The Simpsons, 20th Century Fox

From Triple Canopy:

Before Facebook and Twitter became avenues for advertising ourselves and our careers, before Internet dating became not only acceptable but preferable to the alternatives, before so much of our social and professional lives came to be conducted on the Web, social spaces of a different kind existed online. They were populated by people who, for whatever reason, found a sense of belonging in communities built around semi-anonymous, real-time, written discourse. Some were computer hobbyists and professionals, some were recluses, some were anarchists; all of them found their local communities wanting and were willing to sacrifice face-to-face interaction for a world of mostly unformatted text on a black screen.

Today, the most ubiquitous online communities are social networks where our identities are mostly known and mostly persistent. Each tweet, each status update, is branded with a persistent name or affiliation. The loudest voices on Twitter are celebrities. For Twitter and Facebook, the connection of users’ accounts to their real identities is part of facilitating long-term connections between people (and therefore to Twitter and Facebook and their advertisers). Google’s recently unveiled social network, Google+, has followed Facebook in suspending accounts with suspected pseudonyms and demanding proof of identity.

Yet for people who do not want to be known, do not want to be corralled into demographic groups, and do not want the hierarchy of prestige, other spaces persist. These are the sort of spaces that were the progenitors of social networks: newsgroups, chatrooms, online forums, and Internet Relay Chat channels. They offer a lack of accountability for what one says, a way to hide unappealing facts about oneself, and an instant escape hatch if things get unpleasant. They offer anonymity.

The growth of these anonymous spaces marks the first wide-scale collective gathering of those who are alienated, disaffected, voiceless, and just plain unsocialized. These are people whose tweets will not make the headlines. They do not wish to create a platform that enables them to be heard by the world; they want to shut out the world. Ironically, their popularity has exploded as part of the Web 2.0 boom, despite serving a fundamentally different purpose. The foundation of what I will call “A-culture,” as opposed to the culture of Facebook, Twitter, and other mainstream social-networking sites, is the intentional disconnect between one’s real life and one’s online persona (or, frequently, personae). Online forums and chatrooms are by nature inward-looking, and the lack of identity—much less celebrity—makes it difficult for the outside world to address them.


“Anonymity as Culture: Treatise”, David Auerbach, Triple Canopy