Anonymity seems to be a much desired but rather unattainable title to obtain. With the rise in popularity of perfecting an online persona through different social media platforms, Internet users seek to maintain their online reputation and use anonymous profiles or usernames to ensure their online personalities remain untarnished.
According to one definition, “anonymity on the Internet applies to any interaction a user has on the Internet that protects his or her identity from being shared with another user or with a third party.” This means that the user’s identity is completely protected from strangers on the Internet. There are different ways that Internet users can obtain this ‘anonymous’ status.
Ways to Stay Anonymous
The first is secure billing. When an Internet user purchases something over the Internet, he trusts PayPal or the service that the distributor will never be in possession of his personal information. In this instance, the online service is protecting the customer’s anonymity.
Another type of way an online user can obtain an anonymous status is through Question-and Answer sites. Users can maintain their anonymous status with sites that allow anonymous users to ask questions to other users and get responses, such as Formspring and Ask.fm.
A third way to maintain anonymity on the Internet is through online chat sites such as Chatroulette and Omegle. Although your face is displayed through video to the person you are chatting with, you can chose how much information you want to share with the person. There is a recent trend of online dating applications for tablets and smartphones, such as Tinder and OkCupid, which allow the user to reveal as much information as they choose. Although there are pictures available, major personal information is not accessible to other users.
A fourth way to achieve anonymity online is through anonymously posting and blogging. Users are able to blog, tweet, and post online using any amount of identity he or he chooses. The users are able to withhold any information they choose about themselves. Most commonly, users blog and comment on websites such as Tumblr, where no information is needed to run a fairly successful blog.
Reasons for Anonymity
This desire to remain anonymous on the Internet has led to people fabricating identities to maintain their identities outside of the cyber realm. According to Lyndsie Robinson, there are eight reasons that people maintain an anonymous identity over the Internet.
The first is that they eager to practice their right to freedom of speech, but are scared of the backlash if they come across as offensive. This is one of the most common reasons Internet users attempt to stay anonymous. I have seen many users express their opinions through personal blogs on websites like Tumblr, and get so reprimanded by other, offended users that they delete their blog or go on a hiatus from posting.
A second reason for anonymity on the Internet is the user feeling that an opinion he or she wants to express will not fit the socially normative opinion, and his peers will ridicule him. The motivation behind this reason is embarrassment caused by the user’s Internet presence.
Similar to reason number one, the incentive behind reason number three is to stay away from the backlash. The difference is, that while the user wanted to freely state opinions in reason number one, the type of user who stays anonymous because of reason number three seeks to send “hate,” or insults, or another user while being protected by the shield anonymity has to offer.
Another reason a user will attempt to remain anonymous is to express him or herself without family members or peers knowing about it. This is most popular with younger users, seeking a creative outlet private from their lives outside the cyber world. Other anonymous users choose to remain without an identity connecting to their lives outside the Internet to maintain a place to hide where no one knows who exactly they are. This may be a private blog that is treated as a journal in order for the user to have something just to him or herself.
Another purpose for remaining unspecified is to be completely honest. People find comfort in knowing something they say cannot be traced back to them. This idea is exemplified in things such as Fordham Crushes on Facebook. Fordham Crushes is a completely anonymous Facebook where Fordham students can anonymously send in compliments, serious or not, about other Fordham students. Users may find it reassuring to know that while the person they may have a “crush” on is now aware someone is interested in them, there is no clear way to track it back to a specific person.
A seventh reason for online anonymity is simply just for a user to keep their online and offline lives separate. The user may value privacy for a number of reasons, the first being for jobs. If there is anything that may tempt an employer to reconsider a user’s employment, the user may seek complete online privacy.
The last motive for attempted online concealment is a chance for the user to reinvent him or herself. A user with low self-esteem may jump at the chance to “start over” with a new identity, which may also lead to “catfishing.”
Catfishing is when someone creates a new identity online, complete with pictures stolen from other online profiles, and uses this identity as if it were his or her own. Not only is there a documentary describing what catfishing is, but there is a television series telling stories of specific individuals who have been “catfished.” According to Molly McHugh, there is a whole culture of catfishing, including the types of catfish and motivations behind the people who do it, and how to tell if you are being catfished. There are many intricate reasons behind the people who catfish, and they cannot just be categorized as liars.
One motivation behind catfishing is revenge. This type of catfish feels as though there is a reason to get back at someone, and the way to do this is by constructing a completely unrelated person and romance as a way of payback.
Another, unrelated type of catfish is a person who is bored, and has no personal vendetta as a motivation behind the manufactured romance.
Next is the type of catfish who believes he or she is not good enough for a person he or she has a crush on, and believes the only way to capture the attention of this crush is to be someone else. This is tied to the user with low self-esteem who wants to maintain anonymity in order to create a new persona he or she can be proud of.
A fourth kind of catfish is the “scary catfish,” described by McHugh as someone who is “simply out to break hearts and cause chaos.” Last, is the lonely catfish. This is someone who needed a friend, and forms a connection with the person they are catfishing. This is a difficult type of catfish to deal with when the truth comes out, because the catfish and the catfishED formed a bond that was tainted by the lying.
Although it is difficult to fit a person who catfishes into a specific mold, there are telltale signs that a person is using a fake identity. If the person refuses to meet in person or even video chat, phone calls are extremely calculated and quiet, and getting a physical address is extremely difficult, there is a good chance he or she is talking under a fake identity. The majority of people take part in this catfishing phenomenon, even minimally, by editing pictures and using filters to change the way they appear on the Internet to shape their online personalities.
In this society, a person’s online presence is just as, if not more, important than his or her offline presence. A person can tailor his or her online persona to how he or she wants others to view them.