Online anonymity,freedom of expression & internet governance

24 October 2013 - A Workshop on Human Rights in Bali, Indonesia

Internet Governance Forum 2013

Workshop # 55 Report

Online anonymity,freedom of expression & internet governance

Organizer Name 

Fell Lucinda

Organizer Entity 

Childnet International

Workshop Theme 

Human Rights / Freedom of Expression on the Internet

Consise description 


This workshop will explore online anonymity, its importance to different user groups (in particular young people), the challenges it poses for varied service providers, its relationship with freedom of expression and its impact on internet governance. 

Anonymity is pertinent to discussions on privacy openness security and access. It was an important topic that featured in the 2012 global youth survey, workshop & in the many other discussions that the Youth IGF Project took part in in Baku.   

The topic of anonymity has relevance for considerations of human behaviour, internet governance and online commerce, all of which this youth chaired workshop would consider.

For many, anonymity is crucial to participation & engagement online enabling freedom of expression. It can enable an otherwise unheard voice but can provide a mask & help facilitate negative behaviour.

In addition to the human behaviour challenges online posed by anonymity, anonymity also poses challenges for Internet Governance.  A balance is required between establishing and maintaining both security and privacy.

We will investigate these challenges & benefits & how anonymity is challenged & supported by different concepts of privacy & security.



Questions to be discussed under the proposed agenda are listed in the background paper for this workshop. The agenda will include a presentation of research from a global youth survey conducted to inform this workshop. The final agenda will be decided by the youth chairs at their preparation session held in August.


Discussion to be moderated, chaired and led by youth panel

Remote Moderator 

Hannah Broadbent

Have you organized workshops at previous IGFs?


Workshop format 


Workshop Transcript 


Brief substantive summary of the workshop and presentation of the main issues that were raised during the discussions 

The workshop begun with an introduction and overview of the workshop's working definition of anonymity and listened to a number of the panellists sharing their perspective.

The workshop was divided into two main sections. The first considered the benefits of anonymity and its relationship with Freedom of Expression.  Questions considered included why users choose to be anonymous instead of using their real name, positive uses of anonymity, the impact of FoE for human rights activists and how it impacts Freedom of Expression, whether anonymity can help to develop, support and explore identity online and a consideration of whether there is any accoutability on anonymous sites. 
The discussion revealed that users online can be traced, but that anonymity to others on a service is possible. As young people, it is hard to track/trace who others are, so while anonymity may not technically exist, it does exist in their experience.  Discussion of positive uses highlighted the confidence that engaging anonymously online can give, particularly for teens the confidence to engage without being judged.
Notions of accountability and exploration of identity online were discussed, as was the tension between being invisible and being anonymous online. It was agreed that visibility is possible being anonymous. 

In discussing the challenges brought by anonymity questions were considered including how anonymity impacts on behaviour online, the challenges for industry and how these challenges are met as well as a considerate of whether anonymity could restrict the growth of the Internet. 
The discussion revealed that challenges can include the abuse of anonymity as well as a false sense of anonymity and the consequences of that. 
The importance of transparency was reiterated and the need for people to know under what conditions their anonymity could be challenged and the need for confidence and knowledge about what is going to happen with your information. The importance of education and tools to help users protect their own data was flagged up and that being anonymous is only one expression in terms of liberty and freedom and that users must know how to protect their privacy. 


Conclusions drawn from the workshop and further comments 

The workshop concluded that there is clear benefit in affording users anonymity online, from the social level and examples given included giving people the chance to discuss taboo topics as well as the physical need and necessity for anonymity for protection. Challenges to online anonymity mentioned that some use it to overcome accountability.  It was agreed that  education will be key in meeting the challenges. The global youth survey revealed that 86% of respondents felt that it was important to allow people to be anonymous online if they want so education about how to use anonymity well, and protect privacy and information on specific and contextual problems is important. 

The workshop was well attended and provided an engaging and informative discussion with about 120 in attendance.


Reported by 

Lucinda Hasell (Fell)

Estimate the overall number of women participants present at the session 

About half of the participants were women

To what extent did the session discuss gender equality and/or women's empowerment? 

It was mentioned briefly in the presentations and discussions

Discussion affecting gender equality and women's empowerment 


Workshops Staticals 
Number of FEMALE participantsNumber of MALE participantsNumber of Young participantsNumber of Developing Countries ParticipantsNumber of Developed Countries ParticipantsNumber of LDCs participantsNumber of TOTAL Participants
0 0 15 0 0 0 0