Down in flames

The anonymity of the web - and its effect on our brains - has got scientists excited. Yet the issues are as old as Plato

Why don't you come over here and say that? Not a question I ask much, largely because the kind of people of whom I'd like to ask it are precisely the ones I'd rather stayed over there. But you don't need to be a coward like me to realise that the censorship built into physical proximity is often our best pre-emptive defence.

It turns out, though, that actually coming over here and saying things seems to be growing in importance. As a report in the New York Times explained earlier this week, the added license conferred by virtual conversation - and instant text message and email in particular - is causing problems. Last year's first instance of web rage in Essex, is but the tip of an iceberg that internet users know as "flaming" and which psychologists and neuro-scientists call the "online distribution effect". ..

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