Unmasking online anonymity

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the positive effects wearing a mask yields.

There’s the imaginary mask you can put on before walking into a room of corporate business women and men that gives you the confidence to network with a bunch of strangers. Then there is the mask mums and dads wear at home that identifies them as a parent. Then of course there is a different one we use when socialising with friends, and so on and so forth.

People wear similar masks online, allowing them to speak openly and honestly, discussing topics they’re passionate about without the judgement they may be labelled with should these views be aired whilst showing their faces.

For many, the anonymity is what instils the confidence to express themselves freely. However, whilst a mask online may be one person’s key to confidence, it could also be another’s route to murkier waters and, for some, a gateway to exploitation and coercion. It’s for this reason that we should be careful what mask we choose to use when online. Wear your mask to be a superhero, not a villain.

Treat everyone the way you want them to treat you 

Think about your audience and how the people reading your content will feel before you send it.

Look after others

you see something you don’t like happening online then report it. Many sites have inbuilt reporting functions which can help you to help social networking sites make a difference.

You're in control

If something is making you feel uncomfortable or things are getting a bit intense, take 5 minutes. Step away and give yourself time to think about an appropriate response to the situation at hand – you are in control.

Are you really anonymous? 

When posting online there are several pieces of information you leave behind which can help identify you such as your IP address and cookies. In an age when technological advances mean that even users of encrypted services and the dark web are now beginning to be identifiable, you shouldn’t always assume using an alias can hide your identity.

Check your privacy settings

make sure you understand who can see what you post and learn how you can change this should you want to make amends at a later date.

Talk to someone you trust 

If you have seen or received something that has upset you or made you feel uncomfortable, then speak to someone you trust, such as a parent, teacher or a good friend. This is the best way to ensure that everyone involved gets the help they need.

Anonymous messaging

Anonymous question and response site https://sayat.me/ has been doing the rounds across the UK. It is the latest in a series of messaging applications which allow anyone to leave anonymous feedback about you on request.

From an abuse and harassment perspective, this is similar to other sites that have come in and out of fashion in the past such as Ask.fm, Anonymoose, YikYak and SWGfL’s own anonymous reporting tool Whisper. As such, our advice around using these is the same as the above pointers. One thing that works in our favour with sayat is the age restriction which is 18. Underage accounts can be reported very easily and we would encourage reporting underage users and abuse by emailing the user’s URL to: info@sayat.me.

If you are a professional working with young people and want to discuss a concern, don’t hesitate to contact the Professionals Online Safety Helpline helpline@saferinternet.org.uk 0344 381 4772 on Monday – Friday from 10am – 4pm for further support and advice.

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