Student Perceptions of Anonymous Applications
by Sara West


Introduction to the Webtext

Perhaps unlike your experience on this anonymized webtext, many internet users choose to log into anonymous applications. For many student-users, they do it because this anonymous application is the "next big thing" or because all their friends are talking about it. And it's true: anonymous applications continue to rise and fall in our social landscape, and the appeal does not seem to have slowed down. Why is this the case? What is it about anonymous applications that keeps users coming back, even as the applications become fraught with hate speech and bad behavior? In this webtext, I seek to answer some of these questions by using information from a survey of students and interviews with both users and nonusers of anonymous applications.

Reflective Audio: Introduction

TRANSCRIPT: The audio files throughout the text will look like this. My intention with these asides is to add more reflective elements about my project. It won't be necessary to listen to the audio to understand the project as a whole, but listening to these clips or reading the transcripts will be helpful in understanding the critical-reflective processes that I employ. I hope you enjoy getting some insight as I talk through my project.

In addition, I seek to provide a framework for researching these applications, where data collection and mapping can be difficult, if not impossible. As both a user and a researcher of these spaces, I also advocate for critical-reflective research practices, which I demonstrate throughout this piece as audio files (as seen to the right).

Anonymizing the Text

How does it feel to step into a space where names and identifying information are blocked? As you navigate through this webtext, you'll see that most names have been redacted. You can determine whether you'd like to see the names of the authors that I cite throughout by using the buttons at the top of each page. The decision to implement this feature is not meant to minimize or erase the contributions of any of these authors; instead, this feature is meant to employ an anonymity practice on this very webtext. Throughout the text, you'll come to understand that defining anonymity can be difficult, especially because even if we erase, hide, or change our names, we still bring our own experiences, biases, and knowledge to anonymous spaces. The names are redacted here to give you some of that experience: for example, you might see a quote or a book title or a concept that you already know, which means that the redaction of the name simply can't anonymize the information for you. You might encounter an interesting source and feel frustration that you don't know the author. You might even identify yourself somewhere in the pages of this webtext! But don't worry: just like many anonymous spaces, identity cannot be completely erased (and I, of course, want to give credit to all the research that has influenced my own).

I encourage you to first read through the text without the names and reflect on your experience. You can always reveal the names of these authors by pushing the "Show Identifiers" button. If you wish to go back to the redacted names, simply press the "Go Anonymous" button. (If you're in a pinch, you can also highlight over the redacted text with your mouse.) Try it out now: This text is redacted.

Table of Contents

This webtext is split into several sections, which are outlined in the navigation bar above. You can find the best reading order outlined below:

  1. Anonymous Platforms, which introduces key terms for understanding the webtext, explains the broader appeals of and criticisms about anonymous applications, and introduces the anonymous application Yik Yak, a hyperlocal anonymous and ephermal social media application, which was the primary application used for this study.

  2. Conversations about Anonymity, which traces the conversations about social media platforms in general and anonymity in specific in the fields of composition studies and technical and professional communication. This section also discusses more recent responses to anonymous applications from other related fields.

  3. Using Critical-Reflective Methods, which discusses how this project emerged from critical reflection on a previous project and also details the survey and interview methods for this project.

  4. Student Perceptions: Survey, which briefly covers survey results of the project, including information about which platforms students frequented, why they used these platforms, and a more in-depth look at Yik Yak as one of the most popular anonymous platforms at the time.

  5. Student Perceptions: Interviews, which includes information from student interviews, highlighting students' main motivations for using and understanding anonymous applications: anonymity as freedom, anonymity as protection, and anonymity as a contribution to community identity.

  6. Conclusions & Implications, which discusses the implications of the results of my project for instructors of technical and profession communication and composition, communication designers, and internet researchers.