Anonymity on Social Media

Do you present yourself in the same way online as you do offline?

An essential part of digital citizenship is based on ensuring a positive digital identity through consideration of digital etiquette and digital rights and responsibilities. Teenagers in particular are encouraged by their parents and teachers to think about how they present themselves online for their safety, the well-being of others, and their futures. Some common mantras they hear are: “Would you want grandma to see that?” and “Whatever you share is out there forever.”


Photo Credit: Nate Grigg

So, many teens escape this scrutiny of family members by joining narrowcast tools like Snapchat, while other people are opting for anonymity. What does this anonymity allow?

Anonymity gives people the freedom to discuss controversial topics without repercussion. It is easier to say what you really believe when no one is going to hold you accountable outside of the space where you make anonymous comments. So while some people may feel that anonymity is positive because it allows people to disrupt racism or misogyny without being trolled, ultimately, that same anonymity protects the racists and misogynists and grants them permission to perpetuate hate. Really, anonymity is most useful if you are saying something that you should not; otherwise, it is important to attach your identity to social justice issues and stand up for what you believe in.

Some social media are going out of their way to provide users with the opportunity to remain anonymous. Here are some examples:

Yik Yak, an app that targets other anonymous users within close proximity, has been linked to threats, pranks and cyberbullying at schools across North America. Although the app has potential to be a great networking tool, some users abuse their anonymity making the app a cyberbullying threat.

Kik is another app that offers the opportunity to be whoever you want. While the app is designed to be a fun messaging service, Julia Carrie Wong’s article “What is Kik and should your child be using it?” states that “In January, for example, a 25-year-old Louisiana man was convicted of using Kik to extort young girls into providing him with nude photographs. The perpetrator pretended to be a young girl himself in order to persuade 45 victims, aged 8-14, to share child abuse material with him.” The app is not designed to improve the effectiveness of criminals, but again, anonymity poses a threat.

4chan is an example of a social forum that advocates for anonymity and functions as something of a safe space to discuss any interest or curiosity. 4chan is not “inherently evil,”  but anonymity has allowed the site to leak nude celebrity pictures, encourage iPhone users to microwave their phones, and make fake bomb threats. 4chan provides a place where any kind of mischief is wholly possible.

Tanith Carey’s article “Why teenagers are ‘self-trolling’ on websites like Reddit” states that some of our children are bullying themselves, either by adopting fake online identities to attack themselves or inviting strangers to do it for them. It’s a phenomenon known as cyber self-harm. Even in spaces where anonymity is not part of the philosophy, some will create fake online identities to create a sense of anonymity that offers youth the opportunity to not only harm others, but also themselves.

Ultimately, I revist the question that I posed in my blog from last week. Here is what a few readers said then. Does this discussion of anonymous social media change your mind? Please continue to vote.