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How Believers Should Address the Growing Trend of Anonymity
Oscar Wilde once stated, “man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask and he will tell you the truth.” This timeless quote extends itself online. On January 1, 2005, PostSecret began as an art project, displaying ten anonymous confessions written on postcards on a blog. Today, there are dozens of “anonymous” online confessionals to where people can transmit the deepest secrets.
I decided to examine the craze for myself to understand the ever-expanding phenomenon. After downloading one of the popular apps, I was surprised that there were no logins or registrations. However, I did have to give out my phone number, so the company inevitably has more of my information than I ever wanted them to have. Once inside, I decided to post a confession…”I have a gym membership that I haven’t used in two months”. The site then paired my confession with a picture and posted my impiety. Afterward, I was taken to related posts where I could commune with other physical slackers. Within seconds, I had people telling me that I wasn’t alone and encouraging me to,” go today.” In the spirit of honesty, I did feel comforted and motivated. I could see how people could be attracted to this form of communication.
Yet, the further inside the app I browsed, I was met with dozens of anonymous confessions, each backgrounded with a picture that met the description of their secret. Some of the confessions were jovial. For instance, one described the relationship between a person and their loan shark. Others were dark, shocking, and simply heart-breaking. Yet, the more jarring reality was that people then reply anonymously, giving condolence, advice, and encouragement to these confessions.
Within moments, I am alerted by an anonymous writer who suggests we get in shape together. At this point, anonymity and intimacy cross the line in my perspective. I delete the application and move on about my day.
Mine is a very innocent example of what takes place continually online via the anonymous social network sites. However, millions of people are using these sites and apps daily to express themselves and convey very personal information. With the rise of this new form of communication, are there some concerns? Below are three you might want to consider.
1. Things are not as anonymous as they appear. Online sharing apps and website’s security has been called into question on numerous occasions. Snapchat made news when celebrities had their privacy violated. Recently, Whisper’s anonymity has come into question as well.
2. Anonymity does not breed intimacy. While anonymity might be conducive for self-disclosure, it reduces vulnerability. An article in Psychology Today related an online relationship to that of someone wearing a mask. Therefore, you have an element of protection because you know that you will never meet the person on the side other side of the screen. Also, since the relationship is anonymous, there is no connection to the person after the application is closed. Therefore, there is no consequence for the advice given. In essence, there is no burden shared.
3. Secrets vocalized does not necessarily equal healing. Some of the confessions I read online had overtones of depression, anxiety, thoughts of suicide and other mental illnesses. In fact, the founders of Whisper saw these cries for help and started the non-profit YourVoice.org. While these confessional sites give people a space to release their thoughts, it does not give them the proper care they deserve. These same people who have come to vent anger, frustration, sadness, etc. are the ones who are encouraging you when you post your secrets online. Similarly, some of the secrets shared voiced transgressions of rivalry, betrayal, jealousy, etc. Though there was confession, there was more of a tone of pride rather than repentance. Healing in Scripture is paired with that of a contrite heart (Isaiah 57:15)
Given the concerns with the rise of anonymity online, how should Christians respond?
1. Stay in community with people you trust. Second Timothy 2:3-4 warns us of the tendency to turn away from sound doctrine to hear what we want to hear. Similarly, it is easy to log on to a computer and hear what we want to hear. Yet, most often, they are the words that we do not want to hear from the people we love the most that God uses to counsel us to be more lie Him.
2. Evaluate your own confession. Scripture asks us to confess our sin before God and others so that we might be forgiven and that others might hold us accountable and pray for us (Proverbs 28:13, James 5:16). Yet, we must do so with an attitude of repentance. When Jesus forgave a person’s sins, he often would tell them, “go and sin no more” (John 8:11). Therefore, when we confess our sins and bring them into the light, we should do so willing and ready to leave them behind.
3. Make yourself available. We live in a fallen and broken world. It is apparent that people are longing to be heard, but are afraid to be known. Therefore, keep your eyes and ears open to those you encounter and make yourself available to hear their story. Oftentimes people will open up once they realize they are in a safe space.
4. Practice authenticity – If we as believers can practice showing who we truly are in our own lives and try to take off our masks, it will help cultivate a culture of authenticity. This is something I am trying to do more. For instance, on my Facebook page, I post about how I learn in my failures. This way my friends see that I do not take myself too seriously.
The rise of anonymity online threatens our modern culture. While it may appear to be a therapeutic way to confess sins one to another, it provides a false sense of community and should be approached with caution. However, this trend gives us, as believers, an opportunity to see the needs around us and we need to respond with loving, open, and unmasked hearts.
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Cortney is a wife and mother of two wonderfully energetic children. She received her Masters of Theology Degree from Dallas Theological Seminary. After serving in the church for nearly 15 years, Cortney currently serves as a lay-leader and writes for various Christian ministries. You can find her at www.unveilinggraces.blogspot.