Dean's Lecture

Remember When Nobody Knew You Were a Dog? Anonymity, Identity and Location in Online Social Environments

Wednesday, September 16, 2015
4:10 pm - 5:30 pm
202 South Hall
Jeremy Birnholtz

Remember When Nobody Knew You Were a Dog?

Remember When Nobody Knew You Were a Dog? Anonymity, Identity, & Location

Once upon a time, interacting anonymously online meant talking to strangers who could be anywhere in the world and knew very little about you, and about whom you knew very little. Thanks to GPS, ubiquitous mobile devices and an array of recent apps, however, we can now very easily connect anonymously with friends and strangers who are physically nearby. And as anybody who has read reports of (or experienced) cyberbullying or used apps like Grindr/Tinder/Scruff to meet, um, friends can tell you, local anonymity is very different. In this talk I will be reporting on several recent studies of activity on Facebook and Grindr that explore how location-awareness and interacting with local strangers affects the nature of our interactions and self-presentation. Results suggest that people may feel more free to discuss sensitive topics or explore stigmatized identities when anonymous, but that also being local increases their concerns about being recognized by others.

Jeremy Birnholtz is an associate professor in the departments of communication studies and electrical engineering and computer science at Northwestern University. He recently served as a visiting professor on the core data science team at Facebook. His research aims to improve the usefulness and usability of communication and collaboration tools, via a focus on understanding and exploiting mechanisms of human attention and identity management. Jeremy's work has been published in the ACM CHI, CSCW and Group Proceedings, as well as in Organization Science, HCI, JASIST, JCMC, and Computers in Human Behavior. His research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, Google, Facebook and the US Department of Agriculture.

Last updated:

August 23, 2016