The Internet community does offer users a number of outlets to express their personal opinions and thoughts, from chat rooms to message forums to comment submission forms. Many of these interactive web pages encourage or even require participants to remain anonymous or create alternative identities. The anonymity of the Internet may provide a level of privacy for users in the real world, but it can also enable certain participants to become much more aggressive or mean-spirited than they would be without the promise of anonymity. Many people believe that, because the person cannot be easily identified, an anonymous commenter feels free to be much meaner than he otherwise would be.
There is no doubt that the anonymity of the Internet has allowed some users to express their opinions with others more confidently or without the usual social filters found in the offline world. The same anonymity can embolden others to ignore etiquette and post malicious or deliberately inflammatory messages for the sole purpose of hurting other posters or chat room participants. These mean-spirited or patently offensive Internet users are often known as trolls in the Web community, and website moderators spend much of their time online deleting offensive messages and suspending the accounts of those who leave them.
A similar phenomenon to trolling may involve anonymous posters who get caught up in controversial or contentious threads. The original topic of discussion is often replaced with personal insults, obscene responses, and ad hominem attacks. These so-called "flame wars" or "flaming" could arguably be fueled in large part by the anonymity of the experience, since a similarly heated discussion in real life between identifiable people would most likely not escalate to that level without outside intervention. For most people, it is much easier to vent anger or frustration on an anonymous chat room troll than it would be to express the same feelings on a contentious real world co-worker.
What keeps many people from expressing intense emotions such as anger and frustration in real life is the fact they are known entities in a surprisingly small world. The anonymity of the Internet essentially levels the playing field for all participants, which could empower some users to express the darker sides of their personalities in ways that would be unthinkable in real life. The ability to post angry or mean-spirited thoughts without tangible consequences could prove to be too much of a temptation for certain people. While it could be argued that anonymity does not necessarily promote meanness or anger, it does allow users with the capacity for strong emotions to express them more easily and with less regard for the consequences of their actions.