A quantitative analysis of around 2.5 million posts made in online chat rooms indicates that online chat activity doesn’t differ from other forms of online or offline communication, even though most users remain anonymous. The study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, suggests that users tend follow social norms when participating in online chats.
Despite the increasing amount of time we spend online, the rules that underlie users’ behaviour and the way people express emotions in online communications has remained largely unevaluated. Before the popularity of social networking sites, Internet Relay Chat (IRC) channels provided an independent, instantaneous way for users to share and discuss information outside traditional media. Antonios Garas, David Garcia and Frank Schweitzer analyzed about 2.5 million posts from more than 20,000 users in 20 IRC channels, covering a wide range of topics, including music, sport and politics. They examined the communication patterns of these instant online discussions to find out whether users’ average response time and the emotions expressed in the chats vary depending on the topic being discussed.
People tended to be very persistent in expressing positive or negative emotions, the authors found, which is unexpected given the variety of topics and the user anonymity. Although most IRC users do not reveal their personal identity, they still seem to behave according to certain social norms - there is a tendency to express opinions in a neutral to positive way, for example, which may be a way of avoiding direct confrontations. Correlations in emotional expressions of different users indicate the presence of social bonds among chat room users and highlights the similarities between online and offline communication.