Ponder. Conspire. Digitize.

In the digital age, anonymity online can be a contentious issue. While the ability to remain anonymous can offer benefits, such as increased engagement rates, it also presents a significant challenge in ensuring accountability and safety on the Internet. 

If you think this doesn't affect you, think again; 

  • According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 73% of individuals reported experiencing cyberstalking.
  • Anonymous, fake, or bot accounts are expected to cost advertisers $71 billion in 2024 - MarketingTech News.
  • Sixty-five percent of Gen Z teens and young adults surveyed said they or someone they are friends with were the target of an online scam - WeProtect Global Alliance 

The Dark Side of Anonymity

One of the most glaring issues with online anonymity is its role in facilitating predatory scams that cause actual harm. 

Statistics underscore the dangers of allowing users to create and operate accounts without accurate verification, but the situation is compounded by the lack of traceability of account holders. If law enforcement can’t find the scammer, they can’t keep us safe from them.

Predators don’t need to be ‘techie” or a criminal mastermind to set their social media traps. If you think otherwise, watch one episode of the TV show "Catfish" or search up “sextortion” to understand the low bar for entry. 

The Illusion of Safety and Increased Participation

The influence of social media giants like Facebook, with their tools and software deeply integrated into our daily lives, further complicates the issue. These platforms have become indispensable for communication among organizations, communities, and families, handcuffing us to the negative impacts (as well as the benefits) because we can't just walk away or log off anymore. 

Social platforms could argue that allowing anonymity makes it easier for individuals to participate in discussions, potentially increasing community discourse, but is it worth it? 

The Federal Trade Commission reports that "scammers are hiding in plain sight" on social media. Fake personas can be created to "hack into your profile, pretend to be you, and con your friends." 

Scammers tailor postings to align with what you regularly share; they also leverage low-cost tools meant for digital advertisers to "methodically target you based on personal details, such as your age, interests, or past purchases. These practices allow them to reach billions of people around the globe. 

The Cost of Anonymity: Personal and Societal Impacts

According to the Federal Trade Commission, "in the first six months of 2023, in reports of money lost to fraud by people 20-29, social media was the contact method more than 38% of the time. For people 18-19, that figure was 47%. 

The FTC also reported that "one in four people who reported losing money to fraud since 2021 said it started on social media. Reported losses to scams on social media during the same period hit a staggering $2.7 billion." 

"Sixty-five percent of Gen Z teens and young adults, on all platforms and devices – not just Snapchat — said they or their friends were targeted in online "catfishing" scams or were hacked by criminals who stole explicit personal imagery or other private information," according to WeProtect Global Alliance. “Once abusers receive the images and videos from the children, the demands for money, gift cards, and more sexual imagery continue.”  

Towards a Solution

Why do we continue to allow this to happen? We, as a society, do not encourage anonymity in real-life settings, such as city government meetings; in some instances, speakers must share their address on the record prior to being allowed to speak. So why the HELL are we letting predators do it online? 

For sure, addressing the challenges posed by the Internet require a multifaceted solution, here’s a few I have been thinking about:

Just as news organizations must register as businesses and provide the proper identification to verify who they are, so should account holders and publishers on social media platforms.

Develop programs to train law enforcement officers on how best to respond to and tackle online crimes. 

If we do nothing else, we should demand social platforms verify users and connect all active profiles to a verified account.  

Social media platforms and online forums must reconsider the balance between privacy and accountability, potentially implementing stricter verification processes, but they will not do it if they are not held accountable.