"People Are Either Too Fake or Too Real": Opportunities and Challenges in Tie-Based Anonymity

Xiao Ma, Nazanin Andabili, Louise Barkhuus, Mor Naaman

Research output: Conference Article in Proceeding or Book/Report chapterArticle in proceedingsResearchpeer-review


In recent years, several mobile applications allowed individuals
to anonymously share information with friends and contacts,
without any persistent identity marker. The functions of
these “tie-based” anonymity services may be notably different
than other social media services. We use semi-structured
interviews to qualitatively examine motivations, practices and
perceptions in two tie-based anonymity apps: Secret (now defunct,
in the US) and Mimi (in China). Among the findings,
we show that: (1) while users are more comfortable in selfdisclosure,
they still have specific practices and strategies to
avoid or allow identification; (2) attempts for de-identification
of others are prevalent and often elaborate; and (3) participants
come to expect both negativity and support in response
to posts. Our findings highlight unique opportunities and potential
benefits for tie-based anonymity apps, including serving
disclosure needs and social probing. Still, challenges for
making such applications successful, for example the prevalence
of negativity and bullying, are substantial.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 2017 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems
PublisherAssociation for Computing Machinery
Publication date2017
ISBN (Electronic)978-1-4503-4655-9
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Tie-based anonymity
  • Self-disclosure
  • Social media
  • De-identification
  • User behavior


Dive into the research topics of '"People Are Either Too Fake or Too Real": Opportunities and Challenges in Tie-Based Anonymity'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this