In the July 5, 1993 issue of The New Yorker, the caption to a cartoon by Peter Steiner put words to an idea that is now all-too-familiar:
“On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.”
Although there have been some efforts to combat the easy anonymity that the internet offers, such as Facebook’s controversial “Real Name” policy, internet users mostly retain the ability to control their online identity. And for some, being an unknown virtual entity is how they wish to remain.
We asked our readers whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement “You use online anonymity to engage in communities you would not otherwise,” and there was a significant disparity among every trait measured.
Even the smallest difference, between Thinking and Feeling types, was appreciable (42% vs. 36% agreeing, respectively), and between other traits, such as Introversion and Extraversion, the difference was positively staggering (48% vs. 29%).
Which types are more likely than others to engage anonymously with others online? We look into the matter below:
Analysts (47% agreeing)
Of the four Roles, Analysts were most likely to agree with the statement “You use online anonymity to engage in communities you would not otherwise.” Analysts prefer taking an objective, dispassionate approach to subjects, and their curiosity often knows no bounds. They may like the ability to observe communities, and even pose questions, without necessarily becoming a part of them.
Turbulent Logicians (INTP-T) agreed with the statement the most (60%). By remaining anonymous, these intensely self-critical but endlessly curious personality types can feel more free to jump into and out of online communities as they see fit, rather than dealing with the messiness of extracting themselves once their curiosity has run its course.
Less than half of Diplomats agreed that online anonymity was appealing when engaging communities. While some Diplomats may enjoy taking part in a community where they might not otherwise feel accepted – perhaps due to perceived prejudice towards the particulars of their gender, ethnicity, nationality, religion, or cultural background – many may ultimately yearn to be accepted for who they are, without pretense. These personality types likely find their agreement rooted in principle as much as practicum – they may find the idea that a corporation can dictate how they portray themselves as at least a little offensive.
Few Explorers seemed to take part in discussions on the internet without disclosing their identities. For these down-to-earth pragmatists, taking part in online discussions may have an instrumental purpose that remaining anonymous would counter. While Explorers may occasionally see some value in “lurking” in particular discussions, they may feel more often that establishing a strong online presence better suits their needs, and have little interest in taking part in communities that have no direct relevance to their lives. Explorers can be on the all-or-none side of things, so if they’re going to participate at all, they’re going to do so fully.
Least likely to use anonymity to take part in online conversations were the Sentinels. Sentinels’ aversion to online anonymity may stem from the chaos that it can facilitate, perhaps exemplified most by the hordes of nameless trolls that plague comment boards (at least on other sites – thank you, readers!) These personality types pride themselves on being good and proper members of the community.
Chief among them, agreeing with the statement least of any type, were Assertive Consuls (ESFJ-A) (14%). These personality types may share the attitude that if you’ve done nothing wrong, you’ve nothing to hide. As in real life, Consuls, and Sentinels in general, often feel that security, stability, and order are integral to a healthy community, and a clear identity is necessary to keep things as they should be.
Constant Improvement (53% agreeing)
Of the Strategies, Constant Improvement was overwhelmingly the one most likely to use the anonymity of the internet to take part in conversations where they ordinarily wouldn’t. As Introverts, Constant Improvers may feel more secure knowing that a sort of firewall exists between their real-life identities and their online personas, enabling them to take risks that they otherwise might not. Their Turbulent side, so careful to avoid loss of face and the negative judgment of others, makes this impulse even stronger.
Confident Individualists and Social Engagers (38% and 35%)
Confident Individualists and Social Engagers were closely matched in their response to the question of anonymity in online communities, though for very different reasons. This intersection occurs between two types who are otherwise opposites: Assertive Introverts and Turbulent Extraverts, respectively. In both cases, there may be a similar push-pull between conflicting attitudes. The Assertive nature of Confident Individualists may urge them to openly express their opinions online, even as their Introverted side remains cautious. Similarly, the Extraversion of Social Engagers may lead them to take part freely in many online conversations, even though their self-critical Identities may wish that they had held back a little.
People Mastery (23%)
Only a tiny minority of People Masters were likely to agree with the statement “You use online anonymity to engage in communities you would not otherwise." People Masters, who typically feel little need to hide in social settings, may be equally bold in how they carry out their online interactions. Indeed, anonymity may seem like a kind of death to these types, who may instead go out of their way to cultivate an online identity that is every bit as celebrated as their offline one.
The idea that “no one knows you’re a dog” is a liberating concept for many, particularly those who may feel restricted in some way in offline social interactions. The seemingly inescapable stigmas attached to sex, age, disability, and other instantly recognizable characteristics of our real-life selves don’t exist on the internet – unless we allow them to. This freedom may even extend to certain personality traits: Introverts, for example, may feel more secure when communicating through the medium of a digital persona, where they have all the time they need to compose their statements.
On the other hand, some personality types may not only refuse to embrace the anonymity of the internet for themselves, but dislike that such anonymity exists at all. To the law-and-order mindset of a Sentinel, being able to identify malefactors – and once identified, penalize them – may be vital for a cohesive community.
What do you think? Feel free to leave a comment about your thoughts on online anonymity, with your real name or not, below.