Online identity, keeping it real or keeping it anonymous
One of the biggest changes Facebook has caused, is surprisingly seldomly mentioned. Where before Facebook everyone was using nicknames online and hiding true offline identity, today because of Zuckerberg & Co, everybody is using his or her own name, sharing many private details online and staying ‘true to oneself’. There have been quite some posts and research about authenticity and your online profile, lately even arguing that because of its massive growth, Facebook is killing the authenticity of a person.
Projecting this ‘being true to yourself’-image to peers is one of the reasons Facebook has a bigger appeal to Gen Y than Twitter which they see as a mere unpersonal broadcasting channel (check what Dan Penn has written about this). But still there seems to exist an urge for the anonymous with the younger generations. While everybody needs to be real on the ‘big social network’, every month, even every week, there is a startup with a new way of sharing stuff anonymously, from the almost forgotten Chatroulette to the latest hype on American campuses, likealittle.com. This last one is a social network service launched in 2010, by Evan Reas, a Stanford University student. The purpose of the website is to allow users to post flirts about other students around their own campus, and make the practice viral across the web. When using the site, a user is randomly given the name of a fruit, just to make it possible to follow up anonymously on the quest for love.
I do think authenticity, being real, is at the core of what GenY wants for themselves as well as expects from others, whether it’s a person, or a brand. But if you’re talking about being ‘true’ in the open, it can sometimes be a burden. Sometimes we all need to feel safe by hiding. The irony is, that most often, maybe at that peculiar moment we are the most true to ourselves. Last Sunday, Chris Poole, founder of the infamous 4chan, actually shared this point of view when keynoting on the SXSW conf in Texas: “Anonymity is authenticity. It allows you to share in an unvarnished, unfiltered, raw and real way. We believe in content over creator.” (source)