Computer Science Education to Reduce Perceived Anonymity

Digital citizenship is no longer just a topic for discussion it is a responsibility that teachers must help build a better and more sustainable online community.  The goal of having people get along with one another has been a topic since the begging of time, however, the digital frontier creates a unique environment that makes these social interactions different than they have been in the past.  

Perceived anonymity is a concept that has been studied since the late 1800s, and it involves the behaviors of people when they believe they are acting anonymously.  Anonymity is defined as being unknown or undefined (Hite et al., 2014) The interesting part of this phenomenon is that there is a link to a breakdown of social norms when a person believes they are acting anonymously.  This concept has been labeled deindividuation which means a person tends to stop looking at their own behaviors and starts acting in a way that would be different from how they might act in a normal social situation (Hite et al., 2014).  

The internet and all the applications we have as a society that provides an opportunity to feel this phenomenon of deindividuation creates a perfect storm for students, and adults alike to act outside of their normal behaviors when interacting online.  While there needs to be much more study on this topic and its effects on people when you think about social interactions you might have seen this sort of thing in action in your everyday life.  

One example is road rage. When a person is in their car, they tend to act with a barrier of anonymity compared to walking around on the street.  If somebody cuts in front of you while walking down a path, while you might be annoyed, you are probably not shouting, making hand gestures, and getting worked up at the same level that many do when they are in a car.  There is a change in behavior that comes from the small amount of anonymity that the car provides even though that anonymity is only perceived.  It is easy to identify a driver of a car and locate them.  The internet is the same way, only anonymity is more complex.   

So how do we as teachers fulfill the ISTE standards for digital citizenship by 

Model and promote management of personal data and digital identity and protect student data privacy (2000)?  It has been my own experience that the best solution to this issue is the demystification of the internet and how it works.  Through instruction about how technology works, and how information is stored, shared, and moves about the world students will have a better understanding of why they are not acting anonymously.  This serves to remove some of the deindividuation from the technology used and bring them into a state where they start to compare what they are doing on the internet to how they might act in a normal setting.  This brings into alignment their own standards to the information that they choose to share and post.  


Hite, D. M., Voelker, T., & Robertson, A. (2014). Measuring perceived anonymity: The development of a context independent instrument. Journal of Methods and Measurement in the Social Sciences, 5(1), 22-39.

International Society for Technology in Education. (2000). ISTE national educational technology standards (NETS). Eugene, OR :International Society for Technology in Education,