The social value of anonymity on campus

TitleThe social value of anonymity on campus
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2019
AuthorsBayne S, Connelly L, Osborne N, Tobin R, Grover C, Beswick E, Rouhani L
JournalLearning, Media and Technology
Pagination1 - 17
Date Published2019/2/28
Type of ArticleArticle
ISBN Number1743-9884
Keywordsanonymity, campus, Community, datafication, digital, ephemerality, higher education, social media
Abstract

This paper considers the social value of anonymity in online university student communities, through the presentation of research which tracked the final year of life of the social media application Yik Yak. Yik Yak was an anonymous, geosocial mobile application launched in 2013 which, at its peak in 2014, was used by around two million students in the US and UK. The research we report here is significant as a mixed method study tracing the final year of the life of this app in a large UK university between 2016 and 2017. The paper uses computational and ethnographic methods to understand what might be at stake in the loss of anonymity within university student communities in a datafied society. Countering the most common argument made against online anonymity – its association with hate speech and victimisation – the paper draws on recent conceptual work on the social value of anonymity to argue that anonymity online in this context had significant value for the communities that use it. This study of a now-lost social network constitutes a valuable portrait by which we might better understand our current predicament in relation to anonymity, its perceived value and its growing impossibility.

DOI10.1080/17439884.2019.1583672
Short TitleLearning, Media and Technology
Abstract

This paper considers the social value of anonymity in online university student communities, through the presentation of research which tracked the final year of life of the social media application Yik Yak. Yik Yak was an anonymous, geosocial mobile application launched in 2013 which, at its peak in 2014, was used by around two million students in the US and UK. The research we report here is significant as a mixed method study tracing the final year of the life of this app in a large UK university between 2016 and 2017. The paper uses computational and ethnographic methods to understand what might be at stake in the loss of anonymity within university student communities in a datafied society. Countering the most common argument made against online anonymity – its association with hate speech and victimisation – the paper draws on recent conceptual work on the social value of anonymity to argue that anonymity online in this context had significant value for the communities that use it. This study of a now-lost social network constitutes a valuable portrait by which we might better understand our current predicament in relation to anonymity, its perceived value and its growing impossibility.