People use anonymity to do bad things. It allows trolls and
bullies to maliciously
attack other people. It allows people to engage in illegal activities
(typically downloading copyright materials). It allows people to participate in
extremist online groups.
Yet anonymity also has important uses. It’s a protective
veil that allows people to venture into support groups and ask questions about
health issues. Alcoholics Anonymous is
It allows people to separate their identities. For example,
if you write Harry Potter fan fiction, you might choose to keep that separate
from your work colleagues.
It allows people to give honest feedback without fear of
reprisals (for example, review a restaurant in a small town where your dad
knows the owner…or when you’re criticizing your country’s dictator).
Being anonymous also allows people to experiment and improve
themselves. It allowed JK Rowling to write a better-reviewed
book than her previously publication.
Our stance is quite simple; consistent identity is more
important than using a real identity.
In my earliest communities I ran large admin volunteer
teams, made deals with, and even shared hotel rooms with people whose real name
I never knew. Yet, we knew each other by using the same identity for years. For
most communities, we recommend this:
- Allow people to identify themselves by name, but
don’t force members to.
- Force members to select a username they will use
throughout their time in the community (linked to their IP address). This
ideally displays their previous contributions.
- Allow any member at any time to make their
profiles and contributions invisible (or removed completely).
- Don’t allow anonymous guest contributions.
- Clearly state who gets access to their
information and don’t change this without the opt-in approval of each member.
This paper by Kang
et al. (2013) is worth reading.
We’re now accepting applications for our Professional
Community Management course (Sept 30 – Nov 8). This is an online course that will teach you
how to apply proven, reliable, science to build bigger, better, and more active
communities. If you want to learn more, click here.