The latest photo hacking scandal exposed the Internet
NEW YORK – TECHNOLOGY – As the latest naked celebrity photo hacking scandal illustrates, anonymous social media users and online commenters have a shady reputation, because trolls, hackers, and other miscreants generally hide behind anonymity as they go about their misdeeds. But most anonymous users don’t fit this profile, according to a new survey of 1,300 American adults by Livefyre; they just want to express opinions about possibly controversial subjects.
Overall 40% of the respondents said they have commented anonymously, and within this group 78% said that they wouldn’t comment if forced to use their real identities. However just 5% of anonymous commenters said they remained anonymous in order to make mean-spirited comments about other people online. That compares to 48% who said they feel they can be more open and honest expressing opinions, and 34% who wanted to protect their identities for reasons of personal security.
Some typical explanations included “I’m worried about professional contacts accessing private opinions,” “Anonymity removes person-based bias and judgments,” and, “I only comment anonymously when I am revealing personal and intimate information about myself.” 59% of all respondents said they believe anonymous comments are equal or more valuable than comments made with verified identities, rising to 80% among anonymous commenters.
Unsurprisingly, people were most likely to remain anonymous while commenting on hot-button topics, with 93% of anonymous commenters masking their identities on news or political sites. They are more comfortable in other contexts, with most anonymous commenters (88%) said they still use their real identities at least some of the time, and half using them regularly.
The Livefyre survey makes interesting reading alongside the recent Pew survey that found social media users are less likely to share their opinions both online and in the real world. This appears to be part of a phenomenon Pew describes as the “spiral of silence,” in which people are less likely to talk about controversial issues unless they already know that their audience agrees.
Crucially the Pew survey asked about situations where anonymity isn’t possible, including using your own Facebook or Twitter accounts, as well as face-to-face interactions like a public meeting or dinner with friends. But is political discourse or social criticism (for example) meaningful when the speaker is anonymous? Why or why not? That’s one to ponder.
Originally published on Mediapost.
Republished with permission.