Gen Z chooses anonymity over fame

June 30, 2022

According to The Atlantic, Gen Z appears to prefer online anonymity over personal branding. While millennials generally choose to go online under their own name—in hopes of becoming famous or building a career—the youngest generation more often opts for anonymous accounts and smaller social networks, such as Tumblr and Discord, with less pressure to perform or become famous. 

Reasons for withholding personal information vary from person to person, but it seems these kids are generally more aware of the risks that come with sharing too much private data than generations before them. For some, this means they don’t want to leave a digital trail that will haunt them for the rest of their (professional) lives. Others fear harassment in real life on the basis of what they do online. Still others prefer to use multiple identities as they don’t want to conform to a singular idea of themselves. On a more fundamental note, some have even argued that this is a generation defined by a spirit of nihilism. Instead of showcasing millennial-esque ideals and virtues, Gen Z just wants to go online to chill and care about nothing.

Looking ahead, this longing for online anonymity clashes with a broader trend of experts and politicians calling on social media platforms to verify their users’ legal identity. The idea behind their pleas is that the internet will become a safer and more pleasant place if people are not able to anonymously bully, harass or spread lies on social media. Indeed, Facebook already demands users go by their legal name and Twitter may follow suit once Elon Musk takes over. Going forward, Gen Z may well come to favor social media platforms that continue to offer, or even champion, anonymous accounts.

Burning questions:
  • As with every observation about a specific generation, one should always ask whether this longing for anonymity is a trait of a generation or merely a phase of life Gen Zers will leave behind once they reach adulthood and, career-wise, are expected to engage in personal branding
  • What role can technology play in ensuring anonymous users can prove their credentials and reliability (e.g. whistleblowers) as well as be taken seriously (e.g. in public debates), without having to identify themselves?

About the author(s)

Fascinated by the interplay between technology and society, Sjoerd has studied the role of different actors in the innovation and implementation of new technologies throughout his career. At the thinktank, he is mainly involved in research and consultancy projects for clients, and strategic and thematic research for sister company Dasym. Among other themes, Sjoerd frequently writes and speaks about the power and danger of digital technology, as well as sustainability in both technological and institutional innovation.

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