To Reveal or Not to Reveal: A Theoretical Model of Anonymous Communication


  • Anonymous

  • The author of this article, who uses the anonymous byline entirely for illustrative purposes here, is Craig R. Scott, an assistant professor in the Department of Speech Communication at The University of Texas at Austin. His research on anonymous group decision support system technology has been published in Small Group Research, and his work in the broad area of identification has appeared in Communication Theory and Management Communication Quarterly. The author is grateful to Laurie Lewis, several partially anonymous reviewers, and issue editor Bill Rawlins for their helpful comments on earlier drafts of this essay.


Anonymity as a research construct provides an important avenue for addressing fundamental communication issues related to publicness and privateness made salient by the growth in new communication technologies. As communication scholars, though, we have not yet begun to develop the models and theories that are so necessary to describe, explain, and predict anonymous communication. This essay begins by distinguishing anonymity from related notions of confidentiality, privacy and publicness, and pseudonymity, and provides some vocabulary to talk about anonymization and identification efforts by message sources and receivers. Second, the essay highlights some of the limitations of current communication scholarship in this area, and proposes a redefinition and reframing of the anonymity construct to focus on perceptions of the communicators and partial anonymity based along the dimensions of source specificity and source knowledge. Finally, 10 propositions and a communication-based model of anonymous interactions are offered to highlight source decisions to anonymize or identify receiver options to accept or counter those decisions, effectiveness of source and receiver efforts, and feedback to subsequent source decisions.