Private messaging and the rise of anonymous social media

Posted by David Murton on Fri, Feb 12, 2016 @ 01:03 PM

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Read time: 3 - 4 minutes

Anonymity and the internet. Nowadays, people are more concerned than ever about how much of what they do online can be captured, retained and used - be it by hackers or government bodies. While some may argue that things such as data retention can be used to protect against malicious online activity and in uncovering criminal movements, such operations also present concerns for legitimate online users (aka the majority of the population) who don't want to have their privacy and right to expression compromised.

Private messaging & anonymous socialising

One way of circumventing the possibility of having conversations monitored is through private messaging apps, which in turn create an anonymised form of social media. Depending on these messaging apps, they may be designed to talk directly with people you already know or structured to encourage randomised discovery of other users.

The degree to which these different apps actually drive true anonymity depends on their core objective. Signal, for example, is a messaging app with the primary objective of anonymising all correspondence that occurs on the app. In other words, it's extensively encrypted and makes it far harder for any external entities (hackers, government bodies, etc.) to breach and access data in a useful, readable form.

Apps such as Yik Yak and Junction, however, aren't so much about extensive encryption as they are about simply allowing a user to choose an anonymous name/username with minimal personal details required. In other words, just imagine everyone you're talking to is using a pseudonym. While these apps have plenty of security, they're not the same form of anonymity as Signal. Signal wants to keep you off the grid and what you say completely private to all others except for yourself and those you choose to speak to.

Anonymous browsing

Another factor of online anonymity is anonymous browsing. This isn't the private/incognito modes offered by Chrome, Firefox, Edge, etc. but rather a type of browser that allows users to anonymously communicate online. This anonymity is achieved by bouncing online communcations across distributed relay networks that masks the user's physical address/IP. This has a two-sided benefit of preventing someone watching your connection from knowing what sites you're visiting, and also prevents sites you visit from learning your physical address.

While many make the assumption that anonymity-driven browsers like Tor are primarily used as a means of access to the dark web, plenty of people use such browsers for far more mundane reasons. Some users simply want to browse your normal day-to-day websites with an added layer of security that normal browsers don't offer. Because regardless of whether the concern is hackers or a form of surveillance, some users simply want a more substantial type of privacy.

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By entering social media sites through a browser like Tor, these users already have a greater degree of privacy. But it also requires that their friends/other users they are in contact with utilise a browser that offers the same form of encryption and data protection.

On the dark web front, which makes up about 0.01% of the internet, there are undoubtedly forums, message boards, messaging sites, etc. that aim to offer similar anonymity as offered by an app such as Signal. Not every corner of the dark web is as nefarious as claimed, though no doubt there would also be social sites and messaging sites that become a breeding ground for criminal behaviour.


Whether it's an app that allows you to use a pseudonym to maintain anonymity on a base level, or an app or entire sequence of websites that extensively encrypt data and theoretically keep you off the grid, more and more people are turning to such services. With the revelations surrounding NSA vs Edward Snowden, the Australian government's data retention laws, and other possible privacy-breaching issues and laws, it's not a surprise to see this change occurring.

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Topics: Social Media News & Strategies, Technology, Apps, The Big News

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