Can Online Anonymity Be A Good Thing? | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

NPR : Tell Me More

Filed Under:

Can Online Anonymity Be A Good Thing?

Play associated audio

Tell Me More's "Social Me" series looks at how young people interact online — with a focus on online identities, privacy issues and breakthroughs in Internet-based learning.

Throughout the series, Rey Junco shares his research as a social media specialist at the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet and Society. He tells NPR's Michel Martin that there's more to online identities than the constant cycle of headlines about cyberbullying, "slut-shaming" and "catfishing."

Junco says that one big buzzword that's thrown around these days is "disinhibition." That means once you are behind a computer screen, you might feel more free to say or do things you'd normally feel inhibited about doing. He says it has to do with perception of anonymity.

But it's not all bad news. Junco's research has also shown that "online disinhibition can be a positive factor for online interactions."

Junco points to one prime example: shy students. They can make personal connections online that can translate to better communication offline, like in a classroom. This isn't new. Junco says he picked up on this dynamic "way, way back in the day when people used AOL Instant Messenger a lot."

Junco encouraged his students to contact him online if they had any questions about the class. He remembers one student "who was very shy, very reserved, very introverted in class.

"He would message me from time to time," Junco says, and then, over time, the student started bringing his questions into the classroom.

Junco's subsequent research has shown that this takes effect on a group level. "Students who we interact with on Twitter are much more engaged in the classroom," he says. "They're building more of a community in the classroom than students who aren't engaging that way through social media."

Of course, there are negatives to online identities, he says. Kids can be mean.

But kids have to be made aware that they're building a permanent record online that can come back to haunt them later in life. That's why, Junco says, it's crucial for adults to have the "digital footprint" conversation early on.

"People who are making evaluations of youth for jobs and for admissions to colleges didn't grow up in such a digitally enabled social milieu," says Junco. But he adds that — as a society — we shouldn't judge too harshly.

"They don't know any better," he says. "Think about all the mistakes you made."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

'This Fight Begins In The Heart': Reading James Baldwin As Ferguson Seethes

Protests in Ferguson, Mo., continue in response to the shooting of an unarmed black teenager by police on Aug. 9. The incident reminds author Laila Lalami of James Baldwin's Notes of a Native Son.
NPR

Specialty Food And Agriculture Startups Are Ripening In Greece

Sotiris Lymperopoulos left a good job in Athens to collect wild sea greens for upscale restaurants. Food startups like his may be able to generate thousands of new jobs in post-crisis Greece.
WAMU 88.5

Testimony: Maureen McDonnell Was Prone To Angry Outbursts

In the corruption trial of former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, a former staffer says the ex-first lady became increasingly volatile as she prepared for public appearances.
NPR

We Are What We Google: How Search Terms Reflect Our Wealth

David Leonhardt recently compared the terms people search for online in places The New York Times figures life is easiest, against the counties where it's hardest. He discusses the results with Robert Siegel.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.