The Pursuit of Social Media Anonymity

The Pursuit of Social Media Anonymity

It is probably not much of a stretch to assume that – for the most part – the majority of people have a degree of understanding that privacy and social media don’t mix. If anyone’s has ever had an embarrassing picture posted on Facebook, commented on someone’s post in a fit of rage, or gone on a drunken Instagram liking spree, you know what I am talking about. 

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[IMAGE SOURCE]

In her article, “Anonymity in Social Media, Laura Rogal examines the rise in social media pseudonym accounts to protect the user’s privacy online.

Social media has gone through multiple identity changes over the years. In the early days of social media, sites such as Myspace and Nexopia were a place to go and connect with your friends online – some friends that you knew personally, others you only knew online.

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A cartoon by Peter Steiner, published by The New Yorker on 5 July 1993. [IMAGE SOURCE].

Rogal discusses how in these early years of social media, sites incorporated “pseudonyms” into their platform, where the user would identify themselves with their chosen screen name. Then Facebook came along and rather than using a screen name, the users instead used their real name for their profile. This drastically changed the division between your online persona and your real-life personality.

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[IMAGE SOURCE]

This shift in social media representing “who you really are” has led to an increase in users creating social media pseudonym accounts; some of these are created to troll others and incite anger and/or frustration to other users, while others are created to have freedom to express themselves anonymously.

With an increasing desire for anonymity online, alternative platforms catering to this need are becoming popular. Reddit was founded by two American university students in 2005 and purchased for $20-million dollars a year later by Advance Publications. New York Times journalist, David Carr, describes Reddit as a community full of pseudonyms where users speak very intimately and candidly under the guise of their screen name.

Another anonymous posting platform that has made news around campus is Chillabit, where university students can post their thoughts/feelings/concerns with their fellow classmates anonymously. Interestingly enough the individual accused of sending the threat on Chillabit went to Reddit to seek legal advice before being arrested.

The dark side of social media anonymity is the lack of personal accountability for those who fail to understand the boundaries between what is and is not appropriate to share online. Despite the lack of personal accountability, there is still no such thing as complete anonymity – as I am sure the individual who posted the threat against MacEwan on Chillabit can attest to.

**If you have 3 min 42 seconds to spare and want to be creeped out by social media’s lack of privacy, watch this:

Sources

Carr, D. (2012, September 2). Left alone by its owner, reddit soars. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/03/business/media/reddit-thrives-after-advance-publications-let-it-sink-or-swim.html

Featured Image [Image file]. Retrieved from https://lifesite-cache.s3.amazonaws.com/images/made/images/remote/https_s3.amazonaws.com/lifesite/Shutterstock/anonymous_computer_810_500_55_s_c1.jpg

Lazzarino, D. (2016, October 27). Man alleged to have made MacEwan university threat asks reddit for legal advice. Edmonton Journal. Retrieved from http://edmontonjournal.com/news/local-news/student-charged-after-online-threat-to-macewan-university

Nitrozac & Snaggy comic [Image file]. Retrieved from http://i1.wp.com/media.boingboing.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/1862600wide.gif?resize=600%2C374

On the Internet, Nobody Knows You’re a Dog [Image file]. Retrieved from https://img.washingtonpost.com/rf/image_480w/WashingtonPost/Content/Blogs/comic-riffs/StandingArt/STEINERinternetdogs.jpg?uuid=Cn7v6vmREeKOhMVnMaIC-w

Rogal, L. (2013). Anonymity in social media. Phoenix Law Review, 7. Retrieved from https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2459152

Social Media Experiment [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5P_0s1TYpJU

When You’re Drunk and Go on Instagram [Image file]. Retrieved from https://www.instagram.com/p/BMXtcEfhpdM/?taken-by=thefatjewish&hl=en

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4 thoughts on “The Pursuit of Social Media Anonymity

  1. So, this is probably the third post I have read during this project on this subject. The information in yours seems similar to the others but there is a different slant on it that leaves me with a question. It occurred to me when watching the video and the one person said “You do that to me again and I will call the police”. There was nothing illegal about what that social experimenter was doing. It was definitely outside the boundary of ethical behavior and was, in my opinion, in bad taste, but was not illegal. I am having a hard time believing that anyone would post to social media without the awareness of everyone being able to read what you have posted. I think that if social media is used with this awareness it is a great system to network within.

    So my question is, what are people afraid of others finding out from their posts on social media if they are aware of the access granted to all who use the platform?

    Thanks for the post, Cam

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    1. I think a lot of people enjoy anonymity when expressing their opinion. SM platforms that are more ‘anonymous’ appeal to people that may want to network with similar-minded people, but not in a public way with SM networks like Facebook. I am not necessarily referring to trolls who want to harass people online — this anonymity could extend to someone who is a professional businessman and also a cat lover. He might want to go onto Reddit and join a ‘cat picture’ subreddit (which would be more anonymous), but doesn’t want to join a cat picture FB group that his friends might see…

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      1. Great post!

        I agree with your response to @kawint1‘s question as well. I use pseudonyms, not because I’m a troll or a deviant, but because I don’t want people to be able to access my social media pages and feel like they know who I am. There is a lot of perception management that goes on in real-life interactions that doesn’t translate to social media posts. Even using pseudonyms, I like to confound people as much as possible with my social media presence (see my nonsense profile pic) so that they’ll have to engage with me in real life if they actually want to get a sense of who I am.

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  2. I like to think that most posts to social media are under a pseudonym of your identity. This probably sounds super vague and out-there, but hear me out for a second. I have read many articles that discuss the issue of people putting on a false front on their social media platforms, that they present an ideal version of themselves which may not necessarily reflect who they really are. I’m not saying all people who post to social media do this, but most individuals won’t post unflattering images or posts of themselves. Like you said about having embarrassing pictures posted to Facebook, I think a lot of that embarrassment comes from the fact that they didn’t have control over whether that photo was posted or not, and that it isn’t a photo that they want as a representation of themselves on their social media platforms.

    Sorry for the off-topic rant, but this was an interesting post!

    Like

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