We have cautioned a number of times that anonymous websites and apps are not only not great idea for young internet users in a number of scenarios, but also not as safe as users of any age may think.
Without re-covering too much ground, in summary:
- Anonymous apps lead to more cyberbullying and bad behavior
- Many anonymous platforms get hacked, or turn out to be anything but anonymous after events unfold
- Prevailing laws still (always?) apply to anonymous actors, and social media posts can be used in court
There are a host of sites and apps where who you are takes a back seat to other factors. Recently, either because of Facebook fatigue or other factors, new anonymous platforms are popping up all the time.
Sites/Apps where users are totally anonymous
- Social Number
- Yik Yak
Sites/Apps anonymous is optional but commonplace
- Lots more if you make an effort to keep yourself anonymous
All of the above being said, another school of thought deserves some discussion. In certain circumstances, anonymity can be a good thing.
Chris Poole, the founder of anonymous social network 4chan, took time to write about his thoughts on anonymity earlier this month. I found them insightful, particularly in the context of this post, because in no cases would we be OK with kids operating with adolescent mindset going on 4chan.
Regarding the 4chan user experience, Poole writes:
The combination of anonymity and ephemerality has fostered experimentation and creativity rarely seen elsewhere. It’s incredible what people can make when they’re able to fail publicly without fear, since not only will those failures not be attributed to them, but they’ll be washed away by a waterfall of new content. Only ideas that resonate with the broader community persist, creating the most ideal conditions for the production of viral content…
Creativity and humor thrive on anonymous platforms. Also, there are gaming and technology topics that for a number of reasons people would prefer to discuss without their real name being part of the conversation. Make no mistake, there is great content on Reddit, 4chan and hundreds of online forums where there also happens to be content that is not safe for youngsters.
There is no firm age at which we’d suggest that it’s OK for a minor to use 4chan or another anonymous network. If, however, your son or daughter is mature enough to recognize and avoid potential predators and bullies, self-prohibit themselves from viewing or interacting with inappropriate content, and refrain from cyberbullying or harassment even though their identity is hidden, participating online anonymously might not be the worst thing in the world.
This still poses a challenge for parents. Not only do you have to make an active decision about when your teen is mature enough to be incognito online, you’re also still going to want to keep up a dialog about what they’re doing as their habits and friends change. It’s tricky.
Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring teen internet activity.