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Molly's picture

 It is not uncommon to wish for anonymity.  Whether that╒s because of personal problems or insecurity or something else, the feeling is fairly universal.  Today╒s technology is moving toward erasing that feeling, however.  Anonymity on the Internet has opened a world of possibilities to let things go for people who would not normally do so.

For example, there is a man named Patrick who has been battling depression for quite some time.  Patrick goes to therapy and gets the help that he needs, but still he feels the need to reach out to others with the same condition.  Patrick knows some people with the same condition, but he is not sure that he is ready to address people other than his therapist about his depression face to face.

Patrick is a teacher and does not want his employers or his students to know about his condition, so he is careful about what he puts out in public for all people to see, and he finds a website where he can remain anonymous on the Internet so that he can talk to others online who have a similar condition.

Through this, Patrick gains a sense of connection, and he no longer feels so alone in his illness.  Although he still has to deal with his condition, Patrick is able to talk to people who are like him without worrying about being judged╤no one knows who he is. Therapy may be helpful, but connecting with others who understand him on a different level has the potential to be greatly beneficial to Patrick and others like him.

The story of Patrick is fictional, but there are real stories like Patrick╒s that prove how advantageous hiding one╒s identity on the Internet can be.  In general, people are not comfortable with revealing things they are not proud of, but sometimes they have to for their own sake. Remaining anonymous on the Internet allows people to open up and say what they need to without truly revealing everything. In short, they are provided with a new freedom to let it all out.  They don╒t have to worry about things like self-editing because no one can know who they truly are.

In searching the Internet for examples of anonymity being used well on the Internet, I found websites that offered help for every problem under the sun.  Websites exist for Alcoholics Anonymous, food addiction, eating disorders, cocaine addiction, marijuana addiction, and anything else you can think of.  One in particular caught my attention.

There is a website called Group Hug that functions like a blog, but anyone can write on it at any time.  In the ╥About╙ section on the website, the following is written:

Group Hug was founded by Gabriel Jeffrey on October 1, 2003. The concept has always been simple: a place for anonymous confessions, with no editorial bias.  Which is awesome.  Since the launch, millions of people have visited and hundreds of thousands have confessed.


Group Hug is similar to PostSecret (a way for people to tell secrets in the same way, but which is generally done by mail rather than the Internet) in that it is basically a forum for people to spill their secrets anonymously. Group Hug allows people to be totally honest without worrying about anyone finding out that it is THEIR secret. Obviously, nothing is off-limits on Group Hug because all that is said is nameless when the person posts it and is guaranteed to remain unidentified in the future.  Those who post go into issues about everything from family to their sex life. 

      There are posts on Group Hug that are shockingly personal, and I know that if they were my own secrets, I would never be able to confess them in real life. That in itself is the beauty of being anonymous on the Internet.  You can say things that you would never have the courage to say normally, and no one even has to know who is saying them.

      Anonymity eliminates the need for self-editing on the Internet.  While that may not always be a good thing, it does allow the anonymous persons to say what they feel without worrying what anyone will think of them.  For anyone who is insecure about anything they have to say, it is a gateway to confidence.  Speaking freely is no longer an issue when you can be anonymous.

      Although I╒ve mostly dwelled on anonymity being utilized to get help with problems, anonymity can also be useful for other things on the Internet. The blogger behind Diary of a London Call Girl, an enormously popular blog, book series, and television in the United Kingdom, remained anonymous for an astonishing six years.  When the truth finally came out, it was revealed that the woman writing the entire time was Dr. Brooke Magnanti, blogging as ╥Belle de Jour.╙  She is, in fact, a doctor, and she did work as a prostitute for a short time.  Her blog was filled with tales of being a call girl and the lifestyle that came with it, and Magnanti decided to reveal her identity after such a long time just because she was tired of being anonymous.  Magnanti would not have been able to do what she did had it not been for the anonymity provided to her by the Internet╤she was able to get a PhD while blogging about being a prostitute, two things that don╒t necessarily go together.  Magnanti made it work because she was able to conceal her identity.

      Maybe I'm being naive, though. In discussing the positive aspects of anonymity online, I don╒t mean to ignore the horror stories that everyone has heard of untrustworthy people on the Internet.  We all know that they╒re out there, and there certainly have been terrible things that happened to people because of activity on the Internet.  It just seems to me, though, that in cases like Magnanti╒s, the Group Hug blog, and "Patrick," anonymity on the Internet is a great thing.  So many people are so paranoid about what they put on the Internet, but I don't think that they should be.  People should be careful about what they put on the Internet, certainly, but there╒s no need to be ridiculous and paranoid.  To me, it seems that the ends justify the means, but maybe I'm wrong?



      Works Cited:

      Group Hug:

      Knight, India.  November 15, 2009.  February 21, 2010.  ╥I╒m Belle de Jour.╙


Anne Dalke's picture

The Consequences of Free Speech

my first nudges will be ask you to think about (and then to work on) your formatting: do you see the curious characters in your blog? Can you repair them? Can you figure out how to make your links "live," so that your reader can just click on them, rather than going through several steps of copying the url in another window? And what about an image or two, to lead your readers into your text....?

Form mirrors content (or it can, and on the internet it can in all sorts of interesting new ways), so I want to encourage you to experiment a little more in future work, than you have in this paper, with its material appearance, the means you now have @ your disposal to make your writing more inviting and readable.

You begin with a very general claim--that it is "common to wish for anonymity." Let me counter that w/ another (opposed? is it?) claim: "it is common to wish for recognition." Do you agree? I ask that question because I think you are talking here about a very intriguing, paradoxical activity: that of using anonymity as a way to get recognition--that is, confessing to a condition you don't want people (who know you) to know you have, while garnering companionship and support from "others online who have a similar condition." This curious possibility is very much enabled by the internet, a site where we can communicate virtually, and are so able to hide our physical identities, because we do not have to be present in our "biological skin bags."

I'd like to push back, though, on your claims that "anonymity eliminates the need for self-editing on the Internet." Isn't going anonymous itself a form of self-editing?

And then I'd like to follow up (and ask you to follow up) on your saying that you "don't mean to ignore the horror stories." But you do ignore them. As you observe in closing, anonymity may function as a "gateway to confidence," a means of "speaking freely" "without worrying what anyone will think" of us. You say that "speaking freely is no longer an issue when you can be anonymous," but I'd say that it's precisely the issue! What about the problems raised by speaking without feeling that you need to be responsible for what you say?

Do you know (for instance) about the controversy surrounding the use of anonymous comment boards @ Bryn Mawr? See the Bi-Co News articles from last spring:  Bryn Mawr Talks Anonymity and the Internet and  Anonymous Confession Boards Culture --as well as Herbie's paper about the need to update the social honor code to accomodate on-line conversation. Such stories are being written here @ Bryn Mawr, and you can help to shape them.