Anonymity Could be the Key to Fixing Social Media | Hacker Noon

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@richardzhangRichard Zhang

building Realms (joinrealms.com) | product + data + marketing + growth

The Social Dilemma has been a trending film and a large topic of discussion these past few months, and for good reason. Social media in its current form is deeply flawed.

Echo chambers form and have caused increased polarization. Inauthenticity has skyrocketed, eroding people’s mental health, and misinformation has created chaos around the world.

At least now, people are finally starting to take notice.

But social media has become almost irreplaceable in daily life; it helps us stay connected with friends, meet new people, and openly express ourselves. So the question shouldn’t be whether or not we should abolish social media, but how we can realign incentives and fix our digital platforms.

Image via Sara Kurfeß on Unsplash

Traditional social media platforms make for excellent breeding grounds for echo chambers because rather than expressing what they truly believe, people are pressured to align their thoughts with those in their networks.

You don’t want to be the odd one out with a different opinion when it seems like all your network believes in a certain philosophy. Increased political polarization can be attributed largely to this trend — those with conservative friends and a conservative feed tend to become increasingly conservative, and vice versa for those whose networks discuss more liberal beliefs.

As “cancel culture” starts to take over, people are more conscious than ever of what they say — nobody wants others to see an old post that may cause them to judge you negatively due to differences in opinion.

Apart from promoting echo chambers, today’s social media doesn’t represent people wholly; they incite people to self-select for their best moments, which in turn creates negative content cycles of glorified lifestyles.

The reason for such self-selection is that with traditional social media, people’s posts are inherently tied to their identity. It’s only natural that humans want to represent their best selves to others, but this is extremely harmful for people’s mental health and causes us to downplay our own lives when compared to the filtered and polished external images of others.

If handled correctly, a good solution to tackle echo chambers and inauthenticity is anonymous social. Removing direct ties between individual identities and content breaks down echo chambers by allowing people to post their honest opinions and critiques without needing to create an image of alignment with the rest of their network. Good-willed dialogue can happen safely without social penalty.

At the same time, anonymous social enables an idea meritocracy where the best and most engaging ideas naturally stand out, even if stated by someone who isn’t generally heard or doesn’t have a large personal following. This differs greatly from traditional social media where the identity of the person can prematurely introduce bias and influence public perception.

Within today’s divisive climate, open and honest dialogue is more important than ever to enable collective progress. Unfortunately for all of us, more and more people are afraid to speak their true opinions, and this is not a sustainable path to go down if we want to enable and protect democracy, which relies on people standing up for what they believe in.

Anonymous social can be effective in helping us understand public sentiment on a number of different issues and allow anyone to safely stand up for something.

Image via Liam Edwards on Unsplash

However, anonymous social has had a rough past. None of the mainstream platforms like Yik Yak, Secret, and After School were able to sustain growth and cultivate user-friendly communities, even during the golden age of anonymous social (2014-2016).

Toxicity, spam, violence, and extremist content plagued these platforms, and the content on the platforms never proved to serve enough value for its users to retain despite early explosive growth.

These previous attempts at anonymous social shared one common trait that made but largely failed them: their almost nonexistent barrier to entry for users, which resulted in zero accountability.

Most of these platforms allowed users to go download and post right away without filling out much profile information. They also lacked effective penalty systems to discourage bad actors from continuously distributing harmful content. These flaws were deeply ingrained into the product, and moderation efforts couldn’t keep up with the fast scaling quantity of toxic content, causing later changes to be ineffective.

Furthermore, with anonymity, there was decreased individual upside to posting. In general, what makes an app sticky is positive reinforcement: more followers, more friends, more retweets.

Image via NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Unlike posting a photo on Instagram, where you earn social credit and validation, previous anonymous social platforms provided very little positive reinforcement. This leads to low user retention after a period of time, as well as creating more incentives for bad actors than good actors.

With all of this said about anonymous social, we’ve built a brand new platform to maximize the good and tackle the bad from this space.

Realms: A New Anonymous Social Media Platform

Introducing my company Realms, a semi-anonymous group-based platform for people to have good-willed and authentic conversations.

It’s become clear to us that complete anonymity doesn’t provide enough value to people — nor does it cultivate safe spaces.

Realms is coining a new approach that we call “semi-anonymous.”

As a user, you’ll be able to create and request to join publicly viewable groups (or what we call “realms”) with people whom you care about. Within these realms, your posts will stay anonymous, but each realm roster is publicly viewable, so you know who’s in each group but don’t know who’s posting.

Open group rosters allow users to identify realms that they want to join or follow based on their members and topics of discussion. This is where one of our key innovations lies:

Users influencing the public and garnering attention collectively in groups rather than as individuals. 

To post in a realm, you have to be either an admin-approved member of that realm or a verified specific email domain holder. For example, there’s already a New York University realm for all students who’ve verified their NYU emails, and similar use cases may exist within different companies.

These verification steps ensure the legitimacy and relevancy of realm members, so you can trust where the voices are coming from within each realm.

When it comes to accountability and safety, which should be large emphases for any platform dealing with anonymity, Realms takes advantage of the semi-anonymous structure and utilizes real profiles to hold actors accountable.

Not only do we have pre-post moderation technologies built-in that prevent harmful posts from being ever released onto the platform, but Realms can also hide posts and even ban users completely when necessary because we have needed information about our users.

In addition, each realm is filled by only wanted members due to verification steps so it’s extra difficult for trolls, bots, or random actors to cause serious damage. Realms also supports community-based moderation, which has proven to be much more effective than global moderation in platforms like Reddit or Discord. We have specific guidelines for what’s acceptable and what’s not on the platform and refer to them for moderation.

Currently, Realms is an invite-only platform. If you’d like to connect or start a realm for your friends, email [email protected]. We’re excited to continue fostering authentic and responsible dialogue by combining anonymity and group identities.

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