What's interesting is that when you meet the real forum assholes in real life or even on the phone, they usually seem utterly normal and little like their online personas. Many of them are pretty demure in their daily lives, but once they're behind that veil of anonymity, it's Lord of the Flies.
They have needs that aren't met in real life, and status in the social pecking order is one of them. So they need to belittle everyone else to inflate their opinion of themselves.
Since online communication is so minimalist and incomplete, we often fill in the gaps by projecting our hopes/fears/insecurities onto other people. To me, an online relationship that has no real-life component to it is just mutual mental masturbation.
I agree entirely with your first statement, and would add that some even build entire worldviews and realities based on online interaction. If you only visit websites inhabited by like-minded people, or displaying propaganda that supports your beliefs, you'll perceive a consensus about politics, religion, or whatever, that isn't really there.
I despise most online political discussion, because it usually brings out the worst in people and no views are changed. I suppose some say that its just something "fun to do" (and as I said in response to Avi's first post, this is more likely to be younger people), but I would simply ask "why?". I doubt many of us would walk into a pub, start arguing about politics and global warming to the point of insulting a stranger, and actually WANT to enjoy it. Unless drunk, we'd be considered mildly mentally ill.
I think you are absolutely correct about insecurities, and I've found the angrier they are online, the more insecurities they have in real life. I would disagree that an online-only relationship is pure mental masturbation, if both parties are more patient and less angry types. If both see the possibility of meeting in real life, or a friendship developing down the road, they'll value the communication more. Many years ago, I had a small disagreement about a legal issue that developed into a lengthy Usenet thread, that then developed into a great friendship with a Canadian crown attorney. She and I are still friends 15 years later, and all because one of us decided to politely disagree with the other.
One of the reasons I decided to join Coastgab after lurking for so long is that there are a lot of incredibly smart people here. Some will hate me, disagree with me, or find me insufferable. But that doesn't change the fact that they are smart, and I always want to read what they post. And I make it a point to send someone a PM when their post makes me think.
Conversely, sometimes the actions of a Coastgab member makes me think less of them, or lose respect for them. Insulting someone obvious weaker than them in debate skills is pointless, for example, and a lot of people are brave when it comes to intent, but don't back up their words with actions, etc. I don't think them less intelligent, but rather less conscientious.
And... jeez, my reply is long winded here. I think it would do a lot of us some good to have other person anonymously post their blunt opinions of us every now and then for us to read. It might give us a dose of reality that'd we'd otherwise miss.
I try to be objectively self-aware of how I "come off" on here at Coastgab, and know that I sound like a know-it-all at times, babbling far to long in posts. I regret the tone of some comments in my recent posts about young women and conference sex. They might have made me sound like I'd bang anyone who is 20 and has a pulse. I'm confident as hell in "real life", but not quite as silly as as much of a pussy hound as those posts suggest. My job is to educate students. I do it very, very well, and take it very seriously.
And see what I mean about being wordy?