We began this project striving to prove that anonymity is positive online; it fosters honesty and allows individuals who might be withdrawn in real life to express themselves in a comfortable way.
Soon, it became clear that anonymity on the Internet does not always allow for positive experiences. So through this research, we want to show that anonymity can be beneficial or harmful depending on the context of the platform on which one is being anonymous.
We faced some challenges while conducting this research.
- Users on anonymous sites often don’t want to discuss why they’re choosing to be anonymous. When we asked about their habits, they often would reply with something comedic or offensive. It is likely that they would not respond this way if we knew their real identities.
- We began by only focusing on PostSecret but soon realized that we could only observe and comment on previous PostSecrets because we could not get in touch with people who posted them. We also considered trying to create a Tumblr that encouraged other users of Tumblr to send us their secrets, but we weren’t sure what that would accomplish or how it would actually help our research. It would also be difficult in such a short time to establish a Tumblr that people trusted enough to send their secrets, even if they did it anonymously. There was also perhaps not enough time in the three weeks for people to know about us and send us their responses.
- It was also kind of challenging finding positive research on online anonymity. Many people, including those behind Facebook, are very much against online anonymity because it fosters a lot of negative repercussions. Anonymity online is often associated with cyber bullying, especially with Formspring, Topix, etc. There is more of a push to stop online anonymity because of cyber bullying, but also for things like restaurant reviews. We used sites like PostSecret, Texts From Last Night, and Omegle to physically prove our claims. These anonymous “confessions” are honest. If people had to submit their real names or even associate with a username, they may not have been so open.