The Influence of Anonymity on Participation in Online Communities
Université de technologie de Troyes
This work presents my PhD thesis about the influence of anonymity on participation in online environments. The starting point of this research was the observation of the design process of an online platform for informal caregivers. I realized that there is no knowledge about the practical effects that an anonymous identity system would have. This thesis contains the subsequent literature review, which has been synthesized into a model that shows which participation factors might be influenced by anonymity. Three studies on existing online environments have been conducted: One on Youtube, where there was a change in the comment system forbidding anonymous comments; one on Quora, where users can choose to answer questions anonymously; and one on Hacker News, where users choose how many identity factors they want to present and which name they use. The results of these studies are that, contrary to what the literature would suggest, 1) anonymity did not result in impolite and uncivil discussions, and 2) other factors than anonymity have a stronger influence on participation, which means that 3) anonymity can make the effect of social signals visible, e.g. text properties like length influencing social appreciation. Additionally, it appears that participation is linked to profile completeness, and that an established web presence elsewhere limits participation. The implications of these results are a confirmation of the Social Identity Model of Deindividuation Effects, according to which anonymity can have positive effects on group identity.