continues, “Virtual identity is a huge concept, and also comes into play when some people leave comments that are just brutally, horribly nasty. Here we see ‘disinhibition’ exhibited, where there is an apparent reduction in concern for others. These people hide behind perceived anonymity and are not concerned about the judgment of others at that point.”

Jackson also notes that many times the act of identity exploration is taking place, in addition to disinhibition. There could be multiple roles and multiple IDs. “Young people use this a lot.  Sometimes, we can’t really explore certain options in real life, so we do it in digital form. Some of these snarky comments are akin to doing a digital drive-by using their mobile device and simply lifting up their heads to continue ordering their Starbucks. I.D. exploration is also used particularly for marginalized groups that might be in that position due to sexual orientation or religious practice. Via exploration, people can freely explore without having to worry about persecution or consequence in the digital arena.”

Naturally, this begs the question of are we getting a more true view of someone and/or whether the comment is more or less valid, if they have no inhibitions or are trying out various identities?

“The important thing to remember when looking at a virtual environment is that you can’t qualify it as good or bad. It just is. It all depends. I’ve even done considerable research on cyber bullying, where I’ve found that the victims are also often the perpetrators. Who would think this, initially? This doesn’t mean that any of it is invalid. Quite the contrary. People are trying out any number of postures on-line from being the vegetarian, to more mal-adaptive identities. It seems to be a normal process of just ‘becoming’ nowadays. That’s the important take-away; that this is all normal as we explore identity in this era.”

Want to win a copy of Lauren deLisa Coleman’s book? Leave a comment with your Twitter handle and we’ll pick a few winners.

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Kira M. Newman is a Tech Cocktail writer interested in the harsh reality of entrepreneurship, work-life balance, and psychology. She is the founder of The Year of Happy and has been traveling around the world interviewing entrepreneurs in Asia, Europe, and North America since 2011. Follow her @kiramnewman or contact [email protected]

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