In June 2013, I was one of 25 students out of 600+ eligible scholars at Stanford University nominated for the prestigious Boothe Prize for Writing Award.

I was selected for a 37-page Research Paper that I had written for a course entitled, "The Writing and Rhetoric of Social Networking."

Anonymous Online Interactions: No Filters, No Accountability

Breaking the Chains of Society's Expectations and Embarking on the Path to Self-Discovery



Man is least himself when he talks in his own person.
Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.
— Oscar Wilde

            When we interact anonymously online, we take the mask, and we tell the truth. Anonymity severs the ties between our identities and our behavior and eliminates our accountability, giving us both the courage and the capacity to abandon society's expectations and engage in unfiltered self-expression. However, depending on the ways in which we handle this social liberation, our resulting behavior holds the potential to trigger both positive and negative consequences. For example, the anonymous exchange of material on social networking sites such as Reddit often fosters interactive, diverse discussions and debates that provide us with helpful information. Similarly, interacting on anonymous advice bulletin boards allows us to easily and comfortably seek support and help others in online communities. In contrast, interacting on anonymous online forums such as Formspring.me can dehumanize us, render us victims of cyber-bullying, and deteriorate our self-esteem. Using anonymous social networking sites such as ChatRoulette and Omegle can similarly be categorized as dangerous and risky behavior, given these sites' overtly sexual and explicit nature. Thus, the freedom of anonymity sometimes empowers us to be positively honest and open in our online interactions but other times permits us to engage in socially unacceptable and morally corrupt behavior. No matter how dichotomously "welL" or "poorly" we behave, however, our anonymous online interactions perpetually fall under the umbrella of truth and honesty.

Our character is what we do when we think no one is looking.
— Jackson Browne

           Since anonymity allows us to behave freely and naturally, as if “no one is looking,” our anonymous online interactions reveal our organic emotions and desires and our true characters. In turn, our unfiltered behavior ultimately serves as a greater reflection of human nature. Going from Plato to Foucault, this research-based argument paper analyzes the many complex social constructs and theories that underlie human behavior, such as accountability, social cognition, self-identification, reputational management, morality, rebellion, and sexual desire, to prove the intrinsic links between anonymous online interactions and human nature.

Defining Anonymity and Accountability

          Anonymity, in its most basic definition, implies secrecy of identity. However, given advanced technology’s saturation of modern-day society, we can achieve a range of varying degrees of anonymity during our interactions online, contingent upon the amount of personal information we choose to share. These varying degrees compose two primary areas of self-representation: factual and visual. Factual data ranges to include our name, gender, ethnicity, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, age and date of birth, location of residence, relationship status, and more. Within the category of our name, we also face the options of identifying ourselves with a false username, pseudonym, semi-accurate username, or entirely accurate full name. Visual information refers to any pictures we post online as representative of ourselves, though these pictures may be misidentified, unidentifiable, or of intentionally lower or higher quality. Based on these two categories of visual and factual information, we achieve the highest degree of self-identification when we provide both an accurate, full name and an identifiable self-portrait. Thus, for the purposes of this paper, I will define anonymity as any form of online self-identification that includes neither an accurate, full name nor an identifiable self-portrait. While other pieces of information or cues may be provided about a given person online, such as his or her gender or state of residence, I will still label him or her as anonymous until either of the two aforementioned standards for self-representation is met.

          Anonymity, by preventing us from being directly linked to or held responsible for our actions, literally strips us of our accountability. Viewed through a historical and cultural lens, accountability represents a fundamental concept in social science first termed by Greek philosophers, such as Plato, Aristotle, and Zeno, around 430 BC. While the most basic definition of accountability reads as “answerability, blameworthiness, liability, and the expectation of account-giving,” [1] we divide that definition today into three major types: political, ethical, and administrative…..