The past few years have seen ramped-up rhetoric questioning the value of online anonymity and the use of pseudonyms, rhetoric that is often couched in statements like :
"The use of real names online could help curb bullying and harassment on the web…I think anonymity on the Internet has to go away." —Randi Zuckerberg, then Facebook’s Marketing Director
And this :
"People who are able to post anonymously (or pseudonymously) are far more likely to say awful things, sometimes with awful consequences, such as the suicides of cyberbullied young people..." – Chris Wolf, Internet privacy lawyer and head of the Internet Task Force of the Anti-Defamation League.
And this :
"…I want to believe that we will finally admit – to ourselves and to the public at large – that allowing people to hide behind anonymity has not been good for [the newspaper] industry, our culture, or our country." – Pulitzer Prize winner and former Cleveland Plain Dealer columnist Connie Schultz
It’s a line of reasoning that CDT  has consistently  questioned , along with a number  of others . As blogger Dara Lind argued  when responding to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s suggestion that using more than one online identity signals a "lack of integrity": "For many, many people, having more than one identity isn’t a sign of ‘lack of integrity’ because it’s not even really a personal choice. It’s the only way to survive in a world that isn’t always perfectly willing to accept and respect them for who they are."
Think of the teenager who is being bullied at school and seeks support from others online: Anonymity is his shield. Using a pseudonym can empower him (or her) to reach out to other teens in similar situations and speak up to those who can offer help. The same can be said for teens seeking answers to sensitive questions about sexuality and sexual health, depression, domestic abuse, controversial religious or political issues – the list goes on.
It’s clear that some who criticize online anonymity are missing the complete picture. Enter Drs. Azy Barak and Meyran Boniel-Nissim of Haifa University in Jerusalem to paint a fuller portrait. Barak and Boniel-Nissim co-authored a recent study  showing that regular public blogging – while using a pseudonym, and while allowing pseudonymous comments – can improve the psychological health of troubled teens.
Study participants, ages 14-17, were split into groups; some wrote in private offline diaries and others blogged on a platform that hosts over 100,000 personal blogs. The blogs were set up under pseudonyms and each blogging student was told not to reveal his/her "personal identity." Of the students who blogged, some were instructed to open their posts to comments while others were told to turn off the commenting feature. According to the study authors, "posts were read and responded to (where responses were enabled) by any readers as they wished, reﬂecting regular and typical experiences in the blogosphere."
Barak and Boniel-Nissim found that students who blogged showed a greater decrease in their levels of emotional distress than did those who wrote in diaries. Those who opened their blogs to comments from the public showed the most marked improvement.
The study is worth a read in its entirety, but this paragraph stood out:
"The sense of anonymity and invisibility experienced by Internet users promotes their confidence to express thoughts and feelings. Furthermore, users do not feel committed to the offline social codes—including attire, nonverbal gestures, and eye contact—when interacting online with other people; therefore, they can pay more attention to written content and to themselves. These characteristics induce the therapeutic value of venting emotions and releasing pressure (Suler, 2010). Such disclosures may subsequently enhance a writer’s feelings of well-being (Ko & Kuo, 2009). Online writing enables free expression, easy rereading and editing, and convenient (synchronous or asynchronous) communication with others (individually or collectively). Consequently, such psychologically relevant processes as personal reflection (Sharma, 2010) and interpersonal projections (Nagel & Anthony, 2009; Suler, 2010; Turkle, 2004) are common and frequently produce various emotions and behaviors."
Equally notable is this quote in the APA press release  that describes the study:
"‘Although cyberbullying and online abuse are extensive and broad, we noted that almost all responses to our participants’ blog messages were supportive and positive in nature,’ said the study’s co-author, Azy Barak, PhD. ‘We weren’t surprised, as we frequently see positive social expressions online in terms of generosity, support and advice.’"
This study challenges the conventional wisdom that online anonymity fosters a lack of online civility that is harmful to teenagers: pseudonymously written blogs open to pseudonymous comments actually promoted the well-being of study participants, and members of the public – who were free to identify themselves however they wished – did not troll the teens’ blogs but instead offered their support.
Some will be surprised by this latter finding, but one need look no further than Google or Disqus (a popular commenting platform used by newspapers, blogs, and other websites) for backup. In a large-scale study  of comments made via its platform, the folks at Disqus reported that 61% of comments were made by pseudonymous users, 35% by anonymous users, and 4% by users who provided their "real name" Facebook identities. As populations, pseudonymous, anonymous, and "real name" commenters each produced approximately the same proportion of posts (9-11%) that Disqus deemed "negative," an indicator calculated based on the number of times a post was flagged, marked as spam, or deleted. Pseudonymous users were also, by far, the most likely to contribute "positive" comments (comments that were replied to or "liked"). Disqus concluded that pseudonymous users "are the most valuable contributors to communities because they contribute the highest quantity and quality of comments."
Google similarly discovered that requiring "real names" doesn’t necessarily promote good behavior. Yonatan Zunger, a Google employee, had this  to say when Google loosened its own "real name" policy for its social network Google+:
"We thought this was going to be a huge deal: that people would behave very differently when they were and weren't going by their real names. After watching the system for a while, we realized that this was not, in fact, the case. (And in particular, bastards are still bastards under their own names.) We're focusing right now on identifying bad behaviors themselves, rather than on using names as a proxy for behavior."
Conclusions like this can be lost in the moral panic that often accompanies discussions of anonymous and pseudonymous Internet use. And findings like those of Drs. Barak and Boniel-Nissim certainly challenge the argument that the best way to help troubled teens is to strip them (and everyone else) of the opportunity to communicate and seek information anonymously. So much so, in fact, that the next time we hear someone suggest that "anonymity on the Internet has to go away," we might just have to ask:
Won’t someone think of the children?