Identity in Communities and Networks

How pseudonymity in online communities has the effect of being a double-edged sword


The World Wide Web came into being initially as a read-only space where there was very little collaboration, communication or participation by ordinary users and online communities did not exist. But it was a matter of time before change came. Significant change came about as a result of the emergence of the transformational Web 2.0 technologies. Cyberspace became a vibrant space that encouraged community participation in content creation, sharing, collaboration and communication on such a massive scale the likes of which had never been witnessed before (Valdez Soto et al., 2016). Virtual social communities and Social Networking Sites (SNSs) began to form and grow in numbers and the platforms offered different affordances to their users such as the use of real personal identities, pseudonymity (a form of anonymity) and complete anonymity. Although there may be some negative effects of pseudonymity in online communities, there are also some significantly positive effects.

Promoting the democratic space

Pseudonymity also promotes a democratic space among Facebook community members. Democracy is built and supported by the principle of freedom of speech of all community members whatever their status or station in life was (Asenbaum, 2018). Not everyone is comfortable or confident of using their real identity online.  Similarly, the freedom of association in online communities offers another pillar of support. In addition, a full democratic dispensation is also premised upon the freedom of participation. Because of the disguise of pseudonymity, it can be expected that the members can be enthusiastic about participating in the activities of the group unimpeded.

Improving community engagement

Pseudonymity improves community engagement because participation is voluntary and on equal terms. In these online communities, as on Facebook, there is a semblance of accountability. People will come together to help and make a better day for one another. For most law-abiding citizens, there is always someone willing to go the extra mile for the good of the community. Pseudonymity is a function of context; it depends on the individual’s desired outcomes. Besides the semblance of accountability, there is  also the sense of responsibility towards other community members. Furthermore, pseudonymity can foster the spirit of community, inclusivity and belonging even in times of disaster (Paton & Irons, 2016).

Security of community under threat

On the other hand, pseudonymity can also threaten the security of community because it erodes the spirit of community. With reduced inhibition comes overt bad behaviours towards other members of the community. For instance, one member may become overly aggressive towards another member simply because no one can easily identify them in real life (Zimmerman at al., 2016). Arousal of aggressive emotions and their overt manifestations in online environments are more pronounced because of lowered control of unacceptable behaviours (Huesmann, 2007).  Even if other community members defend the victim and report the perpetrator, the chances of a proper recourse are next to nil. There is also the potential for like-minded aggressors to coalesce together and launch a much larger offensive against the hapless victim because of sympathisers and followers. Digital aggression could potentially translate to real-world physicality if the pseudonymous characters were to identify their opponents and were in the same geographical space. In addition to reduced responsibility, member accountability diminishes. The usual community solution for this behaviour rests with the administrators and moderators who may suspend the aggressor’s account. Deception is also often a threat to the security of the community.  Lastly, authenticity suffers leading to the breakdown of the glue that was keeping the community together.

Similarly, the propagation of “fake news”, lies and falsehoods about members by pseudonymous characters can also threaten the security of the community because it creates tension in the group. Children and adolescents usually fall victim to these social ills and they often have no capacity to deal with it all. It would be incumbent upon their family members, school community members or even their online community members to step in and intervene on their behalf. Reporting the perpetrators to authorities and moderators of their online communities can help stop the peddling of falsehoods. Chances are the “fake news”, lies and falsehoods will continue to be propagated across SNSs and can even become “viral” in a very short space of time. Not only that, in asynchronous communication as is the case here, perpetration of this kind of victimisation can and will carry on even long after the victim has logged off. The victims still get to know about it all from friends anyway. In any event, lies are likely going to travel faster than the truth and irreparable damage can be caused through a single insensitive comment or tweet. Because of the use of pseudonyms and tagging, there is no guarantee that this social ill can be eliminated completely. There are usually very far reaching effects that can result from falsehoods which can include behaviours associated with suicidal tendencies, self-harm and psychological challenges (David-Ferdon & Hertz, 2007). If the victim does not reach out for help or someone reaches out to them, they may just go over the edge. Nipping the source of the falsehoods, lies or “fake news” in the bud should go a long way in preventing the growth or at least reducing the fuel and oxygen that enable these horrible social ills to continue to grow unabated.

Not to be left behind, pseudonymous perverted characters can also initiate solicitation of minors and adolescents, thereby threatening the security of the community. Starting-off online, these criminal activities, if left unchecked, often escalate into real world challenges. The fact that one can never know for sure who they are talking to online, suggests that one should never trust what online acquaintances say who they are. These sex predators can go to extreme lengths hide their true details or fake them in order to lure their victims out of their safe environments and into harm’s way (Dombrowski et al., 2004). Adolescents are more likely to fall victim to sexual predators online because they may be wanting to be liked or wanting to fill a void created by some fundamental dysfunction in the family structure or home setup (Kocturk & Yuksel, 2018). While there may be other underlying issues in the victim’s real-world life, their risk of getting harmed through online encounters with pseudonymous community members is very high. For pre-adolescents it is especially risky because sexual predators usually monitor conversations in chatrooms before picking their vulnerable victims (Subrahmanyam et al., 2006). These abusers and paedophiles carefully steer their prey out of safety and into danger by persuading them to isolate themselves from other people around them (Albert, 2014). Because victims are more likely to be lacking in self-belief, or confidence in themselves, and emotionally fragile, they tend to fall for the cheap deceitful approaches of abusers. To make matters worse, these interactions may not always be explicit initially as perpetrators try to lull their targets into a false sense of security with a somewhat false relationship involvement. Offered a shoulder to cry on and or a listening ear, victims usually swallow the “hook, line and sinker” and become emotionally attached to abuse perpetrators. There is no limit to the amount of exposure of the victim to the real-world dangers of sexual abuse, victimisation, kidnapping, rape,  trafficking or even death. Beyond that, if they survive, victims may suffer depression, suicidal tendencies, poor school performances, physical and psycho-social challenges (Schulz et al., 2016). As illustrated above, affordances of pseudonymity in online communities presents a significant challenge and threat to the security to the community.


Finally, the security and cohesion of online communities can be severely threatened by cyberbullying because pseudonymity provides a disguise for perpetrators. It can happen that some of the people that fall victim to bullying offline tend to endure cyberbullying as well. Cyberbullying is more prevalent especially among the youth in the 8 to 15 years age group (Spears et al., 2014). This demographic is increasingly embracing new technology gadgets and devices as well as exploring their own status in the space-time continuum. However, in their formative years they also most vulnerable and are suddenly caught up in this mammoth web of social media with very little initiation. In a space occupied by pseudonymous characters whose innate inhibition threshold is reduced, it is easy for youth to get entangled with them. The usual social media tactics employed by perpetrators, unlike in real life, are much more large-scale considering the likely numbers of people involved through tagging, Tweets, re-Tweets and the follower(s) dimension. This digital aggression (David-Ferdon and Hertz, 2007), for example, carries on even when victims have logged off the platform. Public shamming and other degrading acts are generally perpetrated by tech-savvy individuals capable of maintaining absolute pressure on their victims which may seem completely inescapable (Nilan, 2015). This relentless pressure on victims often leads to suicide, social withdrawal or far-reaching psychological damage. Because there are not many ready-made solutions to online aggression perpetrated by these online gangsters, victims usually try not to respond, described as the “avoidance strategy” (Hoff & Mitchell, 2009). This is another social ill that could initially start offline and find its way online and back offline. It could be perpetrated by pseudonymous individuals who in real life may be known or unknown to the victims. In the likelihood of them knowing each other and being in geographical proximity, there is always that possibility that escalation may even become physical offline, off or on school grounds for instance. This is a massive social problem as up to one third of youths of school-going age have reported harassment and bullying in a survey conducted in America (Low & Espelage, 2013; Nilan at al., 2015). In Australia,  research studies have shown that nearly three quarters of schools have recorded or reported cyberbullying incidents (Spears et al., 2014). Pseudonyms in the era of online communities and SNSs should be unpromoted and banned, if necessary and possible, in order to create credible, trusted, transparent and therefore safe online spaces for our youth.

Privacy for community members

Pseudonymity provides for better privacy for community members. Some members of the community may want to separate their professional online identity from their real authentic private identity because there may a clash of interests. For example, one would separate the two identities in order to safeguard one’s future employment prospects from snooping prospective employers. Others, such as whistle-blowers, may want to protect themselves from political backlash or persecution by government. Still, others belonging to vulnerable groups in different demographics may want to protect themselves from prejudicial judgement based on their minority backgrounds, gender, race, creed, education or religion. There is value in protecting the privacy of all community members as it is expected and deserved right.


In spite of the fact that pseudonymous identities in online communities and Social Networks generate negative sentiments, it remains an option which is used by many community members with no harm to others. Aggressive behaviours, sexual crimes involving minors, the propagation of lies, “fake news” and falsehoods and cyberbullying are all growing social ills that can be linked to pseudonymity in online communities and SNSs. While all the scourges discussed in this paper are growing and expanding with the increased use of Web 2.0 technologies by youth, the wider community and platform owners need to decide unanimously on the way forward. There is need to balance safety online, privacy and the broader issues surrounding pseudonymous identities. Attempts to limit the damage arising from the enhanced prevalence of online based socially deviant activities discussed in this paper must be pursued methodically and resolutely. Special focus must be placed on providing psycho-social educational training to all children and youth, their guardians, families and school communities on what identity in online communities and Social Network Sites entails. Platform owners should, in the public interest, continue to weed out, suspend and ban the offending and deviant account holders. Forensic efforts by police forces around the world to locate these offenders across different geographical jurisdictions should also continue to be funded. Obviously, there is no one quick solution that will solve all the problems associated with pseudonymity online, but perhaps it is the conversation that must be had in order to create a much better online experience for all.

Reference List

Albert, C. S. (2014). Dark side of information systems and protection of children online: Examining predatory behavior and victimization of children within social media (Order No. 3624166). Available from ProQuest Central; ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global; Social Science Premium Collection. (1553209167). Retrieved from

Asenbaum, H. (2018). Anonymity and democracy: Absence as presence in the public sphere. The American Political Science Review, 112(3), 459-472. doi:

David-Ferdon, C. & Hertz, M. F. (2007). Electronic Media, Violence, and Adolescents: An Emerging Public Health Problem. Journal of Adolescent Health 41(6, Supplement): S1-S5.

Dombrowski, Stefan, LeMasney, John, Ahia, C & Dickson, Shannon. (2004). Protecting Children From Online Sexual Predators: Technological, Psychoeducational, and Legal Considerations. Professional Psychology – Research & Practice35(1), 65-73. Retrieved from

Hoff, D. L., & Mitchell, S. N. (2009). Cyberbullying: Causes, effects, and remedies. Journal of Educational Administration, 47(5), 652-665. doi:

Huesmann, L. R. (2007). The Impact of Electronic Media Violence: Scientific Theory and Research. Journal of Adolescent Health 41(6, Supplement): S6-S13.


Kocturk, N., & Yuksel, F. (2018). A modern danger for adolescents: From online flirtation to sexual abuse: Journal of psychiatry and neurological sciences journal of psychiatry and neurological sciences. Dusunen Adam, 31(3), 294-300. doi:

Low, S & Espelage, D. (2013). Differentiating Cyber Bullying Perpetration From Non-Physical Bullying: Commonalities Across Race, Individual, and Family Predictors. Psychology of Violence, 3, 39-52.

Nilan, P., Burgess, H., Hobbs, M., Threadgold, S., & Alexander, W. (2015). Youth, Social Media, and Cyberbullying Among Australian Youth: “Sick Friends.” Social Media + Society.

Patchin, J. W., & Hinduja, S. (2006). Bullies Move Beyond the Schoolyard: A Preliminary Look at Cyberbullying. Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice4(2), 148–169.

Paton, D., & Irons, M. (2016). Communication, Sense of Community, and Disaster Recovery: A Facebook Case Study. Frontiers In Communication1.

Schulz, A., Bergen, E., Schuhmann, P., Hoyer, J., & Santtila, P. (2016). Online Sexual Solicitation of Minors: How Often and between Whom Does It Occur? Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency53(2), 165–188.

Spears, B., Keeley, M., Bates, S., Katz, I. (2014). Research on youth exposure to, and management of, cyberbullying incidents in Australia Part A: Literature review on the estimated prevalence of cyberbullying involving Australian minors, Social Policy Research Centre: UNSW Australia, Sydney, SPRC Report 09/14.

Subrahmanyam, Kaveri, Smahel, David & Greenfield, Patricia. (2006). Connecting Developmental Constructions to the Internet: Identity Presentation and Sexual Exploration in Online Teen Chat Rooms. Developmental Psychology, 42(3), 395-406. Retrieved from

Valdez Soto, M., Balls-Berry, J. E., Bishop, S. G., Aase, L. A., Timimi, F. K., Montori, V. M., & Patten, C. A. (2016). Use of Web 2.0 Social Media Platforms to Promote Community-Engaged Research Dialogs: A Preliminary Program Evaluation. JMIR research protocols5(3), e183.

Zimmerman, A. G., & Ybarra, G. J. (2016). Online aggression: The influences of anonymity and social modeling. Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 5(2), 181–193.

30 replies on “How pseudonymity in online communities has the effect of being a double-edged sword”

Hi Bayayi,
Interesting paper Bayayi and I think you have covered all the negative aspects well. Unfortunately you have highlighted human nature at its worse. I think the characters that do this bullying are, as you say, able to use their online anonymity to do what they would be too cowardly to in the physical. The stalking and grooming of children is the most disturbing.

I agree that there are benefits in some cases, gender, religion, sexual preference, race, whistleblower etc of having the facility to be anonymous (as you outlined) but I am of the opinion that the benefits do not outweigh the negatives. I feel the impact of the negative is far too great to sacrifice for the lesser positive impact. Just because it is online shouldn’t mean a person can act without being held accountable.

I know it would be hard to govern but wondering what are your thoughts Bayayi about how it could be more controlled? Policed?

Hi Lee,
Thanks a lot for taking your time to engage with me on some of the issues I am discussing in my paper.

Yes, some of the anti-social behaviours are “most disturbing” as you have said. The worrying other issue, of course, is the fact that more children are getting connected every day and they are completely unprepared for these social ills. In these days of lockdowns, children are especially vulnerable to stalking, grooming and other forms of exploitation indeed.

One of the ways of combating the crime wave growth in social networks is of course to implement the “real name policy” like Facebook has tried. It is controversial in many respects as there are powerful arguments for and against. Bowing to user backlash, Facebook has decided to water down the policy to allow aliases.

In addition to policies, perhaps these social media giants could invest some of their giant profits in safety algorithms that can take out the bad guys. They owe us more protection, especially younger or vulnerable demographics in society. Human platform administrators alone cannot physically manage it, so a bit of artificial intelligence might help. Police forces around the world have forensic departments that deal with these sorts of issues but they are usually overwhelmed by the size of the problem or hamstrung by lack of funding.

The debate goes on on the merits of pseudonymity in online communities and social networks.

Kind regards,


Hi Bayayi,
Thank you for your reply. Over the course of this week I have thought a bit more about your last line: “The debate goes on, on the merits of pseudonymity in online communities and social networks” and your earlier comment about: “‘real name policy’ like Facebook has tried. It is controversial in many respects as there are powerful arguments for and against. Bowing to user backlash, Facebook has decided to water down the policy to allow aliases”.

It jogged my memory and made me think of an article by Mark Hall, Encyclopedia Britannica “Privacy remains an ongoing problem for Facebook. It first became a serious issue for the company in 2006, when it introduced News Feed, which consisted of every change that a user’s friends had made to their pages. After an outcry from users, Facebook swiftly implemented privacy controls in which users could control what content appeared in News Feed. In 2007 Facebook launched a short-lived service called Beacon that let members’ friends see what products they had purchased from participating companies. It failed because members felt that it encroached on their privacy. Indeed, a survey of consumers in 2010 put Facebook in the bottom 5 percent of companies in customer satisfaction largely because of privacy concerns, and the company continues to be criticized for the complexity of its user privacy controls and for the frequent changes it makes to them.”

And yet FB is number 1 ranked SNS in the world according to Statista, (2020).

So it makes you wonder – if users were forbidden from using false identities and it was a policy that was enforced right across all SNS, would it actually stop people from signing up? I know what I think – wondering what your answer will be Bayayi.

Thanks Lee

Hi Lee,

Thanks for your response to mine! 😊

You have drawn my attention to some interesting nuggets of information there with the two references you have provided. I must admit that I had not come across those details before, especially the short-live privacy tweaks Facebook has tried to implement in the past. I did know that Mark Zuckerberg has always been a staunch proponent of full transparency in SNSs but, of course, the policy is languishing in the “too hard basket”.

Your sentiments and question in the end are very thought-provoking indeed. I don’t’ know what you answer would be, but I will try to articulate my point below.

My paper has drawn readers to pseudonymity’s double-edged sword effect and if all the bad behaviours could be eliminated, SNSs would be safe in the social sense. Professionally, maybe not. Is it possible to eliminate the bad, probably not; you can only try up to a point. With SNSs, there are way too many known unknowns and unknown unknowns and therefore I would reduce my footprint significantly or quit if I cannot perform my online identity via pseudonymity or transparency. The choice should be mine.

Thanks again, Lee.


Hi Bayayi,

Your sentence: “With SNSs, there are way too many known unknowns and unknown unknowns” made me laugh and pretty much sums it up. From reading yours I came up with my version of what I think most people opinions probably are:”I know you know, that I know, you are probably not who you’re known as” haha.

I agree, you should have the choice. For me I try to say as little about myself online and if a site starts asking too many details in order to sign up I just log off without continuing. I have finally remembered what my daughter has told me for the past few years, not to order anything without reviewing them on an independent site.

Cheers Lee

Hi Lee,

Thanks for extending our debate!

I actually like your version too, “I know you know that I know you are probably not who you’re known as”. That is what we should keep in mind when online in order to protect ourselves and kids need to be educated on the subject of fluid and performative identities. It may help them understand why, for example, they should not be fooled into sending selfies to online acquaintances.



Hello Bayayi!
I enjoyed your topic choice, it’s definitely a great idea to compare and contrast pseudonyms.
I liked the points you came up with!
It would have been nice to see more discussion of your first two topic paragraphs (improving community engagement and promoting the democratic space) but the other two were researched well!
After all your research, do you personally think social media spaces where you use a pseudonym are better or not as good because of less accountability?

Hi AnneMarie,

Thank you very much for reading my paper and engaging with me on the contents. Much appreciated!

I agree with you that, given another chance I could explore further the issues of improving community engagement and promoting the democratic space.

On your very thought-provoking question, here are my thoughts.

After all my research, I believe that it is more useful to afford community members the freedom of choice to use a pseudonyms or not to. Social deviants aside, affording members the choice of pseudonymity allows people to express their genuine selves which is incredibly empowering to the majority. In addition, if the group in non-deviant in what it stands for, people join it seeking to connect, belong, communicate and participate in the affairs of that community. Accountability and pseudonymity can still be said in the same sentence without much harm. As I have also alluded to in the paper, pseudonymity is a function of context; it depends on the individual’s desired outcomes. I certailny don’t want my employer or future employer making decisions about me based on my non-professional social media activities and therefore, I will protect my identity with a pseudonym. But in the end, everyone, including the platform owners, members, moderators and group administrators have the ultimate responsibility of ensuring accountability because it is an important societal value.

Kind regards,


Hello Bayayi!

You mentioned a right to privacy for all community members, and that pseudonymity provides better privacy. Does it follow from that that all community members have a right to pseudonymity? It seems strong that it does follow.
A bit earlier you argued that pseudonyms in the era of online communities should be banned if necessary and possible in order to create safe spaces for youths. If they have a right to pseudonymity, then banning it should be off the table and we should accept pseudonymous platforms, and look to strategies of mitigating their harm.
That is the direction you went with in your conclusion too, so I do find the body of your essay a compelling argument for your conclusion.

Some problems seemed to largely arise from the combination of pseudonymous actors with identity transparent actors, such as offline bullying following people online, and the spreading of misinformation about people online. Making sure that online communities are either entirely pseudonymous or entirely identity transparent might then be a good strategy to alleviate some of the issues raised.

I had a similar thought about where you wrote that a problem with pseudonymity is that “authenticity suffers leading to the breakdown of the glue that was keeping the community together”. That seems to be a problem for a community that starts off with identity transparency and then shifts to pseudonymity, because a community with pseudonymity from the beginning would have bonds (or glue) of shared interests that were always compatible with pseudonymity.

Lastly, where you said nipping the source of falsehoods and fake news in the bud should be an effective strategy – that may not be possible, I invite you to read and comment on Gerard Thomas’s paper where we are struggling to think of methods of SNS misinformation censorship that wouldn’t also quash casual socialising.

Gerard’s paper:

– Luke 🙂

Hi Luke,

Thank you very much for reading my paper and for your comments.

Yes, I agree that in essence, every community on whatever platform should afford its members the right to pseudonymity. Safety and privacy should be a priority for a large section of society that would otherwise remain disenfranchised.

There is a genuine need for platform owners to do more to eliminate the deviant accounts as they present a toxic element to online communities. By and large, most groups conform to the norms of real-world society and I think that sort of helps to maintain accountability. It does appear to me like social media platform owners do not have enough gusto to tackle these prickly issues.

Indeed, Gerard Thomas (2020) eloquently expresses the reasons why there seems to be lethargy in that respect by saying, “Digital platforms do not provide full censorship nor where they ever intended to, Facebook and other social media platforms are about numbers of users like any internet-based business, they run sets of algorithms that measure and determine what we see”.

I have struggled with the notion of pseudonymity and authenticity co-existing. Online communities are continuously evolving as is the level of sophistication of deviant players. Yes, censorship is a very difficult subject as it also violates the individual’s right to express themselves. Maintaining the delicate balance between pseudonymity and societal values that help keep members to stay as well as belong together will be the holy grail of community building.

Thanks fro inviting me to read Gerard Thomas’ paper. I was an interesting read indeed.

Kind regards,


Hi Bayayi,

Thanks for sharing your paper. You have highlighted the areas in which people can manipulate their anonymity to harm others online.
I agree with you that this is definitely something that needs to be addressed, especially when children and young teens are involved. I also believe the issue of cyber bullying to be a complex one. Education is an important necessity in supporting people in how to deal with unwanted online harassment. Dolly Day’s family went through the sorrow of losing their teen daughter to cyber bullying and have set up this charity and website to educate other’s on this sad issue and to support others going through similar experiences.

I have to agree with the paper by Nagel and Frith (2015) when they state that anonymity is on a continuum with full anonymity at one extreme and at the other end of the continuum is a ‘thoroughly named’ online profile.
van der Nagel, E., & Firth, J. (2015). Anonymity, pseudonymity, and the agency of online identity: Examining the social practices of r/Gonewild. First Monday, 20(3). DOI:

It’s also worth noting that not all social networking sites ask for users real or legal names. TikTok is one of the platforms that doesn’t stipulate real names in its terms and conditions of use.

I think most social media users are aware that identity is a performance with a front stage presentation, for example, written text on Twitter, or a video on Facebook Stories. Users present themselves in a particular way to express a certain meaning to an imagined audience. Do we all have a static singular “true” self or do we modify our behaviours to suit the context and people that we are involved in?

I would argue that having a pseudonym offers a boundary to those that do not want negative attention in an online space. There is evidence that both males and females are at risk from online hate speech and harassment. Although there are gender differences to the type of harassment and differences in how people react to harassment.
Nadim, M., & Fladmoe, A. (2019). Silencing Women? Gender and Online Harassment. Social Science Computer Review.
There is also evidence that domestic violence can escalate to technology violence where a partner uses a persons’ technology devices and accounts to hold power over them in an abusive manner.

Even if someone claims to be a “true” authentic self online, it does not mean that they are, and how could this be verified?
Maybe a true identity is not as important as we thought it is but what is relevant is how a person behaves and what content are they sharing? Is the information serving for a better democracy and cooperation between online users. This is where we can do the most good.

Thanks for sharing!

Hi Kelly,

Thank you very much for reading my paper and for your kind comments as well as sharing links for me to chase up.

I am glad that you support the idea of education as one step in the right direction towards reducing or eradicating online harassment by pseudonymous characters. Education and awareness campaigns supported by charities such as the Dolly Dream, you have made me aware of, would indeed be instrumental in bringing the community together for a worthy cause. Unfortunately, the first links yielded a maintenance page, and the second yielded a 404-error page.

I did visit the TikTok website on the link you shared, and their terms do not require users to use their real names as you have pointed out. So, even if users on this platform use pseudonyms, they may still face harassment because anyone can see them in the video footage they upload. I wonder if, by comparison, online harassment is more prevalent on highly visual platforms such as TikTok than on text-based ones such as Twitter?

I think I agree with your sentiments about authenticity in online communities that maybe transparent identities may not be so important after all. It is possible for someone to be not authentic even if they purportedly use a ‘real name’ because it is simply too hard to prove it. Yet, a pseudonymous user may actually be authentic but that they just do not want their real identity known to the world.

I think in the end most users of Web 2.0 platforms want to engage in a democratic space free of harm, harassment, violence, bigotry, prejudice, trolling, misinformation and disinformation. When people feel safe, they tend to communicate well, collaborate and participate in activities that bring about community cohesion.

Talep McFadzean shared a link to a paper that discusses an interesting concept on how identity authentication may be the way of the future, parhaps (

Thanks again for sharing your thought-provoking ideas and comments.


Hi again Bayayi,
Great paper you linked there, thank you, and Talep for finding it! It totally ties in to my own paper, and gives a term for where on the anonymity-identity spectrum The Clergy Project falls: Identity escrow.

It’s exactly talking about systems where people can behave pseudonymously within the community, but their identity can be called upon in special circumstances, maintaining accountability. Awesome!

Luke 🙂

Hi Luke,

I am glad that you found the Identity escrow paper as possibly offering an alternative pathway to solving the myriad of issues affecting online identity performances and management. This approach goes a long way in eliminating digital aggression, misinformation, and disinformation.

I agree that for the Clergy Project you researched, this may be the best way to describe how they are handling identity in their community!

Thanks again for your thoughts and contributions .


Hi Biyayi, thanks for sharing your paper, what a fascinating topic. I think this is one of the fundamental differences that differentiates online and offline interactions and that is being grappled with societally on a number of fronts at the moment. I appreciate your balancing of the positives and negatives, and highlighting that decisions either way are a tradeoff, as this is a topic that is generally covered in a partisan fashion that tends to wave off the opposing points as relatively unimportant or some kind of sensationalist distortion of reality. One interesting case of pseudonymity that you might be interested in is that of “Satoshi Nakamoto”, or the creator of Bitcoin. In the case of that particular person/s there are a number of obvious reasons for pseudonymity including a serious threat to banks and financial institutions and structures, not to mention that Nakamoto is in possession of a large number of the earliest mined coins, currently valued at somewhere in the vicinity of $44bn. A brief but interesting primer can be found here:
Your points on pseudonymity as an instrument to improve and afford full participation in a truly democratic process are something I’d never considered before, and as much as I agree, unfortunately these freedoms are not fully recognised in Australia at present. With regard to sexual predation on the Internet, I think it is instructive when doing a risk or cost/benefit analysis to address or work back from worst-case scenarios, or even defining the continuum by best and worst and working inward, and that is definitely relevant, instructive and useful in that regard. The prevalence and extent of cyberbullying is indeed troubling, although you did well to address this (and many of the outlined negatives) with the solution of education. SNS’s are such a new technology, that is evolving so rapidly and with so much societal impact it feels like an ad-hoc experiment that’s being run, with no cleary defined parameters or goals in mind other than growth and success in that domain. Hopefully we aren’t shooting ourselves in the foot; I think that the research on the effects of SNS’s on formative brains will not be flattering, to say the least. I also did some digging around and found some papers that might interest you on this topic:
The first is a dissertation on the ethics of online anonymity (
and if you’re technically inclined, the second is on an interesting idea towards a technical solution in the form of identity escrow (
Thank you Bayayi, for your contribution to the conference, you provided me with much food for thought, relevant research and reading to explore and the chance to peer further into this engrossing topic. Well done.

Hi Talep,

Thank you very much for reading my paper and offering some interesting comments.

The document at ( you have alluded to in your feedback has some very intriguing insights into how the online communities and SNSs could possibly be made so much safer from the bad guys who do harm hiding behind anonymity and pseudonymity. I enjoyed reading their discussion of a 3-tier identity authentication system and I recommended other interested people to read it too. I think I would advocate for that proposition to be part of a holistic solution to ridding the internet of bad behaviours once and for all.

I am glad that you found some of the mitigations against bad behaviours and their effects on vulnerable members of online communities I have proposed in my paper useful and helpful, especially education. Admittedly, education alone cannot solve all the issues I and others have raised; the document at ( goes further with additional steps.

Thank you so much for your contributions and thoughts on my paper and the conference as a whole.


Hi Talep,

I have also read the other document ( on online anonymity. It discusses the increasing threat of persistent identities which may also ultimately remove any protective cover for whistleblowers and those platform users who really needed the safety net. Interesting to see what the future holds for pseudonymity and anonymity.

Thanks again for posting the links here. 😊


Hi Bayayi,

Thank you for your post on pseudonymity and its challenges within online communities. I was curious if there is a platform that you think handles the idea of pseudonymity and anonymity well or is there a way in which you think they could improve or anything you came across within your research that leads you to believe there is a solution out there for social networking sites to greatly outweigh the negative effects? Or is it a particular community/shared interests that you think would be more effective in achieving this? I’m curious to see what discussions you would have read during your research about where other sources think to go from here/where you think this topic could go in the future for a more positive outcome.
I was also curious about what you thought about identity in regards to pseudonymity and authenticity? How do you think this is portrayed through social networking sites? What are your thoughts on the idea of performance and identity for a perceived audience with the use of a pseudonym? Do you think that the audience can conceive of an authentic identity from a user that hides part of their identity? With using a pseudonym, do you think the author would feel as though they are portraying their authentic identity online or that they are only sharing certain aspects of their identity?
I really liked the way your paper was sectioned out and the points you discussed were well thought out and covered many important areas in this discussion. Thanks for giving me more things to think about within this stream!

Hi Sarah!
You might find my paper interesting, it touches on some of these topics by looking at priests and pastors that have lost their faith, and feel trapped in their church community. There’s a pseudonymous online space that is working very well for them, ‘The Clergy Project’. People are vetted by phone calls before being invited into their forums, which retains the accountability of identity transparency without exposing member’s offline identities to other members.

It works so well for them because they have fears of hurting their church communities, should their non-belief be exposed.

I was curious if there is a platform that you think handles the idea of pseudonymity and anonymity well

I think it’s a good example, but it’s designed to cater to a specific need. I expect different communities with different needs will find other degrees of pseudonymity best.

Luke 🙂

My paper:

Hi Luke!
Thanks for the suggestion! I’ll take a look now! 🙂
Sorry about the late reply, I’m still trying to work out comments on here haha

Hi Sarah,

Thank you very much for reading my paper and your intriguing feedback and comments.

You have posed some very thought-provoking questions there. On the issue of whether there is a platform that handles pseudonymity /anonymity well, I would have to say that I have not come across any in my research. Some platforms have tried to enforce transparent identities instead, for example Facebook, but backed away from the policy after user backlash. So, it is a touchy issue indeed.

Talep McFadzean however posted a link to a document that has ideas of how performative identities may actually be handled in the future perhaps (( Time permitting, you should have a look at it.

Also, read Luke Rosewell’s paper which discussed a group on Facebook and YouTube called the Clergy Project that vets prospective members before they join their community.

I think that pseudonymity has a place in online communities as I have alluded to in my research paper. Members of SNSs and communities have somewhat factored in the fact that they know that they do not necessarily know who exactly bears the performative identity they communicate or interact with online. It is all very fluid, but they are willing to accept the identity’s authenticity to the cause, so to speak.

Thank you very much for your questions and feedback.


Hello Bayayi,
I finally got to your paper! I really enjoyed reading your paper, which was very well-written, engaging and informative. Pseudonymity clearly has its pitfalls, as you mention, with a strong link to cyber-bullying. From my perspective, I think cyber-bullying is enacted in both pseudonymity and anonymity contexts and from my views which I’ve discussed on Anna Pollards paper,, I think moderation and sensible moderation at that, is something that should be looked at as a wholly encompassing solution to the problem. Thanks for your great contribution to the conference.

Hi Bruno!
Moderation in the form of kicking people out if they are abusive isn’t going to be enough for all platforms, in many the malicious actor can just keep creating new accounts.
The vetting process talked about in my paper on The Clergy Project does a good job of patching that risk 🙂


Hi Luke,

I agree that malicious actors will always try to register new fake accounts in order to continue with their nefarious online activities. So, indeed, de-registering or suspending their accounts alone will not be a sufficient measure to thwart them.

Good luck! 😊


Hi Bruno,

Thank you for reading my paper and for your important comments.

I accept your thoughts on moderation as an important element in creating a holistic solution to the issues of digital aggression that I discuss in my paper. Platform owners may also need to implement checks an balances on account registration so that owners are traceable in order to make community members take responsibility for their online activities.

Thank for your thoughts on my paper and contribution to the debate.


Hi Bayayi

Well done on your paper!

I am glad that I grew up and graduated from school just before the Internet really took off and was not around during smartphone days, as I was bullied, so if smartphones etc were around I know I would have been a target of cyberbullying. It really breaks my heart when I see children the victim of bullying on TV, or as Kelly mentioned, Dolly Day committing suicide as a result of bullying. I could sound like an old fuddy-duddy and a big meanie but to try and curb this I think it also comes down to ensuring that parents just give children a phone that has the most basic of needs, one that has just enough credit to make a text or calls to home in an emergency. They don’t need a smartphone until they’re older and more mature. (Yeah, try telling them this at Christmas LOL…) All time spent online should be done under parental supervision. I think this is the only way to keep children safe and to know that we want them to feel safe, if they are just left on their own how do they know that we want them protected?


Hi Indre,

Thank you very much for reading my paper and your valuable comments.

Very interesting points that you raise on smartphones and online time parental supervision for young and impressionable minds. I also think that there must be education for both parents and children about what perfomative and fluid identities in online communities are. In addition, children should be trained to identify online digital aggression and report it to an adult so that mitigatory strategies can be implemented. I agree that children should be protected, and they must feel that the actions adults take during online activities are for their own good.



Hi Bayayi! I should have read your article before replying to your comment on mine! I found it a really interesting and compelling read, especially about the real, very concerning negative factors of pseudonymous identities. I think the core issue of meaningful accountability in pseudonymity is very tricky to unpack. Do you think persistent pseudonymous identities (the same identity across multiple sites and networks) are safer for communities than pseudonymous identities that exist purely on one network or in one community? Or do these risks occur equally for both?

Hi Samuel,

Thank you for reading my paper and contributing to the debate on my topic.

You point out that pseudonymity does present some challenges when it comes to accountability, and I agree. How to deal with it is absolutely tricky. I reckon you have given me some food for thought with the concept of “persistent pseudonymity” across all networks and communities. I had not thought about that as a possible solution or part of a solution. There is need for more research down that route.

Thank you for the thought-provoking comments and questions.


Comments are closed.