We had an Iron Blogger meetup this week and decided to try a themed week where we each write on a similar topic. This weeks theme is ‘anonymity’ - we choose it because one of our members wants to create and share some content but not have it tied to their real identity. In this post, I’ll muse on the challenges of online identity and some tradeoffs when it comes to distribution of original content.

There are many legitimate reasons to want to create and share content anonymously online. It might be expressing a facet of you that you don’t want your coworkers, family, or friends seeing. Or, knowing that a bit of digital content is likely to be permanently online and associated with you might stifle creativity and limit your range of experimentation. If you’re focused on learning and improving in a medium, you might not want to share under your real name because you’re not comfortable with the quality. Depending on your demographics, putting content online might draw the attention of malicious trolls.

The reasons you might want to share the content in the first place can also be varied but two common ones are to gain feedback and to influence a broader conversation.

With plenty of reasons not to use your real identity, there are several alternatives methods for creating and sharing content. One option is to submit something with total anonymity through a throwaway / single-use account on a forum or blogging platform. Another option is to create a pseudonym or pen-name under which you publish content and engage with others.

Pseudonymity has an advantage over anonymity in that you can attain feedback and discuss the work with others. If you’re creating any quantity of content, you can start amassing an audience which makes later distribution easier. One risk is that the more you create and engage with an audience, the greater the chance of someone discovering your real identity.

A major challenge that faces any content creator is distribution - this is true regardless of whether you are publishing anonymously, employing a pseudonym, or using your own name. One advantage to using your real identity is that you can leverage any followers you already have (on Twitter, Facebook, or blog) and have an instant audience. While you can try using your real networks to share your anonymous content, friends and colleagues might be able to guess that you’re the one behind it.

I have one possible solution, which will probably only work in some situations; let’s call it a Shared Pseudonym (SP). The way it could work is that a group of trusted friends who have an interest in putting out similar content can get together and jointly own an online presence. Any member of the group can publish something under the pseudonym and ALL members agree to share it (e.g. retweet) through their real identities. Because there is a group ownership, any given member has plausible deniability that any given content is not theirs and doesn’t represent their opinions.

A Shared Pseudonym probably won’t work if the general content is too controversial to be sharing with your real identity but likely works for things that are borderline or for many of the other reasons for not sharing under your real identity.

I’m comfortable sharing pretty much anything under my real identity, but I’d be down to create a Shared Pseudonym if there’s interest.