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The Anonymous Web

It looks like teens might be moving on from Facebook. According to a study from OTX and virtual fashion site Roiworld, nearly one in five teens with a Facebook profile had decreased or discontinued their use of the site as of April 2010. The main reason? Their study shows that they are beginning to lose interest. “Losing interest” is a pretty loose definition. Some might interpret this trend as a migration to another platform – the way Facebook snagged MySpace users. But there doesn’t seem to be any one platform where teens are migrating to. And I don’t believe that teens are using the web any less. In my opinion, something much bigger is going on.

Facebook is about transparency. What about those who would choose anonymity?

In recent weeks I have talked with dozens of youth who are very concerned about identity on the internet.   Teens are afraid of their future reputations. They don’t want their lives to be limited by half-naked photos, comments, art and other forms of expressive content they posted in their exuberant youth. They know all this content can be indexed by Google and searchable for their entire careers. This limits their creativity in extraordinary ways.  But when creativity gets limited, people get more creative. Lately, teens seem more interested in belonging to a website that both encourages participation and protects their anonymity.

On Facebook, fake names are becoming more and more common. These names can range from purposeful misspellings to complete aliases.  This simple edit makes a person a lot harder to find, friended and/or tagged in content. Even if you are discovered and tagged, it’s not likely that a future employer will spend the time to investigate aliases. Ironically, changing your name can give you more control over your online identity. There are some who take these new freedoms to extreme levels.

The Anonymous (aka “Anons”) are seeking even more extreme platforms for personal freedom, expression and disruption. By posing as a single collective identity on the internet, Anons remove all personal accountability and consequence in the digital and physical worlds. Personal expression can happen without repercussions, so anything goes. This take challenges the conventional limits of free speech not by the approach, but by infinite scaleability and momentum the web enables this movement to have.

Mischief thrives in the Anonymous web. Pornography, naked hatred, homophobia and rampant sexism are as common here as all other facets of life. Despite it’s follies, most internet memes can be attributed to the anonymous web. Child pornographers have been hunted down and exposed by the Anons. This movement offers the same creative, youthful, rebellious edge as the early days of  rock’n’roll and hip hop did. Anons are typically anti-establishment, big on the rebellion and sometimes relentlessly vicious for reasons from very important to almost no reason at all. Just ask the Church of Scientology or Justin Bieber.

Urban Dictionary, (a “wiki dictionary” that defines slang, web and street language via crowdsourcing) provides definitions of “Anon” written by the Anonymous.

Here are some interesting ones:

• n. Anon or ‘non’ is an abbreviated form of the word ‘Anonymous’. Used to refer to a member or members of the internet-based free speech movement Anonymous.

• Anon does not have a stated purpose. Anon is anarchy, urges and untamed mental impulse, harmful to anyone whose inhibitions and sense of decency are still intact.

• Anons meet on internet message boards and networking sites to protest and plan pickets educating the public on violations of free speech and other human rights.

• Contrary to popular belief “Anon” is not any anonymous stranger on the internet. Anon is the hive mind of deviant fantasies and crude jokes inhabiting the subconscious of hermits, burnouts, stoners and suicidal shut-ins everywhere.

• Anon has a soft spot, not only in his clearly unsatisfying real life but also in his love for mudkipz , longcat and baww ing about his loneliness.

• You will the anarchic entity that is Anon if you spend enough time on the internet. He frequents many a venue – in hopes of adding a touch of chaos to the lives of others – for instance the anonymous chat site, Omegle .

• Anon does not forgive.

Anons can range from simple commenters to radical activists, both online and offline. Many extreme Anons are cut from the same cloth as “hackers,” but with distinctive differences.

  1. Anons are typically content hackers not technology hackers. They are not interested in the contents of your hard drive, nor are they interested in robbing you of your identity. They thrive on the memes and conversations they’ve sparked.
  2. Anons are obviously not looking for credit the way hackers do. They don’t claim to be motivated by cool. They are motivated by freedom, and they feel they must hide their identities to truly be free. They are a collective and they are growing in size.

Anons are, in many ways, un-definable. They seem to be motivated by the id rather than the ego. They are sometimes creepy, disturbing, hilarious, insightful, disgusting, revolting and almost always compelling.

Every culture needs a counter-culture to encourage evolution and self reflection. I think this may be the beginning of the most important behaviour shift we’ll see on the internet for the next several years. The Anonymous will certainly continue to test and challenge the limits of free speech without the accountability of identity.

(Ironically, the anonymous creator of this video was lambasted by anonymous commenters for trying to define what anonymous meant. )

So how do we sell soap to the Anonymous generation? Very carefully.

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10 Responses to “The Anonymous Web”

  1. bapender Says:

    As an anon, don’t know I fit into this def! RT @CollinDouma: “Anonymous” counter culture movement squash social media?

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  2. PaulWiersma Says:

    Currently reading

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  3. zoeDisco Says:

    “Every culture needs a counter-culture to encourage evolution and self reflection.” (post by @collindouma)

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  4. HeidiMcCulloch Says:

    Think you’re onto something here. RT @CollinDouma: The “Anonymous” counter #culture movement. Must read: (post)

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  5. withoutayard Says:

    Interested in future of social media for young users w/ privacy concerns? Check out @CollinDouma’s Radical Trust blog:

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  6. vincedaenen Says:

    Is anonymity the new transparancy? must read!

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  7. SamerGHaddad Says:

    The Anonymous Web :: radical trust

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

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July 13th, 2010