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Dec 3 / Erin Vader

Social Media Anonymity – Are You Really Anonymous?

Written by Krystal Tosch

Social media is a huge trend in society as of late. Users can use social media to promote businesses, keep in touch with family and friends or just peruse at their leisure. However, one of the most popular trends recently has been anonymous social media applications, such as: Whisper, Snapchat, Secret and Yik Yak, which allows users to post messages and / or pictures anonymously (Dwoskin, 2014). These applications are experiencing a growth in popularity because of their unfiltered take on traditional social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter (Ewell, 2014). There are many skeptics at how anonymous these new twists on social media really are, though – does the company know who its users are? Do the messages or pictures disappear after being sent? Where does the information go after it is sent if it’s anonymous? (Dwoskin, 2014). In regards to information policy, these questions need to be better addressed because of how they may perceive anonymity.

When Whisper was accused of tracking the location of its users, the company spokesperson stated that it was “the safest place on the Internet” (Dwoskin, 2014); however, people still have doubts about the company. Dwoskin (2014) also states that as long as companies connect users through the Internet, they are able to find device IDs and IP addresses to serve as unique identifies and narrow down whom its users are.

The anonymous Twitter-like posting application, Yik Yak, is highly present on college campuses and has been used for cyberbullying and threats of violence (McDonnell, 2014). However, Yik Yak’s lead community developer, Cam Mullen, has stated that if a questionable post gets five votes down, they remove it from the feed. Additionally, Mullen stated that they use filters to identify racism, cyberbullying, homophobia and people’s names and within one minute of a posting of that nature, it will be taken down (McDonnell, 2014). Mullen’s statement shows the commitment that Yik Yak has to ensuring that a campus environment is safe from harm and that commitment will hopefully stay within the duration of Yik Yak’s existence.

Third party applications can also connect these anonymous services, by hacking through an application programming interface (API) (Wagner, 2014). Recently, it seemed as though Snapchat was hacked by API’s, where Snapchat users were using third-party applications that involved them using their Snapchat username and password, making them more vulnerable (Wagner, 2014). Unfortunately, this was not Snapchat’s first time dealing with this breach. With these recent events, users should be aware of the lack of anonymity as their photos can be easily leaked. Snapchat has begun to enforce the policy of notifying its users when they are using a third-party app to help alleviate this issue (Ribeiro, 2014). Hopefully more applications will use this approach in order to best inform their users of the risks of downloading third-party applications and thinking that all content is kept anonymous.

Overall, anonymity has to be better addressed. Users need to be aware that their anonymous postings are not anonymous. The anonymity of apps, such as Yik Yak, can lead to bullying and be detrimental to others. In regards to third party applications, I can only hope that these developers be stopped from putting out these applications, or that users become more aware of how dangerous third party applications can be to their information security.

References

Dwoskin, E. (2014, October 28). Whisper and the Meaning of Anonymity. The Wall Street Journal.

Retrieved from http://blogs.wsj.com/digits/2014/10/28/whisper-and-the-meaning-of-

anonymity/

McDonnell, M. (2014, October 26). Yik Yak takes action against bullying. Vidette Online. Retrieved

from http://www.videtteonline.com/index.php/2014/10/26/yik-yak-takes-action-against-

bullying/

Ribeiro, J. (2014, November 12). Snapchat to ask users to stop using unauthorized apps. Computer

World. Retrieved from http://www.computerworld.com/article/2846038/snapchat-to-ask-

users-to-stop-using-unauthorized-apps.html

Wagner, K. (2014, October 13). Snapchat Blames Third-Party Apps for Hack, Raising Questions

About Its API. Re/code. Retrieved from http://recode.net/2014/10/13/snapchat-blames-third-

party-apps-for-hack-raising-questions-about-its-own-api/