Why Members Want To Be Anonymous Online

(Lora Cain) #1

To allow anonymous user names or not? That's my question. I understand the pros and the cons but I'm right smack in the middle. Have to make a decision this week. Why did you allow or disallow anonymous user names for your members (vs. first name / last name)? 

Anonymous questions
(Jessica Malnik) #2

@Lora: I'm a pretty big believer in requiring all members to use their real names. I think it adds a layer of authenticity and helps foster more trust and respect. While there are certainly exceptions, people are going to be less likely to be complete trolls and jerks to one another if they are in a public community where their name and reputation are on full display. 

That being said, there are certainly exemptions where allowing anonymity is probably a much better route, such as health-related support groups or like the Fetlife community.  

(Da) #3

I think it matters less than many people think.  I wouldn't agonise over the decision.  It does depend, as Jessica said, on the type of community.  

Research in to the SIDE model (Social Identity Model of Deindividuation Effects) suggests that it's not necessarily the case that anonymity makes people behave badly.  What anonymity does is the emphasise the group identity which in our case translates as the tone/ethos of the community as a whole.  So I would concentrate more on building the right flavour for your community than worrying too much about the use of real names or not.

Besides, unless it's a paid (or otherwise validated) community, what's to stop people making up random names?

(Rebecca Braglio) #4

In our community we make our members use their real names on ProjectManagement.com.

I kind of hate it, personally. I think people should have the ability to some privacy/anonymity.

(Dan) #5

@Lora I work to create health-related communities like @Jessica referred to earlier. Personal disclosure is a key part of the success of those groups and anonymity really helps to allow that. On the other hand, I belong to a professional social media community that allows optional pseudonyms and it drives me nuts to not be able to see their true identities. I'd step back and ask, "Which policy would help my community accomplish our core objectives?" 

(Steven Cyrkin) #6

I think that field professional and commercial members should be required to use their real names. Others should not be required to in most cases.

Our field is autographs and memorabilia, so a member's real name could be used to find out where they live, creating a security risk.

(Richard Millington) #7

Worth highlighting this that came through: http://t.co/xRDmbDaT2L

It's a study that showed in one community pseudonymity increases information disclosure. I'm guessing it's easier for people to admit they don't know everything and need help in these situations. Relevant to CoPs, internal, and KM communities only mind. 

(Nick Donoghue) #8

I agree with Steven, or at least from what I have seen to date.

We're a community for professionals interested in sustainability (climate change etc) - hosting private communities for major brands to work with their supply chains to tackle the issues you'd expect (sourcing, energy use, etc). In these private communities we require authentication of each member to ensure only the right people are inside, but we do offer the option when someone contributes that they can do anonymously.

Whenever the anonymous option gets used the number of responses plummets compared to the average for a new discussion/post. Partly as it breaks the group norms, but partly the feedback we get is that responders like to know who they are responding to and how their replies might be utilised. 

This might be specific to our demographic, and focus, but certainly the data backs it up for us. We now only include the anonymous option as it's important to one of our clients that the option is there.

(Steve Bridger) #9

I'm with Jessica... but then a lot of my experience is with CoPs, where context is everything. I'm currently keen to link community participation more to CPD, so it's v important. We are considering giving people an option to post anonymously... but not to the extent where it might impact negatively on the 'sense of community'. Tricky.

Reputation Signals And Resumés
(Janet Swisher) #10

This is one of those things that very much depends on the target audience and the nature of the community.

Some of our members are very conscious about online privacy, and are very adamant about maintaining pseudonymity. This is very true in Europe, and especially so in Germany. But the same members tend to also be very conscientious about maintaining the reputation of their pseudonymous identities. Members who contribute source code must sign a "Contributor Agreement" which reveals their legal identity, but that information is kept very strictly confidential, known to at most a handful of people in the organization. The option of pseudonymity does allow for bad actors, but these tend to be transient, and their damage is outweighed by the value of the long-term pseudonymous contributors.

(Lora Cain) #11

Thank you all SO much! Your input is VERY helpful. We have received feedback from a panel of our customers and 100% said they like to know the identity of the people with whom they're interacting. What you've all provided, plus our audience feedback, tipped the scale for us. We weighed the risks of both approaches and we're not going to offer a pseudonym option. Recognizing, of course, that someone can misrepresent their true identity and say their name is "Snappy Brickhead" and we won't really know if that's legit or not. Again, thank you. I have more questions coming up so thanks again for taking the time to share your perspectives!

(Richard Millington) #12

Worth highlight as some of you have the difference between anonymity and pseudonymity here. Lora did you mean the latter?

I think there's some really interesting experiments to be done with flipping the far ends of the continuum. Trying to make previously pseudonymous places use real identities to improve behaviour and seeing if we can get, say, employees to use pseudonyms to improve knowledge sharing.  

(Steven Cyrkin) #13

Those would be interesting experiments, Richard. 

(Steven Cyrkin) #14

Then there's the option of making members register using their real names but letting them use public aliases.

(Richard Millington) #15

That's true. Reddit has an interesting system where members can create multiple aliases from the same e-mail addresses. Many create throwaway accounts that they use one for a shocking point/admission and then never return to.