With the rapid growth of social media over the past few years, there has been a resulting growth of anonymity online. Due to the increasing popularity of anonymous social media apps and the ability to easily create fake accounts on many social media sites like Facebook, anonymity is constantly becoming more and more prevalent. While anonymity on social media can yield many positives, there are also many downfalls.
When people are able to hide behind a computer screen, they become very likely to act contrary to how they would in a face-to-face conversation creating the online disinhibition effect; "a loosening (or complete abandonment) of social restrictions and inhibitions that would otherwise be present in normal face-to-face interaction during interactions with others on the Internet." In other words, people online are prone to act differently than they would in person. Anonymity makes people feel less accountable for their actions and breeds an environment that is more likely to be amoral compared to an environment without anonymity. An analysis by Arthur Santana of the University of Houston showed that 53 percent of anonymous commenters were uncivil while only 29 percent of non-anonymous commenters were uncivil. People end up creating online identites where they are able to share as much or as little as they want about themselves and are able to say whatever they want without worrying about the reactions of others. Being online also gives people a sense of invisibility causing them to think that they are alone and that their actions don’t have any consequences, even when communicating with others online. John Suler states, “this invisibility gives people the courage to go places and do things that they otherwise wouldn’t.”
Anonymity can also lead to an increase in the frequency and harshness of cyber bullying. Due to the usual anonymous nature of cyberbullying, it can be very difficult and even impossible to trace in certain cases. As a result, cyber bullies are less afraid of getting caught and are less likely to take responsibility for their actions. As stated in an article by CNN, “Cyberbullying presents unique challenges in the sense that the perpetrator can attempt to be anonymous, and attacks can happen at any time of day or night.” This problem is especially prevalent in today's society with the popularity of smartphones and social media causing people to be connected online almost 24/7.
The ease of being anonymous online also creates many safety issues. How do we know people are who they say they are online when it's become so easy to create accounts and manipulate others online. Many people lure others into a friendship online only to exploit their trust later. With the constant rise of security concerns, social media is becoming a paradise for hackers who use social engineering online to gain information. Many people are unaware of the tactics used by hackers to steal information and willingly fall into their traps.
On the other hand, anonymity online has some advantages. Being anonymous can allow a greater flow of opinions without people having to worry about the repercussions. While the online disinhibition effect can lead to an increase of incivility, it also leads to people being more open to sharing ideas and can create a sense of community identity that is shown to increase participation. Anonymity can also allow a greater measure of safety for people online. Anonymity is a great responsibility that is often misused. Your actions online do have consequences whether you see the effects of them or not. Instead of using anonymity in a negative way, use it responsibly to make a positive difference in the world.