Academic journal article Journal of International Technology and Information Management

Perceptions and Use of Anonymous Communication across Cultures

Academic journal article Journal of International Technology and Information Management

Perceptions and Use of Anonymous Communication across Cultures

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

We use social networks to communicate, keep in touch and express our opinions in a manner that has become completely ubiquitous. However, this very ubiquity and ease of expression have exposed another, contentious side--one where nobody can remain completely anonymous for long and where every conversation is stored in perpetuity. Some fear that the ephemeral quality of a social interaction has been lost, which threatens our right to be forgotten and freedom of expression. In this paper, we look at why people engage in anonymous communication, and if there is a perceived need for legal protection of anonymous communication. Moreover, this paper attempts to identify cultural stratifications, if any, in the ways in which people of various cultures perceive the importance of anonymous communications. The primary cultural clusters we studied are Anglo (e.g. Australia, Canada, England, USA) and Eastern European (e.g. Albania, Bulgaria, Moldova, Russia). Our data set consists of 374 responses to our survey from people belonging to these cultures. We found that perceived freedom afforded by anonymous communication and propensity to trust are both positively related to use of anonymous communication, which in turn is positively related to perceived need for legal protection of anonymous communication. Moreover, we found that the relationship between propensity to trust and use of anonymous communication is stronger for respondents in the Eastern Europe cultural cluster than for respondents in non-Eastern Europe cultural clusters.

INTRODUCTION

May 13, 2014

The EU Court of Justice ruled in favor of a Spanish man, Mario Costeja Gonzalez, who sought to have links to his personal data removed from Google search results. (Court of Justice of the European Union, 2014)

October 1, 2014

Chris Cox, Facebook's chief product officer, apologized to members of the LGBT community who were affected by Facebook's insistence on using real names for their accounts. (Cox, 2014)

These two brief vignettes showcase the increasing insistence of people who use social networks to remain anonymous. In today's hyper-networked society, the use of social networks to communicate, keep in touch and express one's opinion has become ubiquitous. However, this ubiquity and the ease of expressing oneself have exposed another, contentious side--one where nobody can remain completely anonymous for long, and where every conversation and every bit of data transferred is stored in perpetuity, and thus could be traced back to its origins. Some fear that the ephemeral quality of a social interaction has been lost. People can no longer hope for the right to be forgotten. Others see a threat to freedom of expression. Given the global prevalence of social networks, it would be interesting to see if there are cultural stratifications in the perceptions of anonymity. Specifically, we are interested in the following research questions: Why do people engage in anonymous communication? Is there a perceived need for legal protection of anonymous communication? How do cultural differences impact these relationships?

We attempt to address these questions by studying the perceptions of anonymity among users of social networks across different cultures. In order to do this, we first look at prior work in two broad areas: (a) anonymous communication in the legal, technical, and social science literature; and (b) work on the cultural determinants of behavior.

ANONYMOUS COMMUNICATION

The desire for individuals to maintain anonymity while interacting in public has long been in existence. People have sought anonymity for a variety of reasons. Prior work in the area of anonymity can be found in the legal, technical, and social science literature. Before discussing these works, it is useful to start with a working definition of the concept of anonymity.

The Merriam Webster Online Dictionary defines "anonymity" as the quality or state of being unknown to most people (Merriam-Webster, 2014). …

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