Initially, the internet felt like an anonymous outlet and forum for users. Today though, it feels as if you can’t click on anything without feeling like you’re being monitored or watched. I don’t know about you, but every time I get a pop-up ad that flashes “Find Local Singles in [your neighborhood inserted here]!” I get pretty freaked out. Through my travelogue, I hope to explore the little anonymity that remains and to evaluate if these alleged outlets are even truly “anonymous,” and the impact of such a thing.

One website that has always caught my attention, while freaking me out all the same, is PostSecret. PostSecret is a website in which “people send secrets anonymously on homemade postcards.” These postcards range from gut-wrenchingly funny to just plain eery (see examples). There are no restrictions that are imposed in regards to the content users may submit-only that it be entirely truthful. The site initially began as an experiment on Blogspot and has experienced tremendous popularity with books and museum exhibits. Relatively recently, an online discussion forum was launched, known as the “PostSecret Community,” which serves to question the anonymity of the PostSecret project. Some of these postcards are pretty damn freaky (i.e. admitting to murder), and it makes me wonder if PostSecret has any obligation to trace and report such allegations.  Further investigation could include researching if any action has ever been taken in regards to crime confessions, and simply following threads on the discussion forum.  I admit that I am partially limited in where I can take this.

While I am definitely more interested in PostSecret, another option in regards to “anonymity” is Formspring, a “question and answer-based social website.” This would be easier to conduct further interviews and research on, such as creating my own formspring (despite my utter abhorrence for the website). There is a lot to research here such as the forum that formspring creates for harassment and bullying. There have even been reported cases of suicide directly linked to formspring.

I’m not sure exactly where I want to go with this, but I know that I definitely want to further examine the ramifications of these “anonymous” sites. I look forward to hearing your thoughts & comments on this :)

4 Responses to “The Quest for Anonymity”

  1. danjones says:

    Sounds like a great topic…I like the idea of exploring an idea across more than one platform. One other good place to look as long as you’re examining anonymity on the internet is the anonymous image board community. Sites like 4chan and anonib can be bizarre and entertaining and offensive and troubling, and all of it is powered by the anonymity of their users. 4chan is also the home of Anonymous, the loose grouping of programmers, activists, and hackers that directs their disruptive capabilities at whoever earns their ire, often people seen as opponents of freedom of speech. Again, this is a case of a space being possible only in the context of relative anonymity on the net.

    It might be hard to manage even the two platforms you mentioned though, you might have to pick one and really focus in on it. Formspring and PostSecret offer really different services so I think if you figure out what it is exactly that you’re interested in in relation to anonymity and the internet one of them would present itself as a more productive and interesting research subject.

  2. arosen says:

    It’s definitely an intriguing concept. I think the concept of anonymity over the internet is one of the most relevant topics right now. Many people do and say things on the internet that they would never dream of if they weren’t hidden behind the screen of a computer. PostSecret’s a site that’s been around for awhile, but I like that you seem to be taking a new perspective on it and researching it from a different angle. The bullying aspect is something you can focus on too, considering all the recent suicides attributed to bullying.

    I think if you’re going for the anonymity and bullying angle, Formspring sounds like an important site to research as well. I feel like right now your topic is kind of broad, but I don’t think you’ll have a hard time narrowing it down once you start doing some research. It sounds like you kind of know the general direction you want to take it and I’m definitely interested to see what you find.

  3. Jessica Yu says:

    I’m not really sure, but I think there was a past maybe a year or so ago, where an anonymous posted a postcard on PostSecret saying he/she wanted to commit suicide. Like the person above said, the topic at the moment is still broad but you have a good general direction. I feel like years ago, being anonymous means you get to pretend to be a totally different person online but now anonymity creates more insults and bullying?
    On a complete different not but still about anonymity, there are also sites like isawyou.com or isawyourutgers.com (specifically for rutgers university) where anonymous people post on the website about stranger that catch their eyes in passing!

  4. mdeseriis says:

    HI Danielle, I agree with Dan, Andrew and Jessica, you need to focus on one or two of these web sites and read them through a specific lens. Frankly, the theme of anonymity online seems to broad to be addressed in a single travelogue especially because anonymity can have so many different purposes. While activists defend the value of anonymity for political organizing (i.e. preventing governments from eavesdropping) the PostSecret community cherish anonymity for its cathartic value –namely, ensuring individuals feel confident enough confess things they would not say otherwise. Then there are missed connections web sites a la Craigslit and isawyourutgers, for which anonymity is related to this space of imagining the other… So i would choose one of the above sites, subscribe to their community forums and try to understand how these forums function. This should help you have a better grasp on the research questions of your travelogue.

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