If a teen is using a social media network or website where anonymity is allowed, or is the default, there is a perception that there is less risk than if the teen were online using his or her real name. I know that my kids believed this to be true, at least before I explained things to them. Parents should understand that this is not necessarily the case.
Let’s take a look at a number of reasons why being anonymous, or thinking you are, can either lead to risky behavior or put an internet user at risk:
Nobody knows who you are – Let’s face it – the only thing that keeps some impulsive teens from doing or posting inappropriate things online is the fear of getting caught. If a teen “knows” that he is anonymous, bad or riskier behavior could become the norm.
Cyberbullying – Similar to the point above, cyberbullies are bolder when the fear of being found out is zero. If your teen is on an anonymous site, even if she is a great kid not likely to be a bully, she is vulnerable to being targeted by bullies herself.
Other inappropriate conduct – The number of incidents involving cyberbullying and other inappropriate conduct that we see on anonymous sites and networks is much higher than on “real name” networks. If your teen frequents these sites day in and day out, he may learn that this inappropriate behavior is normal, or may join in just to seem cool.
Doxing – Short for document tracing, doxing is the process of internet users exposing the true identity of another user, even though that user had been posting anonymously. If your teen has been acting inappropriately online, and gets outed, there could be serious repercussions.
Predator risk – If your teen is anonymous, then so are the predators, making it easier to craft an online identity that may seem like a friend-able type of person to your teen. Beware as not all internet users are who they appear to be.
Now let’s take a look at the places online that teens frequent where anonymity is either common or the default identity.
Ask.fm – Ask.fm is a question and answer site designed to allow users to post questions and receive answers from friends and strangers. It is a forum frequented by teen cyberbullies, and has been linked to numerous teen suicides. Anonymity is optional on Ask.fm, and from what we’ve seen, victims are often users with their real name as a handle while the bullies choose to remain anonymous. We caution parents that teens should proceed with caution when using Ask.fm.
Reddit – Reddit is a news, general interest and commenting website designed to allow users to post and vote on content. Reddit is mostly anonymous, and commenters can be extremely cruel. There is a lot of great content on Reddit (100 million unique users last month), but users need to have a thick skin to engage here.
4chan – 4chan is a fully/mostly anonymous image posting and discussion forum, organized by topic. All users are anonymous on 4chan and the content is totally unmoderated. Teens should avoid it.
Whisper App – Whisper App is a photo and group-messaging app designed to allow users to post stock or personal pictures along with comments – usually secrets or confessions. While mostly harmless, Whisper has recently been used for anonymous cyberbullying. Fortunately, the app does offer a relatively easy way to report bullying.
There are many sites and networks where, wile most users operate under their real name, but many are anonymous, such as Twitter, Snapchat and other messaging apps, Instagram, Tumblr and online gaming platforms. We advise teens to use good judgment when interacting with users whose true identity is not known.
Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring teen internet activity.