Illustration of social media (Shutterstock/13_Phunkod)
Anonymity can be a blessing in communicating via the internet. The use of gadgets and computers enables people to communicate with each other without exposing their true identity.
In the past, people who prefer to remain anonymous were perceived as those who had bad intentions. This is not an unsubstantiated claim, as anonymous accounts are often used for sinister behavior, from bullying to criminal acts such as fraud.
Recently, however, anonymous communication has begun to shed its poor image. One factor contributing to its surge in popularity is anonymous story sharing (ASS), where people share stories online without revealing their identity.
Its popularity is clear in social media like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Quora. On Instagram, accounts such as @cerminlelaki, @cermindramatis, @overheardselingkuh and @overheardfwb accommodate stories from their followers regarding personal relationships, including stories of sexual nature. Followers usually send stories through the direct message feature, and the stories are published with their identities hidden.
Alongside the social media giants, several digital platforms were created for ASS. Plurk, Secret and Whisper, to name a few, are designed to uphold anonymity.
In Whisper, users can anonymously post images and videos, along with texts. Stating one’s identity is not mandatory. The MediaLab-owned Whisper currently has 250 million monthly users in 187 countries, with average monthly pageviews of 17 billion. According to founder Michael Heyward, Whisper is popular among young people as a place to share stories, from relationship problems to eating disorders, without disclosing their identities.
Sharing stories anonymously can also be done without the help of a specialized platform like Whisper. Instagram accounts @cerminlelaki or @overheardselingkuh can help users share stories without exposing their identities.
A study by Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Software Systems and Brazil’s Federal University of Minas Gerais revealed that the content characteristics in Whisper differ from those in popular social media, such as Twitter.
Whisper users are proven to be more likely to share stories about their feelings of shame and do not mind talking about private issues, such as level of income, domestic problems and personal debts. Interaction in Whisper contain more emotions, such as sadness, anger and hope. Whisper also contains more sexual content than Twitter.
According to experts and reinforced by various psychological literature, an anonymous environment encourages people to behave differently. Users tend to be free from doubts, more expressive and more prone to sharing private stories.
Based on the content of story-sharing accounts like @overheardselingkuh, users tend to share stories they find embarrassing or ones that would generally be frowned upon.
Some questions linger: Do people send their stories anonymously because they want their stories to be heard? Do they wish for happiness upon reading other people’s responses in the comments section? Or perhaps both?
As a communication strategy, ASS is still being examined. Stories shared by way of ASS have higher potential to be believed by an audience, especially those on personal shame.
When someone shares information in a forthright way, the audience tends to assume that he or she is being honest. A statement such as “I did something wrong” would sound more sincere than “I am not the culprit”.
The anonymous aspect in ASS contributes heavily to protecting the storyteller’s interests from public judgement. For the same reason, however, the stories can be seen as leaked information.
With both sides in mind, ASS can be used as an effective communication method. In theory, disseminating shareable content is easier through ASS. On a practical level, ASS can be used in a campaign that seeks to change public opinion on sensitive issues. The ethical standpoint, however, calls for an entirely different discussion, and one that must be addressed not anonymously. (wng)
Zaky Muzakir started his career as a journalist at Liputan6.com and spent more than eight years there. He then joined the communication team of a political party for five years. Currently, Zaky leads the analytic and report team at SAC, a marketing, branding and creative consulting firm.
Indrie Grace Margaretha is a social media person through and through. She has been at SAC for nearly eight years, where she currently helps the analytics and reporting team to track and crack insights about what people do online.
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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.