Anonymity in Practice: Group Interview

I conducted my second interview in an informal group setting, hoping to prompt constructive discussion. The three subjects of the interview were all males, ages 19, 20 and 22. One subject was considerable more vocal, whereas the other two only offered their opinions on Twitter, which was the popular topic.

The first subject, a cycling enthusiast, described that he is familiar with anonymity on the internet from his use of Twitter and cycling forums. He also reads Tumblr and Youtube pages. He says that with all the different anonymous venues on the internet, he can try out different personalities that allow him to express himself more than he would in person. When asked about anonymous blogging, he related his experience saying, “I follow some of my friends on tumblr. You see their friends and you don’t know who they are, but they’re posting cool stuff, so you can follow them and it’s not akward.” In a sense, this practice reflects the original romantic hopes for the internet, an access to limitless information. Despite the push for personalization of the internet, it seems that anonymity can preserve that access.

He also has used cycling forums to gain information on bike maintenance and cycling culture. He admits that he has found the answers to questions he would be embarrassed to ask some of his riding friends. However, he points out that anonymity has its downfalls. He says about Youtube, “You can read comments and how intense people get over stupid little things. If you met them in person, they wouldn’t admit to behaving that way. Everyone wants to fight online. Everyone thinks they’re a badass.”

I asked the whole group how the greater degree of anonymity on twitter changes their behavior compared to facebook where their names are displayed. They all seemed to enjoy the freedom of anonymity. “You can joke around, say what’s on your mind. If you offend someone, they won’t know who it is.” “You can follow different people that you wouldn’t be friends with on Facebook or be associated with in real life.” “It’s more socially acceptable to follow people that you’re not necessarily close to. You don’t feel creepy about following a random person.”

When asked how their tweets differ from their Facebook status updates, they all agreed that Twitter is less personal and said they have not updated their Facebook statuses very often since they started tweeting. Adding that Facebook “is more for pictures now.” It seems that many people prefer the anonymity of Twitter despite recognizing the nonconstructive tendencies of communication on other websites like Youtube.



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