The Internet has drastically changed how society seeks and consumes information. One influential change in the communication process is the widespread use—and perhaps abuse—of user-generated content. If provided a frame of reference to help direct the discussion, such as a news story, comment functions can act as a proxy “town hall” in a virtual setting. Unique to this cyber town hall, however, is the sense of anonymity that leads some users to post content they would not normally voice in a public context. This investigation intertwines uses-and-gratifications theory and online disinhibition effect by analyzing anonymous-comment postings on a newspaper Web site. Seven newspaper stories on the campus master plan and football-stadium proposal at Old Dominion University demonstrate the sociological underpinnings where sports, education, economics, and politics intersect in an anonymous forum where users can relay their opinion on the subject while remaining invisible and unidentified.
Morehead and O’Hallarn are PhD students, and Shapiro, their advisor, in the Dept. of Human Movement Sciences, Old Dominion University, Norfolk, VA.