Confide, Whisper and Yik Yak: should we fear online anonymity?

The online anonymous user has in recent times been viewed with suspicion, neglect and even fear. Their animated avatars providing a false sense of bravado that also serves to minimise conscience and decency.  As parents, should we be protecting our kids from anonymous online users, or is this all part of the online world that may even have some cathartic beneficial value?

There are many social networking sites that have cropped up recently that base their interactions on the very premise of anonymity. Sites like Whisper, Yik Yak and Confide are just some of the apps encouraging honesty as their best policy.  The theory being, that to be really honest, one must be anonymous.

We have heard, read and experienced the dangers with sites such as Qooh.Me and Ask.Fm whereby kids are asked questions online and they open themselves up for anyone and everyone to be brutally honest in their responses. Whilst these sites focus on the honesty of answering questions, we have seen the brutality and hatred with which many of the questions are answered, either anonymously or not.

The creators of these new sites however, believe that the anonymity allows for people to be themselves without the stress of keeping their digital persona intact. We know kids sometimes find it hard keeping up this online identity. The exhaustion of always being socially switched on, of having to keep up online appearances and keep the FOMO at bay, can result in social networking exhaustion.

Must we be anonymous however to remove this stress?

How we respond to someone must no doubt be very different when there is no name or picture attached. This was how it was in the early days of the internet. Way back then, anonymity in chat rooms and on websites was far more common. In recent times however, we seem to have done a total backflip. Profiles, selfies and personal branding has resulted in a transparency never before seen. Certainly this has its drawbacks as we have had to shift our focus to our digital footprint, which is being continuously created and updated.

I guess the question is, why do people feel the need to turn to these sites for advice or even a listening ear from someone they do not even know? Some can be from friendship groups (though you generally don’t know which friend) whilst other sites focus on real anonymous strangers. Some say that it allows people to reveal struggles, help make decisions, request advice and enjoy the therapeutic benefit of  getting things off your chest.

The downside however, is the risk of cyberbullying, racism, hate speech and every other ‘ism’ going around. If there is no repercussion for people, then it is a lot easier to say whatever you like, be it truth, shock value or plain nastiness.

There is something about these sites that doesn’t sit well with me. I think it is important that we talk to our kids about what they would be hoping to get out of these interactions. What are they not getting elsewhere?

I understand kids desire for other social networking apps. I get that kids want to be connected and that this is now largely their playground for social interaction.They should know that there are certain people who provide positive connections and their interaction can be mutually beneficial. Unfortunately however, we also know that many people have no qualms being horrible and nasty even when their identity is revealed.  One can only imagine the extent of brutality that may result on sites where all interactions are supposedly in secret.  I am pretty sure that isn’t a playground we want our kids to be visiting.

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This Post Has 15 Comments

  1. Renee Wilson

    It is a very scary thought. The idea of those sites don’t sit well with me either and make me fear for when my girls start using the internet. I’m a long way off yet, so I hope you will still be around then to continue to warn us of the dangers.

    1. Martine Oglethorpe

      Thanks Renee. And whilst it may seem a long way off, trust me it will be here before you know it!

  2. lybliss - Lisa

    With three teenagers and one tween I find these sites scary, mostly because no matter how innocent the intended use, teenagers seem to find ways to use them to pull each other apart. I have been stunned at the viciousness of teens, the downright nasty and cruel things they will say, and the cloak of anonimity just amps it up several notches higher. As vigilant as I am in supervising home use, with kids having smart phones and all their friends,it is impossible – IMPOSSIBLE- to supervise all their online interaction.. All I can do is try to keep their self esteem high and encourage them to walk away from those nasty battles. I often tell Miss 16 “Don’t feed the beast”. Don’t reply, don’t respond, don’t even go on those sites to see what’s been said. Scary falsely brave new world

    1. Martine Oglethorpe

      That is great advice Lisa. You are absolutely right that we cannot monitor everything they do and every place they visit. We must keep the communication constant and as you said keep reminding them that you only need to participate in interactions that off you something positive or worthwhile.

  3. Martine, although my son is still only two, this is one of my greatest fears, predators online. It seems that children and teens these days are so reliant and trusting of the internet and social media, it is the way they communicate and not only do I worry about the predators (adult and other kids who hide behind the computer screen) but also its affect on the way our children socialise. I worry that as much as my children will steer clear of suspicious sites and I will keep an eye on things, there are people targeting children whether they like it or not.

  4. EssentiallyJess

    What I think concerns me more, is that kids feel they can’t be themselves without being anonymous. Or that they need to go on line to ask questions of others, because they can’t ask their parents? It real drives home the importance of constantly keeping a greta relationship with your kids doesn’t it?

  5. Kira @ BellyBubba

    I believe that as an adult sometimes this type of release may be therapeutic (in sites that do not promote hate and racism etc) it could be a step in talking to someone one on one in real life. Most adults can make that decision for themselves. However for children it concerns me greatly. There is obviously something lacking in a child’s life where by they have to use an anonymous site to be able to express their feelings and attitudes. As parents, it is our job to create a comfortable, open and mutually respected relationship. A very interesting article – something to get the old noggin’ working 🙂

  6. iSophie

    Don’t we have enough social media sites, geez.. people need to stop! Where as it’s great you can keep completely anonymous for security reasons I don’t think it’s right to use it in an offensive manner. It’s a scary thought where it could go, and how it could (will) affect young impressionable lives. #teamIBOT

  7. Tegan

    I agree that these sites are a scary place for a child who doesn’t have the emotional maturity to deal with some of the consequences and I don’t really see the point of them. However I don’t think anonymity as a whole on the internet is a bad thing. I am part of a group for people with Borderline Personality Disorder on Facebook and a few of them don’t use their real names on their FB profile. This is because they have experienced abuse and wish to remain untraceable. While it is not exactly fool proof, I think that it’s unfair to cut them off from support because they are anonymous.

    1. Martine Oglethorpe

      Absolutely Tegan, I think there is certainly a place for anonymity. As I said it can mean people reach out for support who otherwise wouldnt and that is very important. I think however that we have to be careful when kids participate in these spaces as we know not everyone is out to give others a positive experience. It is more about being aware of some of the dangers and helping our kids (and adults) to recognise and filter for themselves what is and isnt helpful.

  8. Kirsty @ My Home Truths

    Not for the first time I am sincerely thankful that I did not grow up with 24/7 social media. There is so much to consider as a parent these days and i must say I’m not comfortable with sites that foster anonymity – to be honest I hadn’t heard of any of these before. I feel so out of touch and ill-prepared for the teenage years!

    1. Martine Oglethorpe

      I am sure you will do just fine Kirsty. it is not necessarily about being aware of every site that exists (none of us will ever be able to do that)! It is more important just to be aware of the sorts of things kids are doing so we can better prepare them for whatever sites they end up on.

  9. Nathan

    I just don’t understand the point of being honest if you are not being honest about who you are. I get the arguments that “you can feel safe asking questions” etc but it is my belief we need to teach and nurture our children and young people to give them the confidence and/or skills to seek out advice from appropriate sources.
    The potential of anonymous bullying is great, and sites like really… annoy me. To be honest, though, anonymity is not the only problem with social media. As a teacher I have seen many cases where students have created fake profiles and accounts with which to wreak havoc and bully. The best thing we can do is to educate our children to filter themselves better online, and be careful what they share with who they share.
    The advice from from Lisa about “don’t feed the beast” is really important advice that all kids need to understand. Many times the problems start not when a child receives a message from a bully (because they have sensibly blocked them), but when their friends tell them that “so-and-so said such-and-such”. They need to learn that they are not helping the situation.

    1. Martine Oglethorpe

      So very true Nathan. Whilst I do believe that being anonymous can be helpful for some adults to get support they may not otherwise seek I think we must teach our kids to get help from more trusted and appropriate sources.We do know that some online services do offer some great connections. But yes I firmly believe in teaching kids to be the best filter of what they see, do and share online.

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