Why You Shouldn’t Take Away Online Anonymity

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

One of the most powerful aspects of online forums is the ability that they give users to share their opinions and thoughts with others in a quick, and often anonymous, manner. Yet, many sites are now taking measures to require users to either log-in or go through other steps in order to discourage comments that can potentially anger or hurt other readers and people posting. However, for many users, the ability and the power of posting with some anonymity is vital in order for them to feel comfortable sharing their thoughts online. Recently, Livefyre surveyed over 1,300 consumers to find out more about online anonymity. The survey addresses the question of whether anonymous identities are “a mask for malicious trolls” or “a safety veil for everyday people,” and the results suggest that anonymity absolutely matters online and is helping foster online communities, not harming them.

One of the most interesting results that the survey unearthed is the fact that although over 40 percent of people have commented anonymously before, over 88 percent still use their real identities sometimes. This suggests that not only would companies be missing out on comments by a large percentage of users if they removed the ability for users to be anonymous, but it also shows that users feel more comfortable being anonymous in certain situations.

Many users will not participate if they are required to use their authentic identities (78 percent of those who have commented anonymously previously would not comment at all if they had to use their real identities). This is important to note from a marketing stance as well, because many sites see user engagement as a strong indicator of interest, and often allowing users to post anonymously encourages online participation and engagement.

Although in the past some sites have changed posting rules in order to discourage bullying, according to this survey, only 5 percent of users comment anonymously to bully users. Instead, users post anonymously for several reasons, including the fact that users worry about professional connections, they want their words and not their identity to be the focus, they are a public figure, or they feel more comfortable sharing intimate or personal information anonymously. The survey suggests that anonymous trolls are a very small percentage of the people leaving comments, and that anonymous identities needn’t be eliminated.

Users also primarily feel that anonymity on a site does not take away from the validity of the site. Fifty-nine percent of those surveyed said that they viewed anonymous comments as just as valuable, or more valuable, than posts from people with verified identities. This is actually a surprising figure, since when you view a post from a verified identity, you may be able to know a lot more about the person. However, this response suggests that many people who post online are equally, or more, interested in the content of the post, rather than the person making the post itself. Although those surveyed did not say it, it also brings up the question of whether or not some people feel that knowing the identity of someone posting takes away from the value of their post.

As far as what exactly users are commenting on anonymously, 50 percent are commenting on news, and 45 percent are commenting on politics. Only 19 percent are commenting on personal blogs, 17 percent on entertainment, 12 percent on sports, and 5 percent on celebrity gossip. The rest are posting about travel or other topics.

According to Samantha Huser for Lifefyre, anonymity needn’t be eliminated. Instead, clear expectations should be set, including community guidelines. It’s also important to have moderators, and you can also allow users to flag inappropriate content. You don’t have to sacrifice the safety of the community just so that you can encourage engagement and allow users to post anonymously. Some companies delete unwanted or upsetting commentary, and this is one way to allow anonymity but also foster a certain online presence and environment. Encourage regular posters to help moderate the site. You can also consider using technology that will flag or remove inappropriate comments for you. Lastly, consider having editors interact with other users regularly.

Companies have their reasons for requiring users to sign-in if they want to post, and for some companies, this is the right decision. Not only does requiring users to sign-in help companies to keep track of just who is viewing and commenting on their material, but in some cases, it does discourage angry or argumentative posts. However, this survey shows that the majority of users are not out to start fights or upset others, but instead they want a chance to post without being tied to their identity.

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