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Online anonymity: these researchers’ great idea to make the Internet cool again

© Pexels/Tim Mossholder

Everyone can experience it on social networks: speaking online is not easy. By expressing themselves under their real identity, some fear reprisals or harassment. Anonymity is therefore good, but also has a well-known perverse effect: the production of hateful and toxic speech.

Encourage relevant discussions

To find a fair balance between the two, researchers at MIT had the idea of ​​incompletely revealing the identity of a person. This concept is called “meronymat”.

They built a new communication system called LiTweeture, in order to help young scientists to ask questions related to their research on the social networks X and Mastodon.

It allows users to reveal certain professional facts (expertise in a field, university affiliation) without giving their exact identity. The result turned out to be very conclusive. At the end of a month-long experiment, participants believe that meronymity allowed them to feel more comfortable asking questions, including to more experienced academics on these platforms.

Quoted in an article in Techxplore, Nouran Soliman, graduate student in electrical engineering and computer science, and lead author of this study, comments:

With meronymity, we wanted to find a balance between credibility and social inhibition. How can we make people feel more comfortable contributing to and leveraging this rich community while still maintaining some accountability?

A tool for the future?

Building on this success, researchers would now like to extend meronymity to other online communities who would like to use it. This would be particularly useful for very polarized communication topics such as politics, which is not without danger.

David Karger, professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and member of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, who contributed to this project, asks as follows: “I think this is a tool that could be very useful to many communities. But we must find a way to avoid social inhibition. How can we create an environment where everyone feels comfortable expressing themselves, while maintaining enough accountability to discourage bad behavior?”

In any case, this idea, which still needs to be worked on, has the merit of taking into account a concrete problem encountered on social networks, and it seemed interesting to us to present it to you. What do you think of this concept of meronymity? Tell us in the comments.

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Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116