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Anonymous or ‘Me’ on the Internet, 4chan versus Facebook

September 19, 2011

Anonymous or me? I think the Internet, as a whole, is thinking this through.

On Facebook, people are themselves:

Facebook works better when people are themselves. When someone tells Facebook their hometown, their age, sex, etc, it works to find their friends. Give Facebook access to a free mail account like Yahoo or Gmail and it will find people as well. Indeed, Facebook works so well that we freely give it more data about ourselves than we have given any company in history – except maybe Google.

And speaking of Google, Google+ famously announced that to be on Google+, people have to be themselves.

On the other end of the spectrum is 4chan, the forum (or board) that gave birth to anonymous, the very definition of people on the Internet who aren’t themselves.

Other examples of this are Reddit, a link sharing board and Twitter, where anyone can be anything. Someone was BPGlobalPR to great comedic effect for the better part of an oil spill.

Is this just an academic question?

That’s a good question: who cares? When thinking about how people will share information, how people decide to be on the internet will be important because people share differently when they are anonymous.

When people share content with their friends, they do it because they like their friend. If I share something funny with a friend I do it because I like the friend. Also, I want the friend to like me back. Sharing with people I know creates social currency.

When someone shares something on a board or in a place where they don’t have to be themselves, the reasons can vary wildly. It can be for pure uncivil reasons (being nasty on the comments section of YouTube) or utterly selfless (reporting on atrocities from a dictator).

The debate.

The Facebook, Google+ argument is that people are more civil when they are themselves. One needs only to look at the anonymous comments on YouTube or any online publications that take comments to see the nastiness that anonymity allows.

Fact is, when there is no cost to someone’s profile, there is no requirement to be civil. When someone’s real name is beside a comment or an act, then there is a cost to being uncivil. Because the Internet never forgets, the lack of civility is always a Google search away from the person being uncivil.

On the other side, there’s a need for anonymity when whistle-blowing or trying to overthrow a dictator. Clearly noble reasons to be anonymous.

The professional.

The professional wants to be found, so they will optimize for their name and their skills. On Twitter, that means getting their name, or something that is as close as possible. On something like Reddit, it means proving the are themselves – I’ve seen politicians post on Reddit as themselves trying to drive traffic and awareness.

Final point: be wary of places that allow anonymous postings, but don’t ignore them. An anonymous posting can be snarky, but they can also be informative.

What do you think? Are you anonymous anywhere on the internet?

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