Use anonymity to encourage repressed behaviors. People will do more when they’re anonymous than when they’re identifiable.
- Glassdoor.com aggregates employee reviews of its company, salary information, and interview questions that are frequently used with external candidates. Each review is posted anonymously as “Current Employee” or “Former Employee,” thus allowing individuals to be more open in their analysis. As a result, Glassdoor.com has become a source of relatively honest if not completely independent reviews that can help jobseekers decide whether they want to join a particular organization.
- Tellyourbossanything.com enables managers to get feedback from their employees through an anonymous survey, or enables employees to initiate the conversation by telling their boss how they feel.
John Suler, professor of psychology at Rider University, names six factors that contribute to what he calls the online disinhibition effect.
- You don’t know me: Being anonymous provides a sense of protection.
- You can’t see me: Someone’s online embodiment is different than that person’s true self.
- See you later: Online conversations are asynchronous. There is nobody to instantly disapprove of what is said.
- It’s all in my head: It’s easier to assign negative traits to people you don’t interact with face to face.
- It’s just a game: Some people see the online environment as a kind of game where normal rules don’t apply.
- We’re equals: The reluctance someone might feel to speak his mind to an authority figure is removed when it’s not clear who is or is not an authority figure.
How to use this pattern
- Help visitors feel that they have the pseudo-anonymity of being in a like-minded group. This allows them to “deindividuate” and take on the values of the group. Adopting those values allows them to do things that they might not otherwise countenance.
- Manipulate Suler’s six factors of online disinhibition to create a suitably sustainable environment:
- Use pseudo-anonymity rather than straight anonymity so that contributors can be recognized across sessions (Suler’s “You don’t know me” and “You can’t see me” factors).
- Allow some indication of real-life attributes (achievements, location, skills, and so on) to provide a link to the real world (Suler’s “It’s all in my head” and “We’re equals” factors).
- Provide synchronous communication to limit out-of-bounds behavior (Suler’s “See you later” factor).
- State the rules. Say what is allowed, and what will get people thrown out. Follow through with post deletions and bans (Suler’s “It’s just a game” factor).
- Balance the online disinhibition that can follow complete anonymity with the protection offered by pseudo-anonymity.