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Measuring the Value of Anonymous Online Participation

PI: Benjamin Mako Hill
Sponsor: Measuring the Value of Anonymous Online Participation
Project Period: -
Amount: $293,000.00


Many ordinary people desire anonymous communication for good reason, such as to keep their medical histories confidential or their finances to themselves. People in totalitarian countries may want to communicate about their views anonymously. This project could enable anonymous participation in spaces like Wikipedia and Reddit, while avoiding the negative social behaviors for these online communities of such participation. This research examines the trade-offs in using users' identifiability to reduce bad behavior on online sites versus allowing anonymity, which could allow some users to participate and possibly contribute valuable content without fear of reprisal. The empirical research will clarify the effects of online identifiability and anonymity in influencing the production of counter-normative versus useful behavior, and explore ways to introduce accountability into anonymous speech. The research could have potential use for policy, and online communities and libraries. The project also includes research experiences for teachers.

The research uses experiments to understand the effects of anonymity on contributions and others' judgments, and qualitative research to understand service providers' and users' beliefs about the threats associated with identified and anonymous participation. The proposed software development has the purpose of reducing inappropriate behavior by uncovering only identifying information that predicts bad behavior. In addition, the empirical results will help answer fundamental questions in social psychology about when anonymity is valuable and when it encourages inappropriate behavior.