Anonymous social media

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Anonymous social media is a subcategory of social media where the main social functionality is to share and interact around content and information anonymously on mobile and web-based platforms.[1]


Appearing very early on the web as mostly anonymous-confession websites,[2] this genre of social media has evolved into various types and formats of anonymous self-expression.[3] With the way digital content is consumed and created continuously changing, the trending shift from web to mobile applications is also affecting anonymous social media.[4] This can be seen as anonymous blogging and nameless question and answer online platforms like introduce mobile versions of their services and the number of new networks joining the anonymous social sharing scene continues to grow rapidly.

Evolution of anonymous apps[edit]

Dominating the anonymous social media domain are the many anonymity-based mobile apps released in 2013 and 2014. In response to the information Facebook revealed about its decline among teenage users,[5] main reasons attributed to its size and privacy risks,[6] attempts to bring authentic and safe communication to both public and more private social spheres have surfaced in the form of anonymous and semi-anonymous mobile apps. These services differ from traditional social networks like Twitter and Instagram because they typically do not require people to create a user profile, though there can be user profiles dedicated to create an anonymous bulletinboard-like tool called Informer (which have the added benefit of being in a more diverse social network while keeping anonymity).

Degrees of anonymity[edit]

Across different forms of anonymous social media there are varying degrees of anonymity. Some applications require users to sign up for an account, even though their profile is not linked to their posts. While they still remain anonymous, these sites might sync up to the user's contact list or location to develop a context within the social community and help personalize the user's experience.[7] Other sites, such as 4chan and 2channel, allow for a more pure form of anonymity as users are not required to make any kind of account, and posts default to the username of 'Anonymous'.[8] While users can still be traced through their IP address, there are anonymizing services like I2P and Tor that encrypt a user's identity online by running it through different routers. Secret users must provide a phone number or email when signing up for the service and their information is encrypted into their posts.[9] This can help prevent problems such as cyberbullying since the app contains a way to track down the poster. This can help counteract a future problem from occurring because if something bad were bound to happen then the app itself would have a way to track down the poster.


Apps such as Whisper and Secret have elicited discussion around the rising popularity of anonymity apps including debate and anticipation about this social sharing class.[10] As more and more platforms join the league of anonymous social media, there is growing concern about the ethics and morals of anonymous social networking as cases of cyber-bullying and personal defamation occur.[11] For instance, the app Secret, got shut down due to its escalated use of cyberbullying.[12]The app Yik Yak has also helped to contribute to more cyberbullying situations. Even though Yik Yak is still up and running, the Francis W. Parker Upper School tried to force its students to delete the app and not to re-install it. In an objective to try to stop students from using this anonymous social media app, the school district affiliated with this school also blocked Yik Yak from their internet network.[13] Another app called, After School, has also recently sparked controversy for its app design which lets students post any anonymous content. Due to these controversies, the app has since then added new protections against cyberbullying.[14] As the number of people using these platforms multiplies, unintended uses of the apps have increased, urging popular networks to enact in-app warnings and prohibit use to middle and high school students.[15] 70% of teens admit to making an effort to conceal their online behavior from their parents.[16]

Some of these apps have also been criticized for causing chaos in American schools, such as lockdowns and evacuations.[17] In order to limit the havoc caused, anonymous apps are currently removing all abusive and harmful posts.[18] Apps, such as Yik Yak, Secret, and Whisper, are removing these posts by outsourcing the job of content supervision to oversea surveillance companies. These companies hire a team of individuals to inspect and remove any harmful or abusive posts. Furthermore, algorithms are also used to detect and remove any abusive posts the individuals may have missed.[19] Another method used by the anonymous app named Cloaq to reduce the number of harmful and abusive posts is by limiting the amount of users that can register during a certain period. Under this system, all contents are still available to the public, however only registered users can post.[20] Other websites such as Youtube have gone on to create new policies regarding its anonymity.[21]Youtube now does not allow for anonymous comments on videos. In order to comment one has to have a Google+ account so that all commentators are accountable for their comments.

Prospective uses[edit]

There are also promising opportunities anonymous social media networks offer regarding authentic human connection and semi-anonymous communication. For example, an app called, Memo, allows for employees of specific workplaces to anonymously tell employers and other employees how they feel in their respective workplace. This sort of safe, anonymous place allows for more transparency in the workplace among employers and employees.[22] Other anonymous social media formats are not public[23] and rely on controlled anonymity like tellM and rumr. In this case, users only interact with their contact list, allowing people to connect with people they know anonymously. Another app, called Anomo, allows for users to start entirely anonymous and then as time progresses users get the option to reveal different aspects about themselves to other users. This type of range of anonymity allows users to try to get to know one another in a safe community.[24] With room for free expression and communication among semi-known identities, there is discussion that with this type of technology a market for political activism in other parts of the world is possible.[25] Anonymous social media websites have now been a place recently used for political expression and platforms. Since the 2016 U.S. presidential election, anonymous social media websites are now a prevalent place in which political expression is asserted.[26] Moreover, anonymous social media can also provided authentic connection to complete anonymous communication. There have been cases where these anonymous platforms have saved individuals from life-threatening situation or spread news about a social cause.[17]

Design challenges of creating better content with online anonymity[edit]

Computer-mediated communication, especially in social media on the Internet, often allows for different degrees of anonymity for users. Anonymity can allow individuals to take greater risks, increase their tendency to self-disclose information about themselves, and feel less inhibition regarding the content that they post online. While this is necessary in certain contexts such as online support groups, where users help each other by contributing facts, advice, and emotional support, anonymity can also remove incentives for users to contribute constructively or to refrain from negative online social behavior such as trolling. Successful examples of computer-supported cooperative work (CSCW) often require some form of account creation or reputation building. Wikipedia, GitHub, or even MMORPG game guilds and the design of these groups often make use of user-centered design patterns that harness behavioral psychology theories to take advantage of different intrinsic and extrinsic motivations.

For example, people may slay monsters in World of Warcraft for intrinsic motives (i.e., because they enjoy the task itself or the camaraderie that develops among players who work together to fight difficult monsters), while others may do so for extrinsic motives, because they enjoy the status that comes from achieving a high level in the game. Some people edit many articles in Wikipedia because of the intrinsic pleasure they derive from writing about topics they care about (Burke & Kraut, 2008).[27]

Users can be incentivized due to reputation building, achieving virtual badges or points, or from simply just being requested to provide help, e.g. ask to answer (A2A). Users are also less likely to do damage as they become more invested in their online persona and wish to avoid losing their reputation or other types of repercussions, such as getting banned by moderators or ostracized by other users. With complete anonymity, there is very little room for content managers to align their design with basic behavioral motivations.

Revenue generated by anonymous social media[edit]

Anonymous apps[edit]

Generating revenue from anonymous apps has been a discussion for investors. Since little information is collected about the users, it is difficult for anonymous apps to advertise to users.[18] However some apps, such as Whisper, have found a method to overcome this obstacle. They have developed a “keyword-based” approach, where advertisements are shown to users depending on certain words they type.[28] Another app named Yik Yak has been able to capitalize on the features they provide.[29] Anonymous apps such a Chrends take the approach of using anonymity to provide freedom of speech.[30] Telephony app Burner has regularly been a top grossing utilities app in the iOS and Android app stores using its phone number generation technology.[31] Despite the success of some anonymous apps, there are also apps, such as Secret, which have yet to find a way to generate revenue.[32] The idea of an anonymous app has also caused mixed opinions within investors. Some investors have invested a large sum of money because they see the potential revenue generated within these apps. Other investors have stayed away from investing these apps because they feel these apps bring more harm than good.[33]

Anonymous sites[edit]

There are several of sources to generate revenue for anonymous social media sites. One source of revenue is by implementing programs such as a premium membership or a gift-exchanging program.[34] Another source of revenue is by merchandising goods and specific usernames to users.[35] In addition, sites such as FMyLife, have implemented a policy where the anonymous site will receive 50% of profit from apps that makes money off it.[36]

In terms of advertisements, some anonymous sites have had troubles implementing or attracting them. There are several reasons for this problem. Anonymous sites, such as 4chan, have received few advertisement offers due to some of the contents it generates.[37] Other anonymous sites, such as Reddit, have been cautious in implementing them in order to maintain their user base.[34] Despite the lack of advertisements on certain anonymous sites, there are still anonymous sites, such as SocialNumber, that support the idea.[35]

See also[edit]


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