Do you ever get frustrated when you come across a posting that you passionately agree, or disagree, with and want to find out more about the poster, but you can’t? The problem doesn’t lie with your research skills, it lies with the fact that the post was made anonymously. Now, because that person used a pseudonym, and didn’t enter any additional information, it is almost impossible to find out more about that user to establish credibility, connect with them socially, or follow-up on other related topics.
I can just picture this “anonymous” person sitting behind the keyboard thinking “I don’t want the whole world to know my name” or “why would I ever want to add a ‘profile picture'” or “I’m not telling you who I am: what if my boss see this?” But this person goes ahead and shares his/her opinion thinking that “the world NEEDS to hear my opinion!”
If you don’t tie your individual comments back to your own personality, it’s very difficult to establish credibility on the subject you are commenting about. Without credibility, comments and subsequent replies have the tendency to turn into a virtual bar-room shouting match rather than a productive conversation between opinion leaders, experts, industry, educators, students (I use the term students to include anybody wanting to learn more about a topic), etc.
In my view, anonymous posts not only provide the ideal conditions for people to aggressively (offensively) broadcast their opinion and pick fights, but also they effectively stifle the conversation by polluting it with a lot of words with little substance.
A lot of academic research was conducted around the turn of the millennium (1997-2003) on anonymous postings on the internet. Most of the research suggested that this anonymity is a good thing and should be protected – after all it was the “natural state of the internet”, they thought. But this was over a decade ago, and things have changed.
The biggest change is the introduction of social networks. Many of these networks require users to provide a real name to participate (Google+) or to get the best value out of the service (Facebook). Now, the “natural state of the internet” is a place where many of our accounts are linked, creating a consistent online footprint that aggregates and tracks much of the content we have generated or interacted with. If I am intrigued by a comment you make, I can usually follow a series of links and get a general understanding of who you are, which helps contextualize your comments and posts.
Another significant change is that “online worlds” and “offline worlds” are now so interconnected that they can be considered one, and not two separate places. Instead of splitting our personalities into several different performances based on work, home, family, friends, online, and offline, we are recognizing that who we are in one element of our lives should be reflected in others.
Current research paints a very different picture from the research conducted just a decade ago. In a recent study from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, researchers concluded that the thrill people get when making anonymous online postings can lead to impaired judgement similar to that experienced by those who get a kick out of abusing their power or are intoxicated by alcohol. This mask of anonymity lowers the users’ inhibitions, ulitmatly encouraging them to pay less attention to social norms, and act more impulsively.
Here’s a brief overview from the Kellogg School of Management’s news release:
“When people lose their inhibitions — from being drunk, powerful, or acting anonymously — there can be significant behavioral consequences. In effect, disinhibition can both reveal and shape the person, as contradictory as that may sound…[this] disinhibition can lead to behavior more consistent with one’s true underlying motives or dispositions…”
These researchers stop short of saying that we should eliminate anonymous postings, but that is exactly what I’m suggesting. Let’s get rid of the option to post anonymously and ensure that all content is properly attributed to the content creator. We would then be able to view all comments, discussions, blogs, and posts in a context related to the users’ experiences, employment, education, post history, and so on. Reducing, or eliminating, these “impaired” comments would enhance our online experience.
If you have an opinion you feel strongly about, why not have it attributed to you? What are you worried about? Let’s take responsibility and stand behind what we say online and offline – If you’re not willing to share your name, don’t bother sharing your opinion.
Now the question is over to you.…Should we work towards eliminating anonymous postings? Or is it something that should be preserved as it is vital to your internet experience?