Ambiguity and Ambivalence: Revisiting Online Disinhibition Effect and Social Information Processing Theory in 4chan’s /g/ and /pol/ Boards

Paper written for my M.A. Communication Theory Seminar. Spring 2019.


Numerous communication theories have been established to articulate key differences between computer-mediated communication (CMC) and traditional face-to-face (FtF) interactions in the physical world. Although many aspects of communication remain the same in online settings, people do behave differently once no longer speaking FtF. Social Information Processing (SIP) theory holds that CMC is limited due to the lack of communication cues available to a conversation’s participants. Online Disinhibition Effect (ODE) further predicts that due to the presence of anonymity in CMC, individuals will be more willing to reveal their emotions and beliefs in online settings. This study uses a series of posts from 4chan’s /g/ and /pol/ imageboards to revisit SIP and ODE and examine the extent to which they can apply universally to all CMC. Overall, the study found that even though anonymity is held constant between the two online spaces, there are significant differences in the overall sentiment of communication. These findings suggest that while aspects of SIP and ODE ring true, they cannot be applied equally to all CMC settings. Instead, this study considers differences between online communities and the inherent ambivalence that is present when attempting to study the motives behind online communication.

Keywords: 4chan, computer-mediated communication, online disinhibition, social information processing theory

(Read Online) (PDF Download)

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