The Production of Online Anonymity Regimes
Prof. Dr. Götz Bachmann, Leuphana Universität, Lüneburg

Every step a user takes online leaves behind traces. Such traces are central to the generation of value of many social media platforms and provide opportunities for surveillance by multiple agents. SP 1 investigates how social media apps and platforms set up regimes of anonymity.

Three main strands of questioning emerge:

Firstly, the phenomenology of online anonymity: Here we ask how anonymity fluctuates between perceived and ‘real’, staged and hidden forms? What shapes does it take at different moments in time, for different human or machine observers, and on varying levels, ranging from protocols to the database, and the interface?

Secondly, SP1 researches how regimes of online anonymity are produced: While software developers, information architects, designers, marketers and product owners prefigure and negotiate such regimes, user practices are not only framed by such settings, but have also the potential to influence and sometimes to undermine them. Larger factors like technical infrastructures and protocols, data-driven economies, discourses about anonymity, and legal frameworks such as data protection play further crucial roles.

Thirdly, SP1 explores the dynamics of sociality in the emerging regimes of anonymity. Forms of reciprocity and accountability, personhood and collectivity of users will be analyzed as claims embedded in platform design, and through the tacit and explicit knowledge of designers and software developers about how regimes of anonymity shape accountability, personhood and reciprocity on the user side.

To this aim, SP1 will conduct ethnographic case studies, build prototypes, and organize roundtables.