Let’s Discuss Anonymous Social Media Accounts

Have you ever created an anonymous social media account? I haven’t. But after reading this article about how commonplace they are, I wonder if I’m in the minority. 

Once a behaviour reserved for “weirdos” on Reddit and Tumblr, it’s become a staple for internet users on essentially every platform. On Twitter it’s your “anon”; on Instagram it’s your “finsta” (fake-Insta); on multiple platforms it’s you and your friends’ “flop”, or simply your “alt”.

Today, the alt account is often seen as an online necessity, something many people deem key to staying sane on the internet. But while the alt-account may now be normal, the reasons for having one are diverse. For some, they are positive and relieving; for others, they’re a tool for dangerous harm.

The article goes in several examples of how people use anonymous accounts. Sometimes it’s a work related thing — perhaps they have a government position where they can’t share opinions freely. Other times it’s a situation where someone feels socially awkward and having an anonymous account makes them braver, and lets them take on a new identity. In one example from the article, anonymous accounts help with creative development — an author created Twitter accounts for two characters in a book she is writing — she uses their twitter accounts to explore the thoughts of each character.

There’s also a discussion in the article of how harmful anonymous accounts can be, and how people use them to shield bad behavior.

I find it all fairly fascinating. As I mentioned, I don’t have any anonymous social media accounts. I was wondering why that was so, and think it might be connected to the fact that I was already sharing publicly online with my blog before social media was a thing. So maybe I was already comfortable with the idea of putting my thoughts out into the world in a public way.

But just because I’ve never created anonymous accounts, doesn’t mean I haven’t experimented with being anonymous on line. Though I admit I haven’t done much and am no doubt naive on this topic. I can think of two times where I posted comments on blogs under an anonymous name. Once was to defend someone I felt was being unfairly attacked. Another time I posted comments under a man’s name because I knew I would be taken more seriously as a man on that particular platform.

As I read the article about anonymous accounts, I laughed at my very limited experiences with being anonymous — especially when it described how common and mainstream these accounts are for many (or most?) people. It made me curious. How common do you think anonymous accounts are among your friends and family? Do you have any alt-accounts? Or have you ever thought about creating one? If you have one (or more than one), what is your main purpose for maintaining it? And would you say it’s been a positive experience?

I know my kids have multiple accounts — though many of those are just a second account, not necessarily anonymous. Do you think anonymous accounts are an age-related phenomenon? Are Gen-X women like me less likely to have anonymous accounts? Or does everyone have alternative accounts, at all ages, and I’m just an outlier? Is the idea of your kids having anonymous accounts something stressful to you?

Have you ever left anonymous comments on a blog? Have you ever said something mean or rude or cruel online, with the shield of anonymity, that you wouldn’t have said in person? I’ve definitely gotten in arguments and said angry, mean things — but always as myself. Is that better or worse than being anonymous? Or, have you ever been attacked online by anonymous accounts?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

P.S. — If the term finstagram is new to you, you should know it’s not new to everybody. The New York Times wrote about finstagram accounts in 2015.


Photo credit: That’s me in a photo by the amazing Nicole Breanne for Alt Summit.

23 thoughts on “Let’s Discuss Anonymous Social Media Accounts”

  1. I can barely keep up with my personal and work accounts–the idea of maintaining additional anonymous accounts totally stresses me out! I do think this is a generational thing; I think those of us who grew up thinking of the internet as an extension of a real social networks, as a generally safe place involving real people (an idea that I realize has been busted wide open) are just generally more reluctant to start fooling around with fake identities. I’m also one of those people who will NEVER get in an argument on Twitter, however, so I may be in the minority…

  2. I have commented anonymously on a blog; usually when it’s discussing something awkwardly personal that could easily be traced back to me by my usual login and I’d prefer it wasn’t. But a whole account? Nah. I prefer accountability. And if I find an account is an anonymous/fake account to absolve the owner of accountability…that’s what the delete button is for.

    (I don’t use my full name for most anything on social media or blogs at this point, but it’s pretty easy to track me down IRL if you really wanted to.)

  3. I did actually create another FB account right after the 2016 election to be able to comment on political posts. Eventually I decided that all this was doing was making me more negative and depressed, and it certainly wasn’t changing anything in the direction I want our country headed towards. Do I need to argue with some random gun loving guy about the NRA? No-total waste of my time and made me feel worse, not connected. After a few months I gave it up. (And actually have disabled my regular FB account too-but that’s another story.)

    1. I also disabled my facebook account in 2019 and really am on no social media platforms (twitter, instagram). And I’m much less distracted at work because of it and much more focused on my family at home and what is important. And a lot of my fomo or feelings of inadequacies as a mom or a woman have gone way down. And I’m reading real newspaper stories and checking their sites regularly (I get free access to the NYTimes for work and we pay for a Boston Globe subscription, but I really wasn’t using it) so I feel like I’m actually more informed on real issues, not just issues put out there for click bait. Gabby – maybe a blog post on people choosing to leave social media is in your future!

  4. I have anonymous accounts and I am over 40 years old. I don’t use them often, but I use them to express freely political opinions ( As I work as a public servant in France and we are forbidden by law to express our opinions -even in foreign countries) or when in more personal forums/blogs or even commenting articles in newspapers I may disclose experiences I’ve had ( with domestic violence, rape, etc). My stories, as many other’s women stories, should be told in general and the conversation should be happening – because violence against women is systemic. My experience is written in the history of patriarchy and women’s abuse. It’s worth talking about it and I am all for accountability, but I don’t want my boss, co-workers or my kid’s friends to read about some things or to label me or my experience because of traumatic events. I get to tell people in person when I think the time is right, when they are ready or when they are worthy of my trust. And I can tell the world and be part of a wider discussion, without people knowing what I look like, where I work, where my kids go to school and seeing my family pictures.

    1. And just to clarify, I am not creating a fake persona or a fake life to be able to disclose things. It’s just a tool to be able to discuss and deepen some discussions while preserving my family and work life.
      And I’ve used a male name to comment in a blog to be taken more seriously too… It works so well, that it is kind of depressing….

  5. I have posted anonymous comments before, but it was probably on a sensitive subject like sex. And I can’t remember when or where, so it’s probably obsolete in Internet time and clearly not that often.

    Anonymous accounts are a strange concept to me. It seems dishonest and phony. Of course, I have no career or professional reputation to protect. When your personal conduct is honest at all times, why would you have any need to hide?

    But then of course, there is a website I stumbled across years ago called The Great Whatsit. It was so strange and unusual from anything else I had seen that I kept returning to try to figure it out. It’s a bunch of friends who knew each other at one point in time IRL and then started to spread apart geographically. They have their own private posting schedule and their own dues to keep it alive and running.

    But their comment sections are all hilarious: they all have two or three comment names, and they banter just like IRL. And they post with those different names, too, but everyone who is a regular knows who is who. It was a fascinating puzzle to figure out who lives where and who is married or living with who. I never did figure out where they all originally knew each other. And before you knew it, I became a regular, too, and even published two or three things myself.

  6. I’m 29, and I’ve noticed my middle school niece with a “fake” Instagram account, and some of her friends too- I gusss I just thought it was a new, young kid thing. Interesting!

  7. I’m 48 and I created an anonymous IG account a while ago. I was concerned about the privacy of my children and wanted to keep my personal account private. But I also wanted a public account to post beautiful pictures of the state I live in, so I created one just for that reason.

  8. I’m in my 40’s and have only ever used an alias for all social media. I live in a small town and my good friends know who I am, and if random people or people at work ask if I’m on FB (or whatever), I can say no. If I wouldn’t have a long chat with you over a glass of wine, we’re not friends!

  9. I know lots of people who have multiple accounts- one that is private and one that is public, for example. I’ve never had anonymous accounts, but I have commented on blogs anonymously a couple of times- mostly when I was supposed to be “apolitical” online for a job.

  10. I am going into a field where I am expected to be as neutral as Switzerland. For this reason, I have an anonymous Twitter account where I can freely express political opinions. I try to be polite and not tear down others in comments I leave. I also want an anonymous account because there are some real crazies out there. One person found out what tiny town I lived in. I didn’t like that feeling at all.

  11. Up until just recently all of my online accounts were anonymous strictly because I didn’t want unsolicited searches finding me and I have specific people I do not want contact with because of past conflicts, it was a safety issue. To be sure, MANY people were aware of my alias and I asked them all to just keep personal info under their hat, again, trying to avoid specific people with whom I did not want any contact. Non of my accounts has ever been very controversial, mostly just lame content between friends and or family, so I had no need for “statements” one way or the other.

    I know several people who also have anonymous accounts, some for privacy, and yes YES! some for the sole purpose of making harsh statements they would never say without a shield, which *I* believe is not only cowardly, but ethically wrong! If you actually believe that ‘whozits are plaid’, then either keep it to yourself or proudly make your statement and own it -and reap whatever comes, accolades or darts.

  12. I deleted my Facebook account because some of my “Friends” and family posted such politically offensive things that I couldn’t take it. These were people I couldn’t ‘unfriend’ without burning bridges :(my Mother for instance). I’ve thought about setting up an anonymous account just to avoid having to participate with this but haven’t. That would be the only reason.

  13. I’m always me. I decided long ago that if I’m going to be online, I’m not going to be afraid of being me, with my first and last name used almost all the time. If I felt I had to share something anonymously, I would prefer not to share it online at all. That’s just my stance on it. And anonymous accounts and bots are doing our world a lot of damage, so I try my best to not pay any attention to them.

  14. I’m 22 and most of my friends (myself included!) have finsta accounts. I’m not sure I would call them anonymous, though. That’s not how anyone I know uses finstas. Your finsta handle is something anonymous (whereas your normal insta handle usually includes your name), so that random people and casual classmates don’t try to follow you. But the actual content is definitely not anonymous. Everyone who follows you (normally your close friends) know who are you.

    I’ve seen different girls use them in different ways. Sometimes it’s to post more risque content, sometimes it’s for memes, often it’s a sort of online journal of personal thoughts, drunk ramblings, etc. Sometimes it’s just a place to post less “curated” pictures — it becomes a more accurate reflection of your real life.

    I can’t speak to other social media platforms, because I don’t participate in anything other than instagram, but I think finstas are definitely a generational thing, and also definitely a feminine thing. I’ve never met a man with a finsta.

    Overall, I think they’re nice. I get uncomfortable with the oversharing that happens, but I think following someone’s finsta invites a level of trust, intimacy, and honesty that is often lacking in normal social media relations.

  15. I don’t have any anonymous accounts. Like you, I didn’t even know it was a thing! My 17-yo daughter has a finsta, but she’s not anonymous on that. I think it’s just a smaller group of friends who follow her there, and she posts sillier photos.

    I can see why people might want one though. I have a friend who declined to post a photo on FB because she’s got work colleagues who see her posts. In that case, maybe you’d want one that was really just private and you could post what you want.

    I’ve made anonymous comments only when I’m sharing something private about me. Obviously I don’t mind sharing the content, but I don’t want it to be linked to me in the wide open Internet.

  16. I would not call it anonymous exactly, but this account is not under my real name, and it’s the one I use always in internet (Instagram, Facebook, twitter, blogs…). The first time I opened a Facebook user I did it by my name. It took only some time until I began being searched and getting messages from some person of my past I didn’t want to meet or have any information about me. I felt so bad that I closed my page. Then I decided that I needed another account just for commenting in blogposts or anywhere. And to create my blog and feel a bit of privacy, to share what I wanted to share, nothing more. I still feel it’s the correct way to handle it. I suposse I’m a bit naive feeling secure with this, but right now it’s my way of dealing with privacy/exposition. It’s also a way to protect my private life versus my professional life, that are very different and I do not want to mix.

  17. The principal at my kids’ middle school sent a letter home about anonymous social media accounts and how they were being used for bullying. She asked parents to check to see if their kids have multiple accounts that parents might not be aware of and to speak with kids about how they are being used. Sounds like the online bullying through anonymous accounts is an issue, at least at our middle school in Southern California.

  18. In India, fake accounts are a HUGE thing. The current ruling party has an army (i dont say that lightly) of trolls with fake accounts on social media and whatsapp who are paid to attack, ,align, troll, vilify, scare and send out fake information. It’s a very large crisis since a lot if this is used to spread lies on religious issues and people have been lynched and killed on the basis of fake info which eventually doesnt trace back to anyone in particular. It’s in the news regularly. That’s the reason whatsapp restricted their forwards policy to 5 only; in India since last year and now globally also i believe.
    Having an anon account shouldnt be a problem if youre just wishing to sit back and enjoy a show from behind your one sided glass. When you reach out and try to harm.. in any manner whatsoever, its an issue. Its cowardly amongst other things. And unfortunately it’s one of the biggest election weapons in use right now, in India at least.
    Having said all that, i have an FB account with a modified name because i wanted to observe the comments of a particular group. Since i had deactivated on fb a year ago, i have only 6 or 7 friends in my profile and use it to check out the group. But i keep away from engaging. I dont want to be the coward i feel such anon engagers are.
    Thanks to your article, i’ve realised that the work related restrictions or personal issue related steps are all too real and more strength to them. I wanted out of the fb clutter but still dip my toes in, so.
    I dont know how you keep coming up with such relevant topics. Your mind is a rich rich field. It’s amazing.

  19. Wow, folks … history. The communities on the Internet used to be all anonymous or pseudonymous. Some folks would use their real name, but were advised to not do so for privacy and safety reasons.

    This alleged no accountability thing is a myth. Back then all websites required you to sign up with your real name and a real email address, sometimes a phone number but you would be visually seen with a pseudonym or screen name.

    This was to prevent other people from singling you out in person. If people had a problem with what someone was contributing you contacted the site owners, told them the screen name and they took it from there.

    All the sites I signed up for in the past has the legal notice that if you did anything illegal (scams) or incited to violence or other crime they would then report you to the appropriate authorities with your full details.

    Only disreputable sites never asked for any real information to be stored in the sites databases.

    Then Facebook happened with it’s insistence on public real names. Of course many of us suspected they were going to become a huge adnetwork and used pseudonyms anyways. Then many of us quit when it became apparent that it was all for them and the user was the product.

    All we’re all doing is getting back to the freedom to belong somewhere where we don’t have to feel pressured to perform, connect, or beholden to someone else.

    Sorry for going on so long, but the Internet has been here since at least 1994 when I got on. There’s a whole lot more history than … Facebook.

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