Is Social Media more or less anonymous today? A look at the numbers—Part 1

Is the growing popularity of social networks like Facebook,  LinkedIn and now Google+ helping to breakdown the online anonymity of social media?  Anonymous online authors have always fascinated me because there is so much, and at the same time, so little value in what they have to say. There is freedom and candor in being an anonymous entity. Heck, that’s a huge appeal of the internet for a lot of folks. But when it comes to social media the door is wide open for bloggers and online community members to provide truly honest, positive or scathing reviews and experiences as well as malicious stories and comments that are untrue. I’ll leave the issue of how companies and brands should handle these posts to some of the other social media guru’s at Visible Technologies and our partners but let’s see what the numbers have to say is happening.

I thought it would be interesting to take a look at the wealth of data in our billions of posts we’ve collected over the years and do some analysis to see how many people actually post anonymously, how they compare by media type and finally see if there have been any changes over time. I started by looking at a week’s worth of July 2011 data for the largest volume media type sources in our data repository. For the purposes of this project, an anonymous poster is anyone who does not have an identifiable online persona or handle (anonymous, guest, unknown, etc.).

The first thing you’ll notice with this chart is that Facebook and Twitter are marked as 100% identifiable, known authors.  Now the reality is that there are some spammy and fake accounts out there but for the most part it is possible to learn and track what authors are saying on these sites to get a better understanding of who they are, their interests and even who is in their online circle of followers and friends. Depending on privacy settings you may get a lot more. You may not learn their real name but  it is certainly possible to ascertain deeper author insights from them.

Blogs and forums on the other hand open the door to conversational participants who can remain as anonymous as they choose.  Blogs have the highest percentage of these mysterious social authors with 14%, while Forums are surprisingly low with only a half a percent choosing not to self identify. Chances are the greatest factor for this has to do with the way blogs and forums are managed. Many personal and hosted blogs allow for anonymous or guest comments to be made while forums tend to be comprised of an online community of people with a common interest who form relationships, become authorities on subject matter and want to be known and heard in their community. Many of them require registration to participate.

Do these numbers fit what you were expecting to see? Personally, I was surprised to see such a small number of unknown authors in the forums. It serves as powerful reminder of the value of these highly active, influential and connected online communities. We’ll take a look at the numbers next week, but I’d like to hear from you on the question that’s been running through my head a lot lately—have social networks like Facebook, that do their best to require you to identify yourself in the online world with your real world information, begun to make us more free with our information? Have you been more likely to self-identify online lately when you didn’t before?

Next week I’ll show you what I found about how things have changed year over year and then we’ll look at what types of post these anonymous authors are making. Stay tuned!



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