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Anonymity in Group Support Systems: Philosophical and Ethical Issues

Anonymity in Group Support Systems: Philosophical and Ethical Issues
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Author(s): Esther E. Klein (Hofstra University, USA), Chalmers C. Clark (CUNY, USA) and Paul J. Herskovitz (CUNY, USA)
Copyright: 2001
Pages: 3
Source title: Managing Information Technology in a Global Economy
Source Editor(s): Mehdi Khosrow-Pour (Information Resources Management Association, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-930708-07-5.ch053

Abstract

Although a staple of organizational life, group meetings are plagued with deficiencies [12]. For example, group members may be reluctant to express their opinions because of the fear of public speaking or of public comment on their ideas by others. In an attempt to neutralize the shortcomings of group work, group support systems (GSS), also known as groupware, have been designed to foster collaboration and decision-making within such groups. Specifically, GSS is an interactive computer-based information system that structures group interaction. GSS is implemented by situating each group member at a computer workstation, which is connected to a network. The workstations can all be in the same room or can be geographically dispersed. Group members participate in a discussion by typing in their comments, which appear on the screens of all other members without identification of the contributing source. A key feature available in GSS, then, is the capability for group members to participate while remaining anonymous [12]. Following Wallace [17, p. 23], we define anonymity as “nonidentifiability.” The present paper explores philosophical issues related to two social psychological consequences of anonymity that stem from the lack of social cues — the absence of gender cues, with the resultant equalization of male-female participation, and deindividuation, with the resultant weakening of social norms and constraints. Studies have suggested that the absence of gender and other status cues eliminates biased devaluation of contributions [12]. Thus, an advantage of anonymity in GSS-supported groups is that it encourages group members to propose and criticize ideas. However, anonymity also has serious disadvantages, including deindividuation.

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