The Pros And Cons Of Anonymity Online

Anonymity is one of the great gifts of the Internet, because it allows people to explore new interests and express opinions without anyone knowing who they are. It's protective, it's empowering, and it's dangerous. For those who have learned the lessons of life to an extent that they can understand themselves and where they fit in the world, anonymity may not be all that bad, but for teens who are still figuring it all out, anonymity may do more bad than good. There are valid arguments for each side of the debate, and I've been putting some thought to it as well.

Self Expression
PRO: It's easier to be your true self

The Internet acts as shield to protect people from their insecurities. People say and do things they wouldn't normally do in real life, because they're not physically engaging with other people. It's like having a podium in front of you during public speaking class. It makes you feel protected.

CON: Your true self isn't tied to a real person
The power that the Internet gives teens to express their true selves is unparalleled, but if it's all anonymous, then the personal connections you would be having online are lost. No one who knows you in "real life" know anything about your anonymous online life, and in a sense, no one really knows you. If a tree falls in the woods, but no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?

Safety
PRO: It's safer to be yourself
A lot of teens feel unsafe being themselves. LGBT teens often turn to the online world to make connections, find information and express themselves in a way that they aren't able to offline. Anonymity is a protector for them - one that for many teens inside and outside of the LGBT community can't be taken away.

CON: You're not making your offline life any more safe
It's important to find safety online, but what happens when the computer turns off? You can't stay online forever and then you're forced to go out in the real world... and guess what, nothing's changed. Teens that have the ability to escape online are less apt to fix their offline problems. Who needs to fix their problems when they can just avoid them?

Exploration
PRO: You can test the waters with your likes and interests
Teens are facing a future that no one before them has fully encountered - a future where everything is and always has been online. Everything they've done is on Facebook or Flickr or Blogger or somewhere else online. As we all know, our entire personality and interest evolve over time, but in the digital age that evolution is constantly tied to your social networks. Teens don't want everyone seeing everything they do. They want to try new things, talk to new people, explore new interests, and decide for themselves who sees what.

CON: You're not allowing for social engagement offline
While anonymity is a great way to try new things, it's hard to make offline connections centered on those interests when there's no human face and identity behind your interactions. You're only exploring these interests online, and once the computer's off, those connections are gone.

Duality
PRO: You're living a double life
How cool! You get to go online and be whoever you want to be! You're fearless. You're fun and creative and dramatic and cool or whatever you want to be. You get to express yourself and have nothing to hide from! Go forth!

CON: You're living a double life
The more time you spend online being You #2, the more and more distance there is between You #1 and You #2. Talk about an identity crisis! In the long-term this probably isn't healthy. Teens need to feel secure with themselves online and offline. If they're not being themselves that means they're in hiding, and who wants to spend their life hiding?

So, do you have an online alter ego or fake Internet name? Do you participate in forums and comment online as "anonymous"? Or, are you always yourself and no one but yourself? Share your thoughts on anonymity in the "comments" area below.

Tags: online, teens
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