Lentis/Web Induced Risk Taking


The internet has enabled great feats of collaboration. The ability to access vast databases with the click of a button or share volumes of information in an instant is one of the greatest accomplishments of the 20th Century. This connection, however, is not without a downside. There is abundant evidence that the internet encourages risky behavior by its users. The ability to post anonymously to blogs and message boards removes a sense of accountability by the poster and can bring out more aggressive tendencies. Additionally, social networking sites provide people with a community and establish a sense of trust between users, where risky behavior can appear to be more common and acceptable. Finally, sites that display ratings and reviews for posted content encourage riskier behavior by rewarding images and videos of dangerous stunts with higher ratings. The following three case studies illustrate the concept of web induced risk taking: internet anonymity, parkour, and planking.

Internet AnonymityEdit

Internet anonymity refers to websites that allow users to create anonymous posts on discussion boards or webpages. The user can often create a username or post under the generic username “anonymous”. Websites like 4chan and Slashdot are examples of sites that enable anonymous postings. These postings can be legally traced to the user through IP address information collected by the website, but with the use of Anonymizer programs, IP information becomes virtually undetectable[1].


On some anonymous message boards, users post vulgar or defamatory comments. College gossip sites JuicyCampus and College ACB have garnered attention from college officials because of the harmful nature of the posts, with Pepperdine University chief information officer stating JuicyCampus to be a “’virtual bathroom wall’ for abusive, degrading, and hateful speech.”[2] The problem of posting unprofessional comments anonymously has extended to the medical community, as a recent study shows three percent of physician posts on Twitter contain unprofessional content[3]. 4chan’s “Random” board has received a bounty of media attention because of the content of the site. It is a place where users have, as The Washington Post writes, “managed to pull off some of the highest-profile collective actions in the history of the Internet,” such as causing a sharp decline of Apple Inc. stock value after spreading an online rumor about Steve Jobs having a heart attack, and causing a JFK Airport evacuation after mentioning the threat of a bomb in a terminal[4]. Proponents of 4chan state that anonymous posting is an expression of the freedom of speech. In defense of anonymous posting and 4chan, Wendy Seltzer, one of Harvard University’s fellows at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, states, “The Internet needs some of these unstructured spaces… This may be a reaction against other places that have developed that say, ‘This is what you use Facebook for, this is what you use LinkedIn for.’” [4]


According to federal law, owners of websites cannot be held liable for the comments of user posts[5]. In this way, web sites that allow posting are able to continue operation. First amendment rights and other laws enable users to post anonymously[6] [7]. In order to identify a user from their IP address, all parties involved must comply with the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, and in many cases a subpoena is required for the submission of an IP address location to authorities[8].

Risk TakingEdit

By posting anonymously, many users find it possible to post something that would not be deemed socially acceptable at work or in a public setting. Because of anonymous posting through the internet, users cannot tangibly realize the consequences of their actions, and this disconnect removes a sense of accountability from the commenter[4]. Furthermore, as is commonly found in groupthink phenomena studies, groups of people adhere to more aggressive and extreme risk taking profiles than any of the individuals would by themselves[9]. Sites like 4chan, with over 11 million unique visitors per month and 150,000 to 200,000 posts on the “Random” board per day, enable this kind of behavior because of anonymous posting and groupthink behavior as well as the sheer volume of users, which facilitates this groupthink risk-taking profile[4].



One case that presents an interesting story of web induced risk taking is that of Parkour, or ‘street running’. The activity, as practiced in modern culture, was created in the 1980s by David Belle and Sebastian Foucan [10]. It stems from a training discipline called "the natural method", which was developed by a French soldier named George Herbert in the early 1900s as a way to train people to move through their surroundings as effectively as possible [10]. Participants rely purely on their own athleticism and daring to complete the activity: moving from point A to point B in the most interesting way possible [10].

Parkour was popularized in the early 2000s when the founders began participating in movies and videos to inspire interest in the sport. It was given massive worldwide exposure when the 2006 James Bond film "Casino Royale" showcased the skills of Sebastian Foucan (the founder plays a villain during a chase scene in the opening minutes of the movie) [10]. Participation expanded due to these media portrayals, and especially due to internet videos and the notoriety street runners were able to gain by posting videos to the popular website Youtube. Since the activity requires no expensive equipment, anyone with the conditioning, strength, and courage to attempt the sport can engage in the activity.

Evidence of RiskEdit

Parkour is inherently risky, and there have been many reported injuries along with several deaths. In 2009, a 15 year old high school student died after falling from a parking structure in Sacramento, CA; friends and family suspected parkour as the only reasonable explanation for the event because of the teen's interest in the sport [11].Time Magazine ran an article 2007 discussing the ‘street running’ craze on college campuses [12]. The magazine reported another falling death - a student at the University of Illinois - that was attributed to parkour [12]. It also cited the number of insurance claims filed by the colleges of injured students as an indicator of how dangerous the activity can be [12].

Social GroupsEdit

Despite the associated injuries and risks, websites devoted to discussing and promoting parkour are abundant; sites such as American Parkour Forums [13], Bay Area Parkour [14], Parkour South Africa [15], and Worldwide Jam [16] are just a few examples. While the target audience of each may be different, they all advertise the aspects of the sport and try to attract new participants by describing the health benefits of the workouts, the adrenaline rush achieved, etc. [17]

In addition to touting the benefits of parkour, these social groups will often address the reports of participant injury. The general message is that while it is an inherently risky sport, injuries are not as prevalent as one might expect - that the injury rate is, in fact, lower than that of many other "extreme sports" [18]. Several sites also assert that risk of injury is mitigated by proper training, [18] [19], and then proceed to describe how to undertake some of the most dangerous stunts in the free running catalog [19]. Articles and forums with this type of content are able to convince some readers that as long as they follow the strategy detailed online they won't come to harm, when this may not in fact be the case. This is allows people to join an exciting community with the perception that there is minimal associated risk.



Planking is a variation of the “Lying Down Game,” a mass-participation game that was invented in the UK in 2000. To play the game, people lie face down with their arms rigidly at their sides and get someone to take their picture to be uploaded online. It was referred to as planking in Australia because participants resembled planks, and became popular as local radio stations held competitions for the most unique and interesting planking locations[20]. The game gained momentum in the media in March, 2011, when David “Wolfman” Williams planked after scoring in a televised rugby game[21]. People began competing on blogs and social networking sites, and as more people participated the game transformed to encourage riskier and more dangerous planking locations. Photos emerged depicting people on police cars, railway tracks, and industrial machinery. Finally on May 15, 2011, Acton Beale fell to his death while attempting a planking stunt on a seventh-floor balcony in Australia. This became the first planking-related death, and it revealed just how dangerous the popular internet fad had become[22].

Social Networking SitesEdit

Social networking sites, such as Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter, are major contributors to the widespread popularity of the planking phenomenon. These sites provide communities where people can interact and develop relationships with one another. Besides connecting with family, friends, and peers, users of similar interests can come together to share ideas, pictures, and video content over the web. The Planking page on Facebook boasts over 700,000 members who comment on and rate each other’s images[23]. However, studies show that teenagers who spend over 3 hours a day on social networking sites are 60-80% more likely to have tried smoking, binge drinking, or illicit drugs[24][25]. People who spend more time on these websites are more likely to see pictures or videos of their friends engaging in dangerous behaviors. Activities such as drinking, smoking, and even planking begin to seem common and normal, resulting in users of social networking sites to feel more comfortable with taking those risks.

Easy ParticipationEdit

It is becoming easier and easier for people to participate in internet fads such as planking. A survey of wireless carriers in 2010 revealed that about 91 percent of Americans use cell phones, and most of these phones are equipped with a camera[26]. Additionally, over 78 percent of the U.S. populace has immediate access to the internet[27], making planking an easy and convenient game to play no matter the time or place.


Social websites such as Facebook and YouTube feature systems where users can rate the submitted content. Facebook provides a “Like” button that users can click to show their friends and family that they endorse a particular submission or comment[28]. YouTube allows users to anonymously “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” content, and even displays the number of hits to a particular video submission. These features encourage competition – friends and anonymous users can contend to get the most hits or the highest ratings for their content. Thus, people are rewarded for taking riskier planking photographs because those are the ones that receive the best feedback and obtain the highest ratings.


The internet age has allowed for the mass connection of people across the globe. Even when activities may involve serious risks, the idea that participating will make you a member of a larger group is extremely alluring. As seen with the cases of web forums, Youtube, Facebook, internet clubs, etc., possible negative consequences are often outweighed by social factors. Whether it's the belief that accountability can be evaded through anonymous posting, the assurance that internet instructions will keep you safe from harm, or the promise of a reward in the form of popularity, people are influenced by the internet to take unnecessary risks everyday.


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  5. 47 U.S.C. § 230, http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/html/uscode47/usc_sec_47_00000230----000-.html.
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  8. 18 U.S.C. § 2703, http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/18/2703.html.
  9. Yechiam, E., Druyan, M., & Technion, E. (2008, October). Observing others' behavior and risk taking in decisions from experience. Judgment and Decision Making, 3(7), 493-500. Retrieved from http://journal.sjdm.org/8530/jdm8530.html
  10. a b c d History of parkour. (2011). Retrieved from http://www.wfpf.com/history-of-parkour.
  11. Parkour investigated in teen's death. (2009, November 09). Sacramento news: KCRA. Retrieved from http://www.kcra.com/r/21503335/detail.html
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  22. Millian, M. (2011). 'Planking' death puts spotlight on bizarre web craze. Retrieved December 5, 2011, from http://articles.cnn.com/2011-05-18/tech/planking.internet.craze_1_facebook-group-australian-man-photos?_s=PM:TECH
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