Anonymity

To be completely anonymous is a powerful thing. People choose to act differently than they normally would if they have the cover of anonymity. Some people act more mean and brash and pick on others. Some people act less shy than they normally would. The anonymity of the Internet brings out all different sides of people you thought you knew.

In real life, I’m a terribly shy person. I come across as rather standoffish. On the Internet I feel a lot less shy, probably because, even though I use my real name on websites, it is still fairly anonymous. Nobody I know on the Internet is going to come to my house or see me in real life, unless we choose for it to happen.

When parents stumble across their kids’ Facebook pages, they’re often shocked by the different side of their child that they’re seeing. It’s one thing to feel as though you have an innocent and even somewhat naive daughter, yet it’s an entirely different thing to see her posting rants about sex and drugs online. That begs the question… which side is true? Which side is the true personality of that person?

We all put on different faces in different situations, whether that’s the anonymity of the Internet or with our friends or at the doctor’s office. There is nobody who knows everything about us and all our different sides – except a higher power, if you happen to believe in one.

Basically, if you’re shocked by what someone says online and it seems entirely different from what they’d say in person, that doesn’t mean that that person has changed and become different. It’s just a different side of them – a side that has been born from anonymity. Use an anonymous status carefully. I know I’ve said it before on this blog, but it bears repeating: Don’t say anything (whether anonymous or using your real name) that you would regret later on.

14 thoughts on “Anonymity

  1. The added dimension to anonymity is that of relational dynamics. Generally speaking, most people tailor their behavior and communication patterns to different individuals (and settings– work, home, church, etc.). So the exemplar Facebook daughter you reference may not just be ranting about sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll because she’s (relatively) anonymous online, but also because such behavior is common and even normative within that peer group.

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    1. That’s true. Sometimes people just talk about things, not because they’re really into them, but because they want to sound “cool” or “respected” within their group. I never thought of that.

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  2. Oh yes, i know what you mean! I’m shy too, yet online its so easy to act like you’re someone who isn’t! I feel a bit weird knowing that people i know could read some of the stuff i read online differently and wonder if they really know me or not, and it could get awkward but so far it’s been cool. It’s nice to explore different parts of my personality in different online places, yet i still retain my other offline personalities, as i act differently with my mates than i do with my parents.
    They all add up to make ME who i am, but i guess everyone knows a different side of me depending on where they stand in my life. I try to be true in all aspects of my life, but its nice to pretend to be something else sometimes! 😀

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  3. Very true indeed. I think people feel more secure in anonymity because – let’s face it – we all have things that we dislike about ourselves. So people choose to hide it up.
    As for the different sides thing, I think we all have different aspects of our personalities that we all choose to express in different places, as you say.

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  4. Interesting. I think the whole point of being anonymous is to be free to say things one could not risk saying if one was identifiable. In principle, I admire those who don’t ever feel any need to hide their identity, but cannot believe they aren’t constricted by that approach in some contexts.

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  5. Well, you covered a lot in four paragraphs. How come my posts are always so long. 🙂

    I have a few thoughts about the things you raise. One is that the “anonymity” of the internet is porous anyway. I was on an email list once where somebody was kicked off for bad behavior (he was an obvious troll). He re-joined the next day under another name, with a different email address. This was also obvious, but the list owner didn’t take it at face value. She investigated and was able to determine that the new email came from the same IP address and even the same computer.

    It is also true, as you say, that people are different in different contexts. And this is a very good thing. I wouldn’t want to work in an office where everybody behaved as they did at home, or when out on a date. 🙂 And for teenagers, I think the attraction of the internet is the relative safety as well. If you want to figure out how to flirt, for example, it’s better to start out online rather than in some bar. It’s a way to try out different personas and see how they fit.

    But this is something that’s also important to keep in mind as we write characters. If they’re always the same, in every situation, they won’t seem real.

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    1. Exactly. We naturally have different personalities for the different aspects of our lives… but it’s easy to abuse anonymity and create a persona that can harm others.

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  6. Good thoughts, Maggie.

    Whenever we act from Ego’s desire to impress others . . . we run the risk of losing touch with who we really are. When we know who we are . . . we know how to live . . . and realize we don’t need a permission slip (or applause) from anyone else.

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