Anonymous Social MediaBy Gini Dietrich

It’s been a few years now, but I remember an example of a woman who tweeted how much she hated her job and her boss. Her boss saw the tweet and tweeted back, “You’re fired.”

It was one of those train wrecks you couldn’t help but watch and it reminded you not to put things in writing you didn’t want to come back to you.

While you may think you’re participating in anonymous social media, it’s fairly likely someone, somewhere will figure out who you are.

But we have short memories and I had the same kind of shock when I read a comment on a blog post last week about how much this person hates their job and wishes he’d get fired. A few clicks and it was pretty easy to figure out who he was and where he works.

I would venture to guess he’s probably safe from his boss seeing it—otherwise why would he write that?—but I’m still shocked he put it in writing. What happens, now, if he does get fired? I wonder if the unemployment office would consider that “for cause” and not provide benefits?

This is something I think about when I read about the anonymous social media apps, such as Whisper, Secret, and YikYak…and now Facebook Rooms.

Anonymous Social Media

The web has gone back and forth on anonymity. In the early days, everything you did online was anonymous. But that eventually moved to your having to use your real name because of hate messages, bullying, and even crimes. If you weren’t going to say what you had to say using your real name, the web decided you probably shouldn’t be saying it at all.

But this year, anonymous social media apps have emerged and they’re gaining popularity fairly quickly. Once again, we can air our grievances with little risk of real-life consequences.

There are two big reasons for this: We miss our privacy a great deal and communities of commonality are important, which is pretty evident in places such as Pinterest. We follow boards about things that interest us instead of boards our friends post that don’t matter to us.

Jason Miller, the product manager at Facebook who is leading the Rooms effort, said:

One of the magical things about the early days of the web was connecting to people who you would never encounter otherwise in your daily life…Forums, message boards and chatrooms were meeting places for people who didn’t necessarily share geographies or social connections, but had something in common.

Of course, you can already do this on Reddit. While it’s a scary place to hang out online, it’s also a most glorious place where people police the groups, send gifts to one another, and even send messages of support.

It’s Not Really Anonymous

But should you count on being able to say something that could come back to bite you, even if you think it’s fairly safe?

I downloaded Secret a few months ago and hung out in there, just to see what it was and why I should care. I have to say, it’s a little appalling.

People talk about cheating on their spouses and physical abuse because they “just can’t help” themselves. They also talk about dumb things such as how one farts in their sleep or how another can’t stop picking their nose and eating their boogers.

Here’s the thing, though. Even though people don’t know who you are and you can use an alias, the apps are set up to your phone. Which means it’s easily traced back to you.

So if you’re talking about hitting a girl because you just can’t help it or how much you hate your job, you are going to be found out.

As my dad always said when we were kids, “Never put anything in writing you don’t want held against you later.” And that includes anything in “anonymous” social media.

photo credit: Shutterstock

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

View all posts by Gini Dietrich