Contagion of Offensive Behavior for Transient Interactions in Online Commenting Platforms

Prasanna Umar, Anna Squicciarini, Christopher Griffin, Joshua Wede

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Online aggression is an increasingly significant problem in Internet-based communication systems (e.g., commenting platforms) with potentially negative effects on online participation and quality of online discourse. Similar to offline aggression, online aggression has been shown to be contagious and to spread through online platforms as a result of exposure to aggressive content. Among other demographics, young adults report experiencing online aggression at alarming rates. In this paper, we examine the short-term effects of exposure to different levels of online aggressive behavior, and investigate whether it leads to an increase in online aggression among 118 young adults. Using an emulated commenting environment, we found evidence for the contagious nature of aggressive commenting. Even when individuals knew comments were synthetic (and not generated by actual peers), exposure to higher levels of aggressive comments resulted in a statistically significant increase in user aggression. Surprisingly, our results show that anonymity neither increased nor decreased the aggression response, which could indicate a change in user behavior since the advent of Internet 2.0 technologies or qualms related to experimenter-subject anonymity. Consequently, the results in this paper support the hypothesis that even in transient online interactions, young adult participants mimic their peers in an attempt to minimize social stress. Moreover, this mimicking occurs even when the participants know they are participating in an artificial social system.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1023-1036
Number of pages14
JournalInternational Journal of Human-Computer Interaction
Issue number11
StatePublished - 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Human Factors and Ergonomics
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Computer Science Applications


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