The Future of the Internet is Anonymous

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anonymousRight now we’re in a world that sees  transparency as the new form of integrity. Right now we’re in a world that understands that reputation is everything. Loyalty is somewhat fleeting as consumers, armoured with this incessant flow of knowledge from the web, have the ability to make swift  judgements and decisions about individuals, companies and governments, often times to the detriment of the target. The emergence of social media has forced companies to stop hiding from behind that veil of corporate spin and address the very things that the web has thrown at them. Nothing is secret any longer. Even secrets that were once held secure behind invulnerable fortresses now have a strong probability of materializing today.

Is transparency as a norm working? Or, are the results of transparency surfacing a new order that will create yet another tier of acceptance from the masses?

Has the rise of transparency backfired?

Brian Solis painted a great picture of our online behaviours in this article and how they intermingle with the dynamics of the web:

Online, just like in the real world, actions and words speak loudly. Unlike real life though, your digital footprints are there for anyone to find on Google, social networks, and in communities. These disparate pieces are then assembled by employers, schools, friends, lovers, enemies, and anyone and everyone who wish to learn something more about you. Whether pure, sinister or simply inquisitive, whatever the reason, today these pieces construct a semblance of you and whomever sifts through your online legacy is left to their own surmise. This is too important to leave to chance. Online is the new real world. This is your life.

I wrote earlier about,”No Room for Error: A Cautionary Tale of A Precarious Tweet ” and the misstep a young lad, Chris Spiegel, had made on Twitter that could potentially have prevented him from graduating with his senior class; moreover, it could have hampered his efforts into securing college placement. One of the comments struck a chord with me.

The kid made an adolescent mistake, owned up to it and learned from it. If that is the purpose of sanctions, a two day suspension would have served the purpose. Instead, the school appears to have over reacted and is being punitive. It doesn’t appear that they are interested in a true learning experience but rather in sacrificing one kid. Just plain meanness! A whole unblemished academic record appears to not matter at all. I am furious that alleged educators refuse to look at this in the content of 17 years of “good kid” slashed down in one moment over a tiny lapse in judgement.

For kids like Chris, this incident not only made him think twice about his actions, it also suppressed any future desire of being truly himself on social media. Erratic judgements within social teaches us to behave in ways that prevents us from being further misjudged or attacked. For kids, who have not yet felt the wrath of social media, they will learn from their peers’ mistakes. They will learn discretion. Or they will learn to recede further away from transparency into a darker place where judgements are fewer and far between.

“Anonymity is Authenticity”

I wrote this post last summer, Publishers OR Platforms? Cyberbullying and Increased Accountability by Social Networks, following the death of Rahteah Parsons, who, after being assaulted by 4 boys, was tormented relentlessly by classmates and other kids on social networks; also following the suicide of Hannah Smith, who experienced the same torment on Ask.fm. I wrote, “the internet has evolved to an era that has given free reign to voice an opinion and use like-minded affiliations to express and further spread that opinion.” In these cases, anonymous profiles proliferated the incessant stream of hateful attacks that eventually wore down both girls’ defences. Here, I referenced a polarized view of social networks via Christopher “Moot” Pool, founder of 4Chan, who argued that anonymity on social was necessary:

The cost of failure is really high when you’re contributing as yourself. Those mistakes are attributed to who you are. Anonymity, in contrast, allows people to be creative, and poke and prod and try things they might not otherwise. Anonymity is authenticity. It allows you to share in a completely unvarnished, unfiltered, raw way.

And while I originally argued that anonymity was a cowardice state that allowed people to be and feel comfortable being the anti-self that runs away from accountability, my stance has seen another side of this coin.

Anonymity is Safe

It becomes clear that humans, while inherently social, are discriminating of the things we disclose and to those to whom we share.  As per Solis,

We now live three lives online and will continue to do so in future; one that disappears, one that is secret, and one that sculpts our legacy.

If transparency breeds contempt, then anonymity should build acceptance

The freedom to express opinion and judgement without feeling guarded, or without fearing others linking you to a statement is indeed liberating. And while this free reign may take the form of a soapbox soliloquy or criticisms (and perhaps bullying attacks) against opposing views, there is a large segment of users who want the ability to share a secret, or have a place to vent their frustrations or challenges — without the fear of reprisal.

We all have this “secret” life and we should be fierce in demanding privacy for those things we want to remain private.

Despite revelations from Snowden and the NSA that nothing on the net is private, this does not stop the wave of user adoption for applications like SnapChat, Whisper or Secret.

Here are some recent stats for Snapchat from Mashable;

snaptchat

Launched at the tailend of 2012, it took less than 6 months for Whisper to accumulate 2 million users and a billion pageviews. Founder of Whisper, Michael Heyword said this about his vision for the app:

Whisper allows people to emote online in a way that won’t ever be tracked to their permanent, cant-be-deleted data trail left by social media accounts…..Michael Heyward designed Whisper to let people take down the facade of perfection, anonymously, and just relate to one another. “You dont have to be this brand manager,” he says. “It’s exhausting.”

whis2whis1

I’ve recently downloaded Whisper and my experience has been more than liberating. It has allowed me an outlet to record my hopes, desires and more importantly, my anger and not-for-public emotions. Being judged in real life or on social takes its toll. If my reputation precedes me, then I will be discriminating about what I say in places where my content and identity are linked.

Popular opinion just doesn’t matter. It’s irrelevant. But I want to track progress in my life: my emotions, my dark moments, my personal observations, my milestones — all in my own digital diary.

Why shouldn’t users have the option to keep part of their identities secret and separate?

It’s up to the next generation

BF Skinner laid this out succinctly when he disclosed his theories on Operant Conditioning,

The promise or possibility of rewards causes an increase in behaviour ….The removal of a desirable outcome or the application of a negative outcome can be used to decrease or prevent undesirable behaviours.

This new medium has created is an endless volatile loop of positive and negative reinforcement. While transparency has extreme benefits, there are just as many negative consequences that have come as a result of creating this honesty within social channels. Society continues to send the wrong message to Millennials and GenZers, warning them to be more discerning and to suppress who they really are as individuals… warning them of the potential consequences should they venture down the wrong path.

How we communicate today poses tremendous issues for this younger generation. Their experiences are grounded in the fear of being vulnerable… fear of being misjudged… fear of not being accepted… fear of being punished. When the next generation grows up, it’ll be up to them to shape the landscape and determine how to balance the impacts of transparency and anonymity.

What do you think the future holds?

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Hessie Jones
CEO at ArCompany, and a seasoned digital strategist having held management positions for top Ad Agencies including Ogilvy, Rapp Collins, and Isobar Digital. She also has extensive start-up experience with launch successes like Yahoo! Answers. Hessie is also an active blogger/writer for ArCompany, Huffington Post, Digital Journal and WhatsYourTech.ca
Hessie Jones

@hessiejones

CEO ArCompany, Cellist, Strategist, Start-up Junkie, Social Intel, tech geek, marketer, HuffPost, Steamfeed, Digital Journal, WhatsYourTech blogger, @ArcIntel
Boomers, Busters and Back To The Future via ArCompany Social Media Intelligence Blog - Doc bursts ... http://t.co/nfUTwf8mG2 - 3 hours ago
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Comments

  1. This was a great article, but I think it misses one vital point. As human beings, we are constantly filtering and censoring ourselves. We show different aspects of our personality depending on our situation. For example, I will behave differently with high level colleagues at a corporate event than I would with my best friends at a BBQ, and rightfully so. Perhaps it's time to recognize that social media and the internet require a unique set of rules and etiquette. We are multi-faceted beings, so t's not so much suppression of our true selves as it is an expression of one aspect of personalities. And expression of any kind poses a risk. The only place that is truly private is inside our own heads.

    • Hi Megan, you are absolutely right. And that's why we behave different on Facebook vs. Twitter vs. LinkedIn depending on who is our audience. I still choose to believe that technology needs to morph with the times. Our generation is so used to having that private diary, our private thoughts kept to ourselves. But my kids and the those I've talked to use technology almost to a fault. Whether they'll determine the next course of action is to fiercely guard their privacy where they believe it matters will have bearing on where this all goes.
      My recent post Social Justice: How Much Do You Know About the Jeans You Are Wearing?

  2. People portray the selves they want to portray online. They always have, and always will. People like you and Brian Solis – marketers by trade – look too much into this kind of stuff because you're the ones invading privacy every day on behalf of your clients.

    It's not the web that has to change – it's you.

    • Mary, whether you choose to believe it or not, the web hasn't changed the way governments and marketers use data. The web has merely evolved it. Government and marketers have always had access to user data. Your banking institutions know enough about what you buy, where and how often that they will use that information to communicate a message that will predict your outcome of receptivity. The only way you are free and clear of your data NOT being looked at is to totally be absent from the web, from your mobile phone, from your transactions. There are companies like BlueKai that are giving customers the choice whether or not to be tracked but this will not solve your concerns. It merely puts a level of control at the hands of the consumer.

      Thanks for your comments

      My recent post Social Justice: How Much Do You Know About the Jeans You Are Wearing?

  3. Hessie – I can’t stop thinking about how we BECAME this… where did this need to vent publicly evolve from? I keep thinking about my ancestors: I have my great great grandfather’s diary from 1900 and 90% of it is work. What he did every single day from dawn to dusk is work, and he was certainly pretty well off for his time.

    Because we have so much more free time we all have developed needs that our ancestors couldn’t afford, and social media has just fed the beast. My good friend Mike gave up FB for Lent, and he was an addict. I can’t wait to see what he thinks about it after 40 days away. Does the need to put your thoughts out there lessen?

    • Amy, I hope that we don't recede into the shadows because we've felt the ramifications of our actions. You and I know countless people who have left social media because of fear. As long as people feel they can be critical and transparent, without being punished then this will continue. Technology has evolved the need for this diary. I have seen apps like Happier, Happy Rambles — all with the intent to say what we want — but to ourselves or ONLY people we choose to. I would hope that anonymity is not the answer. That would be truly sad.
      My recent post Social Justice: How Much Do You Know About the Jeans You Are Wearing?

  4. As important and prevalent as Google Authorship has become, even those who are not commercial entities or concerned about generating traffic to their website or social profiles, the impact and influence Google Authorship has when it comes to rendering the best pages for a specific query almost demands that ones uses their vetted credentials to participate in social conversions.
    My recent post Content Marketing System Best Practices

  5. The Web will never be truly private/anonymous – it is the nature of the beast. There is always data to be mined/searched, and it is a reality that we must accept.

    Many people don't use a common sense filter that would prevent them from putting something online that they shouldn't make available to anyone. I try to censor myself when on a social network by asking myself who I want to see the information I provide. Even on my personal Facebook account, I only allow specific groups of people see specific items.

    We live in an information age, and unfortunately there maybe too much information. Secrets aren't secrets anymore and everyone can be searched and found – eventually.
    My recent post Essential Tips for Keeping Your Passwords Safe With LastPass

  6. II love this!!!! Love, love, love!

    I've been wrestling with this issue for some time now. As much as I believe in a certain amount of transparency for the very reasons you stated, I also understand that it is crucial to have a level of privacy and anonymity online sometimes. I think that there are times that transparency leaves people so vulnerable that they are afraid to be truly honest and genuine. On the other hand, anonymity gives us the space to be as open and honest as we can usually only hope to be. 

    I've been telling teenagers to have secret identities online for some time now for this very reason. The issues with privacy — data mining and co-worker's trolling should be a good reason for anyone prone to self expression to consider it, as well. 

    There are many people online who hide so that they can harass and hurt others and have, therefore, given anonymity a bad name, but there are just as many smearing transparency.

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