The Terrifying Freedom of Anonymous Public Forums

Go on any social media site and you’ll see users sharing personal moments, intimate thoughts, embarrassing stories, and so much more that, before the Internet allowed instant gratification and recreated the boundaries of social norms, would be thought of as inappropriately personal. On anonymous posting sites like Reddit and Wikipedia, and even on smart phone apps like Yik Yak, you’ll find similar and sometimes more intimate thoughts being shared and commented on.

As someone in the generational community of the social media-obsessed, you’d think I’d have no problem ‘putting myself out there,’ so to speak. I’m fairly open on Facebook—I don’t post a status every hour about my every move, like some people, or talk about my feelings and opinions all the time, like others. I really don’t share as much as many of my friends, and even family members. But I would consider myself fairly comfortable with the public forum posting, all things considered.

So you can imagine how surprised I was to be paralyzed by fear when I sat down to contribute to a Wikipedia page for a class assignment. I just couldn’t do it. No, I didn’t really want to. I couldn’t help feeling like I didn’t have anything worthwhile to contribute, or that someone probably knows more about the topic and so deserves to be adding to articles. Or, what if I posted and then someone took it down, or changed it, or didn’t like it—that would be even worse.

I wondered to myself why I was so shy about this. I have no problem posting on Tumblr, Facebook, or Pinterest. I have no problem posting my opinions on this blogsite. But for some reason, Wikipedia scared me.

At first I thought it might be because it isn’t just a social site. People go to Wikipedia expecting to find the truth, now more than ever, when so many people are editing and adding to articles. There’s a certain level of respectability and scholarly knowledge I expect from the contributors to Wikipedia that I don’t expect from other sites.

After giving it more thought, I realized that the anonymous aspect allowed for more judgment to be passed. On Facebook, the people reading my words are, or they’re supposed to be, friends, family, at the very least acquaintances. And they know me—they have a general sense of my personality and sense of humor. So when they read my posts, they pass their judgment based not just on the content of the posts, but also on what they think of me. And hopefully that increases the amount of positive feedback I get.

On anonymous sites (Reddit, Wikipedia, Yik Yak) users are judged by strangers solely on the content of their posts. They can, and usually are, harsher because they have no personal connection to the creator of the post. Now I know Wikipedia is nothing like Reddit, but I couldn’t help feeling the pressure when I sat down to contribute to a page. In the end, I changed as little as possible, and mostly polished up phrasing and grammar and made the article have a tone appropriate for the comic book series it represented. Nothing earth shattering, and hopefully nothing that contributors after me would think was dumb, because, even though it’s anonymous, I will forever be wary of the judgment of strangers on the Internet.

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